As Benedictine monks, the Liturgy which we celebrate daily really is at the heart of our lives – praying together 6 times and 3 hours a day in total, it better had be! Through it, God feeds and forms our personal prayer, as well as our work and our relationships. Personally, I wouldn’t do without it. In fact, in the Rule of St Benedict, he tells us that ‘nothing should be preferred to the Work of God’ (meaning the Liturgy, our prayer together), and that anyone seeking to join a monastery should be ‘eager for the work of God’. So, I don’t feel out of place!
But the daily round of prayer is far from mundane and repetitive – just as we might look forward to the new life of spring, the heat of summer, the colours of autumn and the crisp mornings of winter (or perhaps some months are more favourable than others!), our prayer follows the varied seasons of the Church’s year. I always look forward especially to the height of the Liturgical year: the three days which we call the Easter Triduum, the pinnacle of Christian worship, when we relive the powerful events in which our faith is rooted, and our hope affirmed: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The story is told well by the sequence we sing on Sunday morning – you can listen to it just below, and you can follow along with the text and translation also provided below.
On top of the Liturgy, which is the heart of our celebration, what makes the Sacred Triduum (which means ‘three days’) here at Ampleforth so special for us monks is our guests. Every year we welcome around 500 guests on Maundy Thursday, and say our goodbyes on the Monday morning after Easter Sunday. There is no charge for our guests, but we are extremely grateful for the generous donations we receive over the weekend, which make the whole retreat possible. Our guests are welcome to join all of our liturgy, they have the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, to participate in our retreat programme in between and, of course, to enjoy each other’s company at tea, coffee and mealtimes. This year, there were 488 of our guests staying in on-site accommodation, with a further 23 travelling a short distance from the local area, not counting the regular locals who so often join us in the Abbey church. We had more than expected at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, with around 550 staying into the night to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection!
It is a very powerful experience for us to be able to share the most important time of the year with so many who are equally (if not more!) enthusiastic about these special days, and the person, Jesus Christ, about whom this all is. We are not only very pleased, but very grateful to all who come to share this time with us. Our community has a long tradition of pastoral work, and we consider it a blessing to be able to bring together the two central elements of our lives, prayer and work (Ora et Labora, as the motto goes), in such a dramatic way every year.
Fr Gabriel preached at each of the services, and somehow managed to include Elvis in his Easter Sunday homily… you can find out how here. This year, Fr Chad led the retreat conferences, taking the theme: ‘the Verbs of God: wake up; fight; persevere; run’, inspired by the prologue of St Benedict’s Rule. Frs Henry, Richard, Ambrose and Oswald led supplementary talks, and Fr Kevin led student-focussed Lectio Divina sessions. We were blessed to have over 60 students on retreat with us this year, from both near and far: York, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Bangor, and Cambridge.
The community of St Aelred — a fantastic group formed by the Rule of St Benedict, regular attendees of the Triduum at Ampleforth, and friends of the monastic community — led, as always, a retreat programme for the children and teenagers, in which over 100 young people participated. As well as the usual, we also received three new oblates into the community: Ann and David Gorman, and Anne-Marie Scott-Masson. We are delighted to welcome them into our community of oblates, and wish them all the best for the future.
As wonderful an experience as it always is—perhaps for this very reason—the following few days of rest are much appreciated, and they gave me a bit of spare time to write something down for the website. For a week after Easter Sunday the community has a relaxed timetable, getting up an hour later and talking at supper, rather than eating in silence. That came to an end on Sunday, and I am just about rested, and ready now to get back to a normal timetable! Still, I look forward to next year…