|The mighty Abbey Church at Downside, where Bishop Schneider celebrated the EF|
for the Latin Mass Society's Priest Training Conference in 2010.
The news that the monks of Downside Abbey--all eight of them--have agreed that the community should leave their home of two centuries has come as a shock, though the logic of it is undeniable. Having severed ties with the school, their presence in the school grounds is an anomoly. With little prospect of young men applying to join the community, it is difficult to see any future for it elsewhere either. If I were a betting man, my money would be on them joining another community.
An interesting insight into the demise of this once-important community is given by this letter to The Tablet by Joseph Bevan, whose father's time as Director of Music at Downside covered the period of the liturgical reform.
The news that the Benedictines are to leave Downside Abbey will fill most loyal Catholics with distress and foreboding. The laying low of one of the greatest bastions of English Catholicism leads us to wonder who will follow, for the meltdown is gathering pace.
When I was a pupil at Downside in 1970, just after the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae, the Giles Gilbert Scott abbey church was closed for two years to facilitate “reordering”. Downside had apparently been designated by the Diocese of Clifton as a centre for liturgical experiment. School Masses took place in the theatre and were almost farcical as the boys took great delight in banging the sprung seats.
On another occasion, after the church had reopened, the lights went out during benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and a loud cheer went up from the 500 boys present. I vividly remember the emerging sense of self-doubt exhibited by the monks; so much so that religious instruction classes came to be commonly regarded as a joke. There were one or two exceptions, of course, and honourable mention should be made of Dom Wulstan Phillipson, who refused to have anything to do with the monastic revolution and told us so. It is sad to note that this monk was sent into Coventry by the rest of the community.
The arrival of the Novus Ordo at Downside precipitated the religious and moral decline of the monastery that culminated in the abuse scandals which have received widespread notoriety.
The traditional monastic revival in Europe nowadays, however, proves that the monastic life is viable in our modern times but only if the Vatican II novelties are ditched and there is a return to the spiritual life.
I have no doubt that the progressives will react to the end of monastic life at Downside with a shrug, muttering: “So what, who needs monks anyway?” This was a question on the lips of Downside pupils in the early 1970s and is one to which the modern monastic communities have failed to provide a convincing answer. This is why they are melting away.
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