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Monastic life today



“All of Life as Liturgy”



The Cistercian General Chapters
(OCSO and OCist, September and October 2022)



Monastic Life and Synodality



Dwelling in the ‘common House’

“All of Life as Liturgy”

AIM Bulletin no. 125, 2023



 Dom J.-P. Longeat, osb, President of the AIM

 Lectio divina

 " Peace be with you !”

Dom Adriano Bellini, OSB


 • Monastic liturgy, God's Great “Today”

 Dom J.-P. Longeat, osb

 • Saint Macrina, “Her whole life was liturgy”

 Sister Véronique Dupont, OSB

 • The implementation of the reform of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours in the Brazilian congregation

 Dom Jerônimo Pereira Silva, OSB


 Rites at the heart of the social bond

 Mr. Jean-Claude Ravet

 Great figures of monastic life

 Le Saux-Abhishiktananda, a priesthood in  Spirit

 Fr. Yann Vagneux, MEP

 Art and liturgy

 As the story unfolds, “Mary kept these things in her heart”

 Dom Ruberval Monteiro, OSB


 • Journey to the Holy Land, April-May 2023

 Dom J.-P. Longeat, OSB

 • Travel to India, February 2023

 Sister Christine Conrath, OSB



This issue of the AIM Bulletin was intended to be a summary reflection on the practice of liturgy in monasteries today: achievements, questions, proposals. We did not succeed in meeting this challenge, which would have required 
more preparation and contacts with several monasteries on different continents in order to obtain a snapshot of the current situation.

But this issue is about liturgy in a more general and spiritual sense. We are delighted to have the contribution of three Brazilian Benedictines, two of whom are professors at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo.

We have reprinted a study by Sister Véronique Dupont, a nun from Vénières and a tireless collaborator with AIM, who sadly passed away too soon. This article deals with “life as liturgy” as a desert Mother like St Macrina invited us to live.

We also wanted to honour Father Henri Le Saux on the 50th anniversary of his death, with a contribution from Father Yann Vagneux of the Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP). This study has already been published in the review “Vie consacrée”, but it was worth repeating.

Finally, Sister Christine, secretary of the AIM, presents here her report on her trip to India for the ISBF meeting, followed by a visit to several monasteries, and I give a few echoes of my stay in Israel, to meet the various communities of the Benedictine family in the Holy Land.

Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB

President of AIM


Peace be with you ! (Luke 24:35-48)


Lectio divina

Dom Adriano Bellini, OSB

Ligugé Abbey (France)


Peace be with you!

The Gospel of Saint Luke 24:35-48:

a key to the liturgy


Jesus does not look like the Messiah the Israelites had imagined: a king, priest and prophet who would deliver them from the oppression of the most powerful, forgive sins and bring salvation with him. Yet the Apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus is the Messiah who was to come, who totally fulfils the prophecy of the whole of Scripture. The time has come: we must open our eyes to receive salvation. Only those who allow themselves to be illuminated by the light of the Risen Christ can open their hearts to the understanding of the Scriptures, to reread and rediscover that he, the Saviour, saves us through humility, obedience, passion and death. It was precisely at the crucial and painful moment of his death on the cross that he fulfilled the prophecies. As a true priest, he offers the definitive sacrifice and reveals the power of the kingship of a loving God who not only saves his people but remains with them forever.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognised Jesus ‘in the breaking of the bread’, and now the Lord appears in person in their midst, showing them the signs of the crucifixion to dispel fear and doubt; they can also touch him and eat with him. Christ, the Living One, assures us of his real presence among us, particularly through the Word and the Eucharist. We can and must also experience the joy of encountering Christ daily, so that we can communicate with him and receive the forgiveness, life and blessings we need.

The risen Jesus says to the disciples: “Peace be with you”. Peace is the messianic gift par excellence, the gift of Christ’s resurrection. But it is not a peace manufactured according to the mentality of the world. Jesus himself said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give it to you in the way of the world. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27). The peace of Christ is a peace that transforms doubt into certainty, selfishness into communion, fear into hope. This wish for peace is profoundly liturgical; it is with it that the bishop opens every liturgical celebration. It is no coincidence that the Benedictine motto is “PAX” - peace - and that Saint Benedict is called the messenger of peace. In general, the PAX greeting is found at the entrance to all monasteries; sometimes there is even a phrase, for example: Sit pax intranti, redeunti gratia sancti (Peace to those who enter; to those who leave, take with you the grace of the Saint [Benedict], as in the entrance to the Abbey of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome). Those who stroll through the cloister of the abbey of Saint-Martin have before them mosaics that insistently remind them of the gift of peace. This is not just a welcome to those who come to the monastery, but a sign that the community welcomes its guests and gives them, as they enter and leave, what it holds most precious: the peace of Christ, the Paschal gift par excellence. The monastic community itself is called to live according to this peace, to seek it out, preserve it and make it shine forth in the world: “Seek peace and pursue it”, says Saint Benedict (Prol. 17).

