Thursday, October 28, 2010

Solesmes and Dom Guéranger

In this month a millennium ago was founded a Benedictine monastery in Solesmes, a priory of the nearby abbey at Le Mans. Unlike such other antique monasteries as Monte Cassino or Cluny or Cîteaux, the importance of Solesmes lies not in its remote past, but rather in its much nearer history.

Throughout the modern period, monasticism, once and likely still the mystical core of the Church, diminished gravely, to the point that, the author of the linked article notes, only 30 Benedictine abbeys remained in Europe in the early 19th century. Even so fine an place as this was up for sale, and was bought by l'Abbé Prosper Guéranger, a local priest, and was soon made an abbey with Guéranger as abbot. Dom Guéranger came to make Solesmes a shining beacon of a Catholicism battered by revolution and apostasy, but still in the end triumphant over the world with Christ, her king and judge. Monastic life came to be renewed here, as well as Gregorian chant. The Liturgical Movement, so influential on such popes as St. Pius X and Benedict XVI, could even be said to have started here, and all affected by the revolutionism and iconoclasm so prevalent in this day, in Church and society alike, can look to the great work of Solesmes as both analogy and precursor to the struggles faced today.

Gary Potter and the Saint Benedict Center (always an excellent source) speak more about Dom Guéranger here:

We need to remember this was 1831. The liberal monarchy of Louis-Philippe was less than a year old. One of its first actions had been to crush the effort to revive a Trappist monastery in the Diocese of Nantes. (The monks were dispersed and the abbot thrown into prison.) Fr. Guéranger’s “aspirations” seemed pure folly in the circumstances.

Still, as he would write in another passage of his incomplete autobiography: “My youth, the complete lack of temporal resources, and the limited reliability of those with whom I hoped to associate — none of these things stopped me. I would not have dreamed of it; I felt myself pushed to proceed. I prayed with all my heart for the help of God; but it never occurred to me to ask His will concerning the projected work.”

That last statement may surprise us, but Dom Guéranger explains: “The need of the Church seemed to me so urgent, the ideas about true Christianity so falsified and so compromised in the lay and ecclesiastical worlds, that I felt nothing but an urgency to found some kind of center wherein to recollect and revive pure traditions.”

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