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Resources for the Liturgy stored at: Company of Voices Resources.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Liturgical Tour (4): Colwich Abbey

One of the joys of long distance train travel is the spotting of familiar features signalling near arrival. On my regular journey from Euston to Stafford once I've seen the twin towers of Lichfield and the belching chimneys of Rugeley Power Station I am always glad to spot the Gothic castellations of Colwich Abbey, just seen above a modern housing estate.
This week I was able to get to Matins and Mass with the community on two days.
Colwich is a house of the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC) an association of Benedictine monasteries the most famous of which are probably Ampleforth and Downside. Benedictine congregations of monasteries are not limited Geographically and there are EBC monasteries in North and South America and monasteries in the UK such as Quarr on the Isle of Wight belong to Congregations based elsewhere.
The Abbey Church
Colwich was founded in Paris in 1651 for Catholic women from England. They came to England just after the French revolution. One of the first places they settled was Cannington in Somerset. The nuns' graves can still be seen in the gardens of the agricultural college there. I remember praying a rosary in the small cemetery at Cannington in 1995  while visiting the College.
The community at Colwich is now rather small, just six in choir when I was there, with all but the abbess, Mother Davina and a postulant, quite elderly. Mother Davina maintains a blog at Colwich Novitiate. However, the nuns sang with great energy and there is a strong feeling about the community, not the quiet despair sometimes felt in communities which are much declined in numbers. I certainly hope and pray that further vocations will develop and the community prospers.
Matins was sung in English and was a combination of Matins and Lauds typical of the EBC. Invitatory, two nocturns but the second reading the short chapter of lauds, a hymn then the psalmody of Lauds with Benedictus and conclusion. Only the Benedictus having an antiphon.
The singing was vey good and confident with a single tone for the Matins psalms and another for the Lauds psalms and canticle. All accompanied on the organ.
Mass was celebrated by the Chaplain, Fr Luke, a monk of Belmont. Fr Luke had been novice master to Abbot Alan Rees so we were able to exchange Abbot Alan stories.
Fr Luke is quite elderly and infirm and will be returning to Belmont soon. It was very beautiful to see him celebrate Mass with the help of a server and sitting on a tall tool at the altar after the consecration.
Chapter Room off the church

Mother Davina is a dog lover and the community's poodle came to see me after Matins one day and was much in evidence at other times. 
There is a definite family resemblance among the EBC communities, a very English form of Catholicism and a strong smell of wood polish. Augustine Baker is the great spiritual theologian of the English Benedictines, he did much to preserve the teaching of the Cloud of Unknowing which itself has a sense of reserve so different from other mystical accounts of that period. His Sancta Sophia is a distillation of his spiritual teaching, Stanbrook publish a set of selections from it which is very helpful.
As a teenager I was much influenced by Father Alphonus Tierney, a monk and former headmaster of Douai, who talked much of Baker's teaching on the spiritual life. Interesting that I should also end up as a priest-headteacher; although I haven't yet taken up the use of snuff as Fr Alphonusus did, using all four sides of his scapular to collect brown snuff before having it washed.

It was very joyful worshiping at Colwich on two beautiful summer mornings and reminded me why I enjoy monastic worship: something unhurried and uncluttered, a taking for granted of the structures and content of worship, not having to 'invent' it each day; not being a performance for the assembly but by the assembly for God; but also that lack of chit-chat before and after which is so much a part of worship in parish churches.

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