A few members of St. Conleth's accepted the kind invitation to join the Sodality of Our Lady retreat party from Dublin this year. The Rules of the Sodality say: "There shall be a Retreat every year for some days... Certainly the most fruitful retreat is the kind called closed." The retreat was housed in the venerable Trappist Abbey of Mount Melleray in the Knockmealdown Mountains of Waterford.
The hexameter couplet certainly rings true there:
Bernardus colles, valles Benedictus amabat,
oppida Franciscus, magnas Ignatius urbes;
Bernard loved hills, Benedict the valleys,
Francis, towns; Ignatius, great cities;
The retreat was given by Fr. David Jones, D.D., who lives an eremitical life at The Hermitage, Duleek, County Meath, and is a published poet of note.
The Retreat House of Mount Melleray is open to anyone who wishes to make an organised or a private retreat there through the year. It offers the opportunity to pray and reflect in close proximity to the Trappist Community, whose balanced life is based upon Prayer, Study and Manual Labour, which is a spiritual privilege of great value. For us, the Retreat House provided not only sustainence and shelter but also a fine chapel to house the Liturgies and exercises of the retreat too.
Some of the retreatants made a visit to the sister house of Trappistine Nuns at St. Mary's Abbey, Glencairn, County Waterford, high above the River Blackwater. There, they were received by the Abbess with several of the sisters and several novices, following which, they joined the whole Community for the Office of None.
Back in Mount Melleray, one of the Monks spoke to some retreatants about the path that led from the original Abbey of Cistercium to Mount Melleray Abbey.
He also told us his own journey to Mount Melleray that took place more than 50 years before.
We heard about the privations that the Irish Trappist Monks faced when they were expelled from France in 1830, arriving in Mount Melleray in 1832. He spoke of the grain bin that had been provisioned by the first Abbot, Dom Vincent Ryan, before an extended absence, with orders to refuse nobody in need.
Upon his return, despite their having fed nearly a hundred local people during a severe famine, he found the quantity to have remained the same. Also, he spoke of the local people, delighted to see the return of the Monks to Ireland after an absence of three centuries, who marched, led by pipers, to help them reclaim the land. "We owe the people a great deal," he said, "and we should never forget it."
The challenges facing the Monks of Mount Melleray today are hardly new. We heard about a visiting Abbot who was concerned about the number of Monks at Mount Melleray. He is said to have commented that “This is an age of activity rather than penance and contemplation and there are few now contented with the blessed lot of Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet in silence and detachment.” When he visited, there were 54 Monks at Mount Melleray. That was in 1855.
Over the course of the three days the atmosphere of prayer in this place was suffused with the melodies of traditional gregorian chant once again.
Every day, Mass was celebrated according to the Gregorian Rite. Within Mass, full propers of the Masses of the last feriae of Passion Week were accompanied by Mass IV Cunctipotens and a range of seasonal Latin hymnody - Ave Regina Coelorum, Vexilla Regis, and Crux Fidelis among them - as well as Prime and Vespers of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary chanted throughout the course of the retreat.
On the second evening we made a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, concluding with Sung Vespers of the Little Office and Benediction.
On the third day, the Sodality of Our Lady had its monthly General Communion. It is a custom of that Sodality to have a different patron for each month. The patron for April is St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, who was a member of their Sodality.
Throughout the retreat we had the opportunity to attend the Choral Office of the Monks, beginning each day with the Office of Vigils beginning at 4 a.m.
After the Office of Vigils, one of the Monks celebrates Mass (Ordinary Form) Versus Deum in the Retreat House Chapel.
Fr. Jones' Conferences were given in the Epistle-side Aisle of the Retreat House Chapel. He focussed throughout upon the practical impact that a retreat should have upon our lives - and upon our eternities. In particular, he stressed that the devil isn't worried about our general intentions made at a retreat but is very worried about a practical resolutions made on retreat that we begin to practice in our lives.
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