The celebrations last Thursday and Friday for the Solemnity of St Edmund, our patronal feast, in this 400th anniversary of our foundation, have passed remarkably well. We should receive the professional photos tomorrow. Until then we can offer only a précis of the festivities.
- On the afternoon of 19 November a number of nuns and monks, as well as the Anglican bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, had arrived. They and the community were treated to a talk from the historian Abbot Aidan Bellenger offering his interpretive history of our monastery not only from its foundation in Paris in 1615 to now, but also something of its pre-history in the movement to revive the English Benedictine congregation.
- A little later came Pontifical First Vespers of St Edmund, with Abbot Geoffrey presiding. After supper there was a soirée with the guests already here.
- Next morning, at the later than usual time of 7am, we celebrated Matins with the full three nocturns. After a break there was Pontifical Lauds, with our confrère Abbot Edmund, now in Rome, presiding.
At 11am came the Pontifical Mass, with Abbot Geoffrey as principal celebrant. The preacher was Abbot Cuthbert of Ampleforth, who skilfully wove the readings of the day into the significance and meaning of St Edmund, including his former status as patron saint of England. There were nearly 40 concelebrants, including most of the abbots of Great Britain, as well as Bishop Mark Jabalé OSB, and Cormac, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. The white mitres of all the prelates made for a striking contrast with the red of the assembled concelebrants' chasubles. At the end of Mass, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, after a few personal words concerning his connection with Douai, read out a message and apostolic blessing from Pope Francis. Also in the congregation were the Mayor of Newbury, the Anglican Bishop of St Edmundsbury and the local Anglican vicar, along with the Reverend Douglas Dales, a friend of the community and expert on St Bede. The choir was in fine voice, the servers on form, and the congregation sang with gusto a new hymn written for the occasion by Fr Hugh, who amended and expanded an earlier composition by Sr Laurentia of Stanbrook Abbey.
After the Mass there was a reception for the congregation in our guest refectory and calefactory cloister, with drinks and canapés prepared by our kitchen. Following this was luncheon in the monastic refectory.
Finally, at 6pm came Pontifical Second Vespers presided over by Vincent, Cardinal Nichols (whose late arrival due to traffic congestion did not dampen spirits in the slightest). The preacher was Martin Seeley, the Anglican bishop of St Edmundsbury, who focused on the body of St Edmund and its current supposed location, as well as on four gifts the Douai community has to offer the world: a strong sense of identity and meaning; an example of the necessity of prayer; the vrtue of stability and perseverence; and community as an antidote to individualism and social isolation.
At the end of Vespers, Cardinal Nichols solemnly blessed the new statue of St Edmund in the abbey church (photo below), a work by the eminent artist Peter Eugene Ball and a gift from the parents of Winchester College. Peter and his wife Jane were present for the blessing and for all the festivities. A large and engaging statue, it invites the viewer towards it, to admire, to ponder and (we hope) to pray.
It was a happy but wearying day, especially for those monks, staff, oblates and friends who were most involved in its organisation. When photos come to hand they will be posted here. A full account of the day, and much else, will be found in the next edition of The Douai Magazine, which will be out by next Spring.