“Peace is not laziness or false selflessness, [...] peace is the attitude of a soul united to God in charity.” (Dom Delatte)

Peace does not always mean the absence of problems or conflicts. On the contrary, Jesus warns his disciples that they will have to endure many tribulations. The peace that Jesus obtained at the price of his blood means above all the certainty of his presence, even when we have to cross a stormy sea of difficulties. Jesus is alive, he walks with us and gives us his peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit. This peace is achieved when we are all committed to seeking God and the common good, when there is a sincere desire for communion, charity and self-giving. It is this peace, the peace of the Risen Christ, that we share during Mass.

“Stay with us, Lord”. Deliver us from ignorance and open the eyes of our hearts to listen to your word and to obey God. Give us the grace and extraordinary joy of encountering you in the broken bread at every Eucharistic celebration, and may our being be truly transformed by communion with your Body and Blood, so that our witness of faith may be credible, our charity sincere, and your peace may be within us. Amen.

Monastic liturgy: God’s great “today”



Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB

President of AIM


Monastic liturgy:

God’s great “today”


These reflections are an invitation to choose to live today as the most important and real of days. Today, as every day, everything comes from the power and truth of beings and things, provided that our lives are prepared to welcome them. As we know, the liturgy emphasises this “hodie”, this today that brings us into God’s never-ending day.

This proposal is made with all those in mind who, today, as every day since the creation of humankind, are thirsting to be, to live, to understand, to share, to love, to exist intensely in a humanity that cries out its thirst and desire without ever really knowing what the object or mode of that desire might be.

First of all, we will ask the question of daily listening: “Today, if you hear my voice”; then that of daily nourishment: “Give us this day our daily bread”; and finally we will turn to the Day of God, the day beyond days, the promised and longed-for day.


“Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps 94)

This verse from the psalm is quoted at the very beginning of the Rule of Saint Benedict:

“So let us rise at the end, Scripture urges us: ‘The hour has come for you to awaken from your slumber’ (Rom 13:11). Let us open our eyes to the light that divinises. Let us listen attentively to the voice of God who cries out this warning to us every day: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Ps 94:8). And elsewhere: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ (Rev 2:7). And what does he say? ‘Come, my sons, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord’ (Ps 33:12). ‘Run while you have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize you’ (Jn 12:35).” (Prol. 8-13)

Psalm 94 is or was sung every day at the beginning of the Office of Vigils in the Benedictine liturgy: it is par excellence the invitatory psalm, the psalm that invites us to pray with its different components.

First of all, a general call to praise: “Come, let us shout for joy to the Lord, let us acclaim the Rock that saves us! Let us come to him with thanksgiving! To him our songs and our acclamations”. Then, thanksgiving for the work of creation: “He is the great God, the Lord, the King greater than all gods! In his hand are the depths of the earth; his are the mountain peaks. He made the sea and the continents with his hands”. Even before being recognised as the Creator of all things, the Lord is confessed as the only God, the great God above all greatness and all heights. This is why he can contain in his hand all the elements of creation, from the depths of the earth to the summits of the mountains, across the breadth of seas and continents.

This is followed by a prayer of thanksgiving for the work of salvation, in direct relation to the walk in the desert and the wonders accomplished there by the hand of the Lord. This prayer is accompanied by an invitation to repentance, the guarantee of true thanksgiving: “Come, bow down, prostrate yourselves! Let us adore the Lord who made us! Yes, he is our God and we are the people he leads, the flock guided by his hand... Do not harden your hearts as in the desert, as in the day of rebellion and defiance when your fathers defied and provoked me, yet they saw what I did!” This thanksgiving for redemption and this call to repentance are combined with a new confession of faith: “He is our God and we are the people he leads...”.

