Last week I was with a group that stayed a couple of days at the Benedictine house at Argentan in Normandy. We went to witness the profession, as an oblate, of Dorothy, the organist at St Mary`s. Dorothy`s links with Argentan derive from her friendship with Mary Berry who often visited. For anyone who doesn`t know Mary Berry was, until her death on May 1st, a leading authority on Gregorian chant in the UK. Dorothy, who had been an Anglican sister for many years before she became a Catholic, lived in Cambridge for a number of years and was involved with Mary Berry`s chant group there. She was most keen that her friends should share in her profession and so off we went.
There are thirty-eight sisters at the monastery which is renowned for the quality of its chant. Mass is celebrated according to the Novus Ordo. I concelebrated on both days. It was an interesting experience. I have at various times in my priestly life been advised that instead of being enthusiastic about the EF I should be applying my energy to promoting the use of Latin in the OF. Well, here was an opportunity to see it celebrated with the best chant and with an ad orientem altar. I had the the experience of chanting the concelebrants parts of Eucharistic Prayers 3 and 4 in Latin which is not something I`ve ever expected to do. However, while to the casual observer there would appear to be little to separate this Mass and the EF , I still felt the lack of the EF. I have introduced a `chant Sunday` once a month at Forest Hall at the 10.30 Mass which seems to be going well and in which most of the ordinary of the Mass is sung to chant but I still believe that the OF is essentially a vernacular liturgy at heart.
The sisters were very welcoming to our group. On Wednesday afternoon we went to the Grand Parloir for recreation: the sisters on their side of the grill and our group on the other. Each side introduced themselves, Dorothy and a friend sang a song about Zacchaeus ( the subject of the Gospel at Mass as it was the feast of the dedication of the church) and the sisters sang us a three-part Magnificat. The sister`s hospitality was second to none; the food and accommodation were excellent. It is a pity that they have not had any novices for a while and I hope that changes before too long.
Here is Dorothy making her profession:
Here is our group ( apart from Alan who took the photo).