Friday, September 04, 2020

Downside Abbey to be abandoned: letter of the week

2010 08 12_7298
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. 

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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. 

JOSEPH BEVAN 
DOVER, KENT

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17 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. There is a monastic revival going on in Europe nowadays? Which countries does Joseph have in mind?

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    1. He probably means France where in the last several years Slesmes has founded 5 abbeys of mo ks, all of which are traditional.....TRIOR, RANDOL, ......FONTGOMBAULT,.....DONEZON, .....WISQUES. IN addition the abbeys of LE BARROUX,......AND SAINT PIERRE DE CLAIRAC. This aforementioned are all houses of men and numerous....Fontgombault has more than 50 monks as has le Barroux. In addition several women s communities follow the traditional benedictine formula. Also LES CHANOINES DE LA MERE DE DIEU and their female counterpart not to say anything of numerous priestly vocations in FSSP, ICKSP and Institut bon Pasteur. There are also many more smaller traditional communities.

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  3. There is a monastic revival going on in Europe nowadays? Which countries does Joseph have in mind?

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    1. He is thinking of the French tradional Benedictines I expect. There are several monasteries there. There is also Norcia in Italy, and traditional monasticism can be found in the USA, Ireland, and even the UK.

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  4. I understand that Dom Christopher Butler, the distinguished Abbot of Downside and prominent participant in the Counci who became auxiliary bishop of Westminster in 1966, would celebrate the traditional Mass as a Missa Privata for the rest of his life on days when he did not have commitments to celebrate public Masses.

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  5. Monasticism in both "lungs" of Christ's Holy Church is an essential template of how all Christian People should model their lives. Recently I have learnt that Saint Benedict had a vision of his buildings being burned BUT his men and women continued "" in spirit and in Truth".

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  6. I am afraid PM has been misinformed. Bishop Butler, while auxiliary bishop of Westminster, resided at St Edmund's College in Old Hall Green. His private masses were celebrated in his private chapel on the first floor above the Ambulacrum at 7.30am, at the same time as the Allen Hall seminary community mass took place in the Pugin chapel of St Edmund's. Each morning one of the seminarians was deputed to serve at his mass, and I was one of them. The mass was always Novus Ordo in English. This arrangement continued until Allen Hall moved to its current location in Chelsea in 1975. I can't say that whether his practice remained constant thereafter - I have no information on that point - but he did not have a reputation as having traditional views on liturgy.
    Christopher Richardson

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  7. A sad (but predictable) day. Perhaps some of the monks might join Dom Anselm and Dom Bede in Glastonbury?

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  8. Why doesn t the English congregation seek assistance for the re founding og the abbey from the ABBEY OF FONTGOMBAULT in France? They are bursting at the seems and only a few years ago sent 13 monks to refound Abbey of Wisques then in a similar position to Downside.

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  9. ENglish congregation should seek help from Fontgombault in France. They are bursting at the seems and have already refounded Abbey of Wisques sending 13 of their monks there.

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  10. Why not re-establish a relationship with the University? Don't monks need a charism other than prayer? Come on Rome, get with it! You can always bring a new order in. Maybe some Steubenville Franciscans or Taize brothers. God did not establish the abbey to languish. Veni Spiritus Sanctus! Alleluia!

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    1. You are clearly a Protestant.

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    2. Rome has nothing to do with this. Her interference would do more harm than good. Let's quite believing that Rome is the sole source of solutions.

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  11. If Fontgombault (Solesmes Congregation) could re-colonise Wisques and restore it, why couldn't they re-colonise and re-start poor Quarr Abbey (also Solesmes)

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  12. Where did not ask them to help.

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