Finally, the psalm ends with an evocation of God’s promise to man to be able to share his life in his eternal rest, on the last Sabbath, if his heart does not go astray, with a new reference to Israel’s sin in the desert: “For forty years I have borne this generation; I have said, ‘This is a people whose heart has gone astray; they want nothing to do with my ways’. So I swore in my anger: ‘They shall never enter the land of my rest’”.

In the middle of all this comes the verse quoted by Saint Benedict: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. In this psalm, then, there is the dimension of memory, the dimension of promise and the dimension that gives meaning to both, the dimension of daily reality. This is one of the keys to Christian spirituality. Saint Benedict, following in the footsteps of the monastic tradition, is a particularly remarkable commentator.

What is it about? It’s about living each day awake. Every morning and every moment of the day is a call from the voice of God. This call can be heard only by those who are attentive to it. Those who open the eyes and ears of their heart to see and hear “what eye has not seen, what ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9 quoted by RB 4:77). What can make us unhappy in this life is to be trapped in the illusion of the external senses. If I see only with the eyes of my flesh, if I hear only with the ears of my body, I have not yet seen or heard anything that can give me a taste of true life.

Every day, in every second, through the beings and things created, we are given the totality of existence. But we often sleep and dream. It is urgent, constantly urgent, to wake up, to rise, to resurrect and to start listening: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. This is one of the essential sayings of the Gospel. To be able to listen, the heart must be touched, converted, circumcised. In this respect, we need to reread the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Right from the first verse of the Prologue, Saint Benedict invites us to do so: “Listen, incline the ear of your heart” (Prol. 1).

In commenting on the above-mentioned verse of Psalm 94, the Epistle to the Hebrews updates in a particularly powerful way our relationship with the Word of God, which we receive in order to put it into practice so that one day we can taste God’s rest: “The Word of God is living, effective and sharper than any two-edged sword; it penetrates to the dividing point of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and can judge the feelings and thoughts of the heart. Therefore there is no creature that remains invisible before it, but everything is naked and uncovered in the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:12-13). Is our life all oriented towards this perspective of the today of the Word that comes to pass in our human lives, so that we can say with Christ: “Today this passage of Scripture is fulfilled in your ears” (Lk 4:21)?


“Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:11; Lk 11:3)

It is not enough to incline the ear of our heart and not to harden it. In order to be able to hear the Lord’s call through his Word every day; we must also accept to receive what the Lord plans for us on a daily basis, according to his will.

It’s a good idea here to refer to Israel’s experience in the desert. The Lord freely provided for the hunger of his people by sending them during the night “a layer of dew all around the camp”. When this layer of dew evaporates in the morning, something small and granular appears on the surface of the ground. “This is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. And Moses said to them: ‘Let no one keep any in reserve until the next day’; They gathered it every morning, each according to what he could eat, and when the sun became hot, it melted” (cf. Ex 16:13-21). The daily nourishment of manna from heaven is a key element in the spirituality God offers his people today.

The Gospel of Saint Matthew gives a beautiful commentary on this gift from heaven: “Do not be anxious for your life what you will eat, or for your body what you will wear. Do not be anxious, saying: What shall we eat, what shall we drink? Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So don’t worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has its own troubles” (Mt 6:25-34).

So should we take these texts literally? No, that’s not enough; they need to be interpreted. But it is also essential to know how to live this abandonment day by day in the confidence of a faith that is always being renewed. It is quite clear that our quest is rarely for the Kingdom of God first, and that is where the problem lies. If, like the Israelites in the desert, we want to stock up on manna, if we want to hoard God’s gift, if we do not accept to receive each day the gifts that are only necessary for us, we will not be able to fulfil God’s life in this world.

CIB Assembly in Rome in 2022.

The discourse on the Bread of Life presents the fulfilment of this sign of the manna. In it, Christ reveals that he himself is the Bread of Life. “Your fathers in the desert ate manna and died; this bread is the bread that comes down from heaven so that you can eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever” (Jn 6:49-51).

Our only real daily food is Christ, given so that the world may have life. We receive him in his ruminated word andin prayer, in the bread of the Eucharist and the sacraments, and in fraternal communion.

So “Give us this day our daily bread” can only be understood in this new relationship with Christ who is delivered up each day. This is how we can seek the Kingdom and its justice, this is how we can be content with our daily food.

