Community on retreat 22-30 July. Services open; shop closed.

400th Anniversary Celebration on the Feast of Our Lady of Consolation

5 July 2024, 400th Anniversary Celebration with Monastic Communities and Local Religious

Having celebrated with our families, friends, oblates, neighbours and ecumenical friends, we wanted to complete this round of Jubilee festivities with our fellow monastic brothers and sisters and religious. To do so we chose 5 July when we honour Mary under the title of Our Lady of Consolation, the patron of our monastery since its beginning in Cambrai in 1623.

Once again the meteorological forecast for poor weather seemed to have been over-ridden by prayer as the day dawned bright and breezy. The sheep, absent from the monastery fields since Monday, returned last evening newly shorn and looking younger, as if ready for the celebration themselves.

By 11am the usually silent cloisters were filled with the sound of joyful encounters as old friends were re-united and new introductions made. The first toll of the bell alerted people to get ready; MC and choir mistress gave instructions to the assembly, and by 11.25 when the second toll sounded, silence reigned as nuns, monks and prelates formed into a long procession and recollected themselves for the service ahead.

The opening chant, sung in Latin by the nuns, was based on Chapter 13 v. 17 of the Book of Esther and captures the heart of the devotion to Our Lady of Consolation:

Converte luctum nostrum in gaudium ut viventes laudemus nomen tuum…
(Change our grief into joy so that we might live to praise your name).

Originally put on the lips of the Hebrew people living under oppression and for whom Queen Esther was an advocate, for Christians these words apply to Mary through whom came Jesus who has rescued God’s people from the oppression of sin.  He is the one who changes our griefs into joy, having taken upon himself our mortal condition with all its sorrows, and transformed them through his resurrection from the dead into the possibility of new and eternal life.

It was wonderful to see the apse full with almost twenty concelebrants, mostly monks from all corners of the UK and some from the US, while in the body of the church were assembled representatives from the Companions of Jesus of the Bar Convent in York, the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal from Leeds, Sr Kathy Yeeles OSB representing the Grace and Compassion sisters, and several Anglican friends.

Before Mass began Mother Abbess welcomed everyone and thanked people for attending. Preaching to the converted, for as she mentioned there were several communities in the assembly who had already passed their 400 milestone, the abbess emphasised that the day was all about giving thanks for God’s fidelity to us over the past 400 years. A special word of thanks was addressed to Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, leader of the Benedictine Confederation worldwide, for being willing to join us at what for him is a busy time as he prepares to retire in September.

We were delighted that Cardinal Arthur Roche, formerly Archbishop of Leeds, the Cardinal Prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome was unexpectedly able to preside at today’s celebration.

The Mass continued, Mass ordinary VIII, Missa de Angelis, the antiphonal singing between monks and nuns, present in almost equal numbers, being particularly effective.

The Gospel of the marriage feast of Cana (John 2: 1-11), proclaimed by Abbot Christoper Jamison, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, took up the theme of transformation of grief into joy set by the entrance chant and central to each Eucharistic celebration.

Abbot Gregory Polan preached eloquently, weaving the story of the Stanbrook community from its birth in 1623 to the present day with the story of the People of Israel where exile, oppression, liberation, desolation, joys and rebuilding are common themes found also in the story of each soul.

The beautiful Offertory Chant, Recordare, Virgo Mater, (Remember Virgin Mother) based in part on the Stabat Mater, and sung by the nuns, addresses Mary as intercessor, begging her to speak up for us to God at our death.

The Offertory gifts were carried by D. Benedicta and our pre-postulant, Emma Vardon, who hopes to join us later this year.

The final Gregorian chant, sung by the nuns before Holy Communion, Facta es Adjutrix nostra (You have been made our Strong Help) continued the  theme of the whole Mass, Mary’s role in helping to change sorrow into joy: a most timely message for our troubled world.

Before the final blessing, Cardinal Roche spoke words of gratitude and encouragement to the community, particularly for the hidden ways in which the contemplative life works, under God’s grace, to help build up the Church and bring healing to the world.

‘Now thank we all our God’, sung rousingly by the whole assembly, was a fitting conclusion to this prayerful, simple and moving celebration.

Photographs in the garth followed and, as the winds of change which had been blowing powerfully across the UK over the past few days had subsided, people were able to enjoy a sumptuous finger buffet, al fresco, though some preferred the shelter of the monastic refectory lined with the coats of arms of some of our foundresses.

The last word goes to one of these foundresses as it expresses something of the hidden life of prayer which powers the contemplative journey to God.

…And henceforth let me draw no breath
but to aspire by love
to thee, my God and all my good
by whom I live and move.
No stag in chase so thirsty is
or greedy of sweet spring,
as is my soul to thee, my God,
whilst here I sighing sing.

Dame Gertrude More (1606-1633) from ‘My God to Thee I Dedicate’.
Printed in Poems and Counsels on Prayer and Contemplation,

  1. Jacob Riyeff, pub. Gracewing 2020, p.4.

From The House Chronicle