Monastic: May 2007 Archives

To France

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I leave early tomorrow morning for la doulce France via Geneva. I will be giving some conferences in two monasteries of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified. I will return to Rome on May 25th.

First, I will go to the Monastère Saint–Benoît; then I will go to the Monastère de l'Incarnation. Fra Michel–Marie, our novice from Bénin, was supposed to accompany me but, at the last minute, he was denied admission to Switzerland. Such things are very complicated here. I don't know whether or not I will be able to write from France. I will bring my computer along and hope for the best.

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Allow me to recommend a book for the month of May: Mary Most Holy, Meditating With the Early Cistercians, edited by E. Rozanne Elder, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 2003. Dr. Elder presents Marian texts of the twelfth and thirteenth century drawn from thirteen Cistercian authors: Adam of Perseigne, Aelred of Rievaulx, Amadeus of Lausanne, Baldwin of Forde, Bernard of Clairvaux, Geoffrey of Auxerre, Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Gilbert of Hoyland, Guerric of Igny, Isaac of Stella, John of Forde, Stephen of Sawley, and William of Saint–Thierry.

Along the same lines, I should like to add my own (rather limited) presentation of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Cistercian tradition and practice. If any one thing drew me to Cistercian branch of the great Benedictine family, it was its cherished tradition of love for Mary.

Saint Bernard, Citharista Mariae

Cistercian devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is at once strong and tender. It is lyrical — is not our Saint Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux, called the Citharista Mariae, Mary's Player of the Lyre? Cistercian devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is also quotidian — finely woven into the fabric of every hour of every day.

The Holy Name of Mary, Virgin and Mother

At the beginning of the Order, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth was declared for all time the Lady and Protectress of each of its monasteries. To this day, every Cistercian monastery bears a title of the Blessed Virgin and celebrates her glorious patronage on August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption. In 1335 the Cistercian General Chapter decreed that the seal of each abbey should bear the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is The Lady of the monastery: mother, sovereign, advocate, and protectress. This corporate dedication to the Mother of God is personalized by the custom of conferring upon every monk and nun of the Order at the time of his or her clothing in the habit, the sweet name of Maria.

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The White Cuculla

The white Cistercian choir habit — the cuculla or cowl — honours the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the glory that is hers in the mystery of the Assumption where she is seated next to her risen and ascended Son. The white cowl is a sign of her protection, rather like the scapular of the Carmelites. When the Cistercian monk puts on his cowl before going to choir to sing the praises of God, he is, symbolically, clothing himself in the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother.

In the Sacred Liturgy

In every Cistercian monastery the festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated with a gladsome solemnity. The Cistercian liturgical calendar further elevates to the rank of solemnity days which the Roman calendar keeps with the rank of feast: February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord/Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; May 31st, the Visitation; and September 8th, the Nativity. For Cistercians, the highest Marian festival is the glorious Pasch of Summer, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th. Much of the Office on that day is drawn from the sublime poetry of the Canticle of Canticles.

Until the liturgical upheavals that followed the Second Vatican Council, it was customary to provide for a daily celebration of the Mass De Beata (in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and to chant the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily in choir, alongside the Canonical Hours of the Great Office. The present practice is to sing an antiphon in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary at each of the Hours of the Divine Office. At every liturgical Hour Cistercians the world over praise the Blessed Virgin and seek her intercession. Individual monks and nuns may, of course, continue to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on their own in addition to the Divine Office in choir.

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The Salve Regina

The Cistercian day ends with the solemn singing of the Salve Regina in a darkened church. Two candles illumine the image of the Mother of God: the life, sweetness, and hope of her children. According to tradition, the last three cries of the Salve ReginaO clemens! O pia! O dulcis Virgo Maria! — were added by Saint Bernard himself in a rapture of love for the Mother of Christ.

The Rosary

One last note: the roots of Mary's Psalter, the Holy Rosary, lie deep in Cistercian soil. In his book entitled, Louange des mystères du Christ: histoire du rosaire, Dr. Andreas Heinz of the Theological Faculty of Trier, presents the pre–history of the Rosary in its native Cistercian context. Already in the twelfth century, Cistercian monks were meditating the mysteries of Christ and of His Virgin Mother while repeating the Angelic Salutation, the Ave Maria. For five centuries the Rosary was a work in progress; it began in the silence of Cistercian (and Carthusian) cloisters before being popularized by the Order of Preachers. For the early Cistercians the meditation of the mysteries of our Lord and of His Mother was a kind of lectio divina, a way of extending the influence of the Sacred Liturgy and of holding its treasures in the secret of one's heart.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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