The whole of Christ’s life is like this, as St Luke relates in his own way: “Today this passage of Scripture is fulfilled in your ears” (4:21); following the healing of the paralytic, the witnesses exclaim: “We have seen strange things today” (5:26). “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I am consumed! But today, tomorrow and the next day I must go on my way, for it is not fitting that a prophet should perish outside Jerusalem” (13:32-33). “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for I must stay with you today. Today salvation has come to this house...” (19:5-9).

So we can ask ourselves about our daily food. Is it really to receive Christ first in order to fulfil the will that is in God, or is it to worry about a completely superfluous accumulation that we will not be able to take to the grave? Is our life under the primary sign of the Eucharist, with all its spiritual, personal, community and social dimensions, or is it something else that is particularly vain? Accepting to receive Christ’s daily nourishment means accepting that our immediate plans will be disrupted, and living it joyfully in the footsteps of Jesus as he goes up to Jerusalem towards his Exodus.

Saint Benedict instructs the abbot to remember this teaching of the Gospel, lest “he forget that these are souls he has been given to lead and that he will have to give an account for them. So he should not be overly concerned about the modest resources of the monastery, but should remember that it is written: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and the rest will be added to you’” (RB 2,35).

The Day of the Lord

But the real today in the lives of believers is God’s great today, which spans the whole of history and far beyond. For the Lord, “a thousand years are as one day” (Ps 89) and “better is one day in the courts of the Lord than a thousand in my house” (Ps 83:11). God’s today is the day of his permanent coming. The Lord never stops coming; he visits his creation, he speaks to it, he becomes incarnate in it, he promises it his glorious coming when Christ will be all in all.

Biblical Revelation is thus punctuated by the announcement of God’s today, which is constantly manifested in the lives of mankind: “There was evening and there was morning, it was day one” (Gn 1); “This is the day in which the Lord acts” or “This is the day that the Lord has made” (Ps 117); “In that day...” the prophets keep saying; this expression does not necessarily mean a projection into the future, it is an announcement of today’s day when each person is called to choose between life and death (cf. Deuteronomy). Saint Luke’s Gospel opens with this announcement of the Good News: “Today a Saviour has been born to you” (Lk 2:11) and concludes with this promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

But what best expresses this great day of God is the today of the liturgical celebration. In the Latin liturgy, hodie resonates as an unheard-of hope throughout the year. The most famous hodie is that of Christmas: “Hodie Christus natus est...”. - “Today Christ is born to us; today the Saviour has appeared; today the angels sing on earth, the archangels rejoice; today the righteous exult, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’” (antiphon from the Magnificat in 2nd Vespers of Christmas). This antiphon finds its preparation in the Office of Christmas Eve, where the today of revelation is announced: “Today you will know that the Lord is coming, and in the morning you will see his glory”. The antiphon for Epiphany can be added to this Christmas antiphon: “Hodie caelesti sponso” - “Today the Church is united with her heavenly spouse, for Christ has washed her from her sins in the Jordan; the Magi come with their gifts to the royal wedding, and the guests are gladdened by the water turned into wine” (ant. of the Benedictus of the Lauds of Epiphany). The antiphon of the Magnificat of Second Vespers takes up this theme: “Today the star has guided the Magi to the manger; today the water has turned to wine at the wedding feast; today, in the Jordan, Christ willed to be baptised by John in order to save us”. In the same spirit, the antiphon from the Magnificat of the Second Vespers of Pentecost sets out the Mystery actualised on this day: “Today the days of Pentecost are fulfilled; today the Holy Spirit has appeared to the disciples in the form of fire, and has poured out upon them the mysterious gifts; he has sent them out into the whole world to preach and bear witness. Those who believe and receive baptism will be saved”. Between the two, of course, we have Easter Sunday and Eastertide, when we hear “Haec dies quam fecit Dominus” from Psalm 117:24, the Easter psalm par excellence: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us exult and be glad in him”. This day is the Day of days: the true today of divine life. Some recent Marian antiphons (8 December, 11 February) have taken up this theme, and the Benedictine liturgy has applied it to Saint Benedict, Saint Scholastica and Saint Maurus. Sunday is the great Lord’s Day, both the first day of creation and of redemption in Christ’s resurrection, and the eighth day, the day beyond days, the day of God transfiguring all things, the day of his coming. The sacrament of Sunday is truly of great importance for the expression of the life of Christ. We need to develop in each of our lives a spirituality of this daily life, which is God’s today. It is the day of birth, the day of the beginning, the day of recommencement, the day of the resurrection, and it is also the day of eternity, the day when appearances disappear to make way for reality, the day of discernment, which is another name for judgement.

