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Saturday, 25 August 2007

A foretaste of eternity

The daily liturgical timetable for weekdays at Pluscarden is as follows:
  • 4.45am - Vigils (similar to Matins of the Roman Breviary) and Lauds - approximately an hour and a half
  • c. 6.55am (half an hour after Lauds) - Prime
  • 8.45am - Conventual Mass and Terce
  • 12.35pm - Sext (followed by lunch)
  • 2.15pm - None
  • 6pm - Vespers, followed by prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the Lady Chapel (Supper is at 7pm)
  • 8pm - Compline
The offices and conventual Mass are all chanted in Latin. The community are using the new books edited by Solemnes as they are produced. The older Antiphonale Monasticum is used where necessary. Mass in in the Novus Ordo, using the new Graduale Romanum (readings in English).

One of the pamphlets I read spoke of the chanting of the psalms as an image of eternity. This could be joked about, especially at Vigils when, for example, we chanted the whole of psalm 77 - on a monotone as are all the psalms at Vigils. However, I think there is an important point in seeing this "sacred monotony" as a foretaste of heaven. Newman once gave a sermon, the title of which has always remained in my mind "Holiness: a condition of future blessedness". By immersing ourselves in the almost trance-like recitation of the psalms, day in and day out, we are brought to see that it is not excitement or entertainment that we should seek in our worship of God but fidelity, stillness and a focus on the Father as totally other yet intimately involved in our life and work. To spend a few days with the monastic community for whom this is a daily way of life helped me to put the breviary into perspective.

Priests are invited to join the community in Choir for the offices. I took up this invitation (some priests prefer to remain in the chancel which is another way of participating in the cycle of prayer). I was very glad to have done so. Brother Michael, who was in the choir stall next to me, not only helped me by pointing out the various pages in the books when I was not quick enough to find them, but also gave me, incidentally, an informal "masterclass" in Gregorian Chant.

The monks use the East end of the old Priory Church. The windows are decorated using a modern form of stained glass. Here is the East window in the morning:

After Compline, the Marian anthem is chanted and there is a custom of saying a brief prayer before the statue of Our Lady of Pluscarden

Guests are encouraged not to dawdle after Compline but to retire to the Guest House. Getting up at 4.30 in the morning is no problem if you go to bed at nine o'clock in the evening!

Here is a view of the South chancel and the night stairs:

The stairs lead up to an entrance into the enclosure. I used these each morning after Prime when I went to the Prior's Chapel to say a private Mass in the usus antiquior. The monks who are priests concelebrate at the conventual Mass each day but they were quite happy for me to say a private Mass and then to attend in Choir for the conventual Mass. I like to do this since the conventual Mass can then be a "thanksgiving" for one's own daily Mass. It also meant that I could concentrate on following the chant and singing (I hope I was not a distraction!).

The Prior's Chapel, as I mentioned, is where the Marquess of Bute arranged for Mass to be celebrated after he had taken ownership of the Priory. Here is a photo from early in the morning. The lighting conditions were a bit of a challenge but I hope this gives you something of the atmosphere of this beautiful and ancient chapel.

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