By singing the Mysteries today, the liturgy enables them to be realised here below in the form of a figure. In this way, the faithful become contemporaries of the mysteries celebrated, which took on flesh one day in the past and are still relevant today. This is the meaning of the Christian memorial.

An elderly monk from our monastery, who died a few years ago, lived the last period of his life in the conviction that every morning was Sunday, and as he was a sacristan’s assistant, he prepared everything necessary for the Sunday liturgy every day. Of course, this elderly monk had lost his head a little, unless in fact it was we who had really lost it, and he, in his candour, had found it again after some seventy years of monastic life.

In the 4th century, a monk in the Egyptian desert said to himself every morning: “Today I begin”. Let this beginning never cease to dwell in our actions: in this way, in the words of Gregory of Nyssa, we will go “from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end”, and in this way we will reach the never-ending day that God is already offering us as an image.


It’s not enough to set out a few analytical principles; we also need to give them concrete consequences.

Are we really going to listen to the call ringing in our ears from God? Will our hearts be receptive enough to enter into the Word today? Let’s really ask ourselves whether we are frequenting the divine Word, in one way or another (biblical and spiritual readings, prayer, meditation, rumination, lectio divina). Is today a day when God is coming to us and to those around us, seeking and calling his worker from the multitude in a way that is always unexpected? Are we going to make our lives a daily companionship? How can we share the Bread of God with our brothers and sisters? How can we receive the manna that is the true Bread of life? It’s clear that when we know that half the inhabitants of our planet are dying of hunger, we really wonder what happened to the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread”; is it therefore impossible to make disciples of ourselves as we cross the desert of this world?

Finally, how does our life bear witness to the Day beyond the days? Do we know how to put our immediate possessions into perspective so that we can put ourselves in God’s hands, with the courage to work tirelessly, but free from any preoccupation with self-aggrandisement? God’s day is always a day of judgement, when we are laid bare to be what we really ought to be: simple creatures, simple servants who know that they are children of God for eternity. That is our treasure, and “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).

“This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

(Ps 117:24)

Saint Macrina, “Her whole life was liturgy”



† Sister Véronique Dupont, SOB

Venière Abbey (France)


Saint Macrina

“Her whole life was liturgy”[1]




The Life of Sainte Macrina

Gregory of Nyssa wrote the Life of Macrina (VSM)[2] around 380 at the earliest, and 383 at the latest, at the height of his career and the best hours of his spiritual influence. This text, contemporary with the Great Catechesis,[3] is the spiritual side of the truths of the faith; it is its illustration. The immediate occasion for writing this text is well known: during a trip to Arabia to report on the decisions of the first Council of Constantinople (381), Gregory met a monk, Olympios, to whom he spoke with emotion about the recent death of his sister. Seduced, Olympios asked Gregory to put the story in writing so that it could serve as an example for monks and nuns.

A Eucharistic Liturgy

Gregory presents Macrina’s life as a Eucharistic liturgy: Macrina prepares the bread, anoints her hands for the sacred things, offers the others, and herself remembers the magnalia Dei, calls for sanctification (epiclesis), and dies during the Eucharist in the lucernary. This form of death, the end of prayer and the end of life, is a commonplace in Christian stories of the time.[4]

Macrina lent her hands to the liturgical service (VSM 5, p. 159); what does this mean? Perhaps she prepared the Eucharistic bread like many virgins of her time, as Father Daniélou[5] points out? Surely she received it in her hands, which were therefore anointed (Christ) and therefore consecrated for all the occupations of the day.

What did Macrina do during the day? “To meditate on the divine realities, to pray without ceasing, to sing hymns day and night, to accomplish the indispensable tasks with which one is preoccupied in this life. She did not leave material work to slaves and servants” (VSM 11).

The primacy of Scripture

Macrina was trained from her youth to meditate on divine realities. Did she not learn to read and write from the Scriptures? Was she not instructed in the Scriptures? Everything in the inspired Scriptures of God that appears to be more accessible to the children was the child’s programme, above all the Wisdom of Solomon, and preferably, in this book, that which contributes to the moral life. She knew nothing of the psalter either, and recited each part at specific times of the day; getting out of bed, starting or finishing work, eating her meal or leaving the table, going to bed or getting up to pray, she kept the psalmody with her everywhere, like a faithful companion who never failed her for a single moment. Macrina’s education was based entirely on Sacred Scripture, and in turn, Basil, Macrina’s younger brother, was initially formed by Scripture, hence the abundance of quotations and references to sapiential texts in Basil’s writings. Peter, the youngest son (who later became bishop of Sebaste), was also trained in this way. Macrina brought him up and gave him access to a higher culture, training him from childhood in the sacred sciences (VSM 12). For the ancients, Scripture was a gateway to universal knowledge. They learned to read and write, to understand, to discover history, the natural sciences, cosmology, mathematics, medicine, the symbolism of numbers and, above all, the Wisdom that is Christ. The education of Macrina and her brothers therefore began, when they were still small, with the study of the sapiential books and the psalter. Macrina recited the psalter in its entirety every day: “Not for a single moment did it fail her”;[6] which is to say that she knew it by heart (memorization by heart). We read the same attitude in Jerome’s Letter 107 about little Paula: “May her still tender tongue be impregnated with the sweetness of the psalms... Let her first learn the Psalter”.[7] Similarly, in the Rule, St Benedict gives young brothers the study of the Psalter as their first task.[8] But Macrina’s scriptural practice did not stop at the Old Testament. Macrina lived a philosophical life, and the Philosopher was Christ. This philosophical life lived in Annisa[9] is the evangelical life lived in its absolute. It is in line with the appeals of Saint Paul in his letter to the Colossians: “Put away all wrath, anger, malice, insults and shameful words from your mouths” (Col 3:8), and of Saint Peter to the Christians: “Be humble one to another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). The Life of Macrina refers to many other quotations from similar New Testament texts. As for Gregory’s description of her, is it not, in his own style and characteristic of the period, a sign of the passage from the old man to the new man (see Col 3:9-10)? Some episodes from the life of Annisa are presented to us by Gregory as evangelical, probably to establish the link between the monastic life and the following of Christ, the imitation of Christ. On a day of famine, Macrina’s brother Peter brought in so many provisions that the crowd of visitors - attracted by the monastery’s reputation for charity - “made the desert look like a city”;[10] this is reminiscent of the crowd that flocked to Jesus, for example in Mark 1:45, but also during the multiplication of the loaves (Mk 6:31-44) and the healings. Macrina herself performed many miracles (VSM 36). In this way, Gregory wants to show that the ideal of philosophy is the perfection of the Christian life, and that the pursuit of this ideal is the pursuit not of an abstraction, but of a person: Christ. For Macrina and her companions, praying unceasingly and singing the praise of God was their work and their rest after work (VSM 11).

Work/rest; work/relaxation; to go to God, holidays in God, rest in God

The work of psalmody and hymn singing is a source of energy and renewal. In this sense, life at Annisa is an “angelic” life, because the angels praise God unceasingly (VSM 12 and 15). Primacy is always given to the Divine Office. Macrina, who is ill and knows that this is the last time she will speak with her brother, nevertheless interrupts her spiritual exchange (a dialogue that is in fact an anamnesis of the Magnalia Dei) (VSM 20) as soon as she hears the beginning of the Lucernarium. She immediately sends her brother to the Church, while she herself takes refuge with God in prayer (VSM 22). At the end of her prayer, she signs herself “and ceased both her prayer and her life”.[11]

Three celebrations

Rather than listing all the traces of “liturgy” in Macrina’s life, let’s look at three “liturgical celebrations”: the welcoming of a guest, death in Christ, and the liturgy of the funeral.

Welcoming a guest

When Gregory, the bishop, arrives in Annisa to see his sick sister, the group of men (monks who have been installed by Basil further away on the huge family estate) go to meet him, while the choir of virgins, lined up in good order next to the church, await Gregory’s entrance. Gregory enters, prays, and gives his blessing to the virgins, who bow (VSM 16). In the same way, when a guest arrives at a monastery or a Basilian fraternity, they begin by praying.[12] This is a custom already well attested in the fourth century in the East. It was to be found later in the Rule of Saint Benedict,[13]for example. This custom became universal in the monastic world.

Death in Christ

The closer Macrina senses her biological death (towards the end of the day, which is also a symbol), the more anxious she is to go to her Beloved (VSM 23). Her bed faces east. It was in the East that the first Christians placed paradise; it was from the East that they awaited the return of Christ, but also the coming of the angels who would welcome the souls of the righteous and lead them to God’s paradise. In the East, Pachomius sees the soul of a brother taken to the angels. In the East, Macrina contemplates the beauty of the Bridegroom, her eyes constantly resting on him. Her heart and lips burst into prayer. As she prays, Macrina draws a cross over her mouth, eyes and heart, protecting her whole being from the demons. Then she expresses the desire to say the Lucernarium Eucharist prayer, in other words, the great evening prayer. She does so with gestures and in her heart, unable to speak as she is so feverish. The prayer ends with her singing, while her prayer and her life cease with a deep sigh (VSM 25). This way of presenting Macrina’s death means that her whole life had become prayer, her whole life had become liturgy: liturgy in the strong, broad sense, not the performance of rites, but the inclusion of her whole life in the liturgy. This does not mean that everything we do in the monastic life is ritual, far from it, but that nothing is excluded from our Christian life: “All things are yours, but you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

Funeral liturgy

A story told by Gregory shows that liturgy permeates all monastic life. When Macrina died, funeral songs were sung. Macrina had indeed set a time for weeping (VSM 27), prescribing that weeping should take place at the time of prayer, but she had made it clear that these tears were not to be wailing or complaining. In other words, there is a time for everything, a time for weeping, a time for giving thanks. But if there’s a time for everything, that doesn’t mean we can do everything any old how. We can express our sorrow in the liturgy (cf. the singing of the psalms, for example). Jesus wept too. We weep, but we don’t complain. Under the direction of Lampadion, the choir mistress, the virgins chant “for psalmody soothes the groaning”, says Gregory of Nazianzus.[14] The night is spent singing hymns, as for the martyrs. This liturgical feature means that Macrina’s death is equivalent to that of a martyr, because she was faithful to the end! This is why the celebration of a jubilee, or even the funeral of a nun, is a greater celebration than monastic profession: profession is serious, a promise for the future; the death of a nun is a promise fulfilled. The psalmody is sung in two choirs. A female choir: the nuns of Annisa and the other women (because a large crowd comes, not without sometimes disturbing the psalmody), and a male choir: the monks and the other men. These choirs sing either alternately, or together, in a chorus “perfectly homogeneous thanks to a melody common to all”.[15] The funeral procession sets off for the chapel about a kilometer and a half away, dedicated to the forty martyrs of Sebaste. The deceased’s parents are already buried there. The procession is led by Bishop Araxios, to whom Gregory leads the way. The main thing we know about this convoy is that the large crowd was a nuisance: it took all day to complete this short route. This was a true liturgical procession (VSM 34), with deacons, lower clerics, candle-bearers and others. All along the way, we chant, like the three children in the furnace, with one voice and one mouth (see Dan 3:51). As the tomb is opened, a virgin, then several others, begin to cry out; confusion ensues. Finally Gregory calls for silence, the cantor invites prayer and the people gather round. Like the wise virgins (Mt 25), the procession goes to meet the Bridegroom; Macrina’s face is deformed. For the burial (VSM 35), we note a biblical custom practiced at the time: so that the nakedness of the parents (long dead!) is not discovered - the Greeks were loathe to see such spectacles - their bodies (what remains of them!) are covered with a new shroud[16] and Macrina is laid to rest next to her mother, according to their common will. Macrina’s life is a mystical ascent to Christ. The same spiritual “steps” can be found in the Life of Moses,[17] albeit presented here in a different form.

The miracles performed by Macrina

In the epilogue (VSM 39), St Gregory alludes to the many miracles performed by Macrina, miracles of various kinds: healings of illnesses, expulsions of demons, an allusion to a miracle performed at the time of the famine; but he does not recount all these miracles in detail, thinking that his sister’s sanctity was already well established without the trouble of adding to it. Thus, in the course of the account of Macrina’s life, only two miracles are reported, one concerning Macrina herself, the other a small child, this second miracle being the basis, for Gregory, of a philosophical (i.e. monastic) teaching. Gregory did not choose these miracles at random. Indeed, if miracles are recalled in a Life, it is to show the similarity between the saint and Christ. The miracles are therefore chosen according to the rigorous criterion of scriptural reference; here: healing of a blind man and anointing in faith.

The miracle of Macrina

This miracle comes to light after Macrina’s death, when Gregory and Vetiana, one of Annisa’s virgins, go to cover Macrina’s body. Vetiana tells Gregory that her sister once had a serious breast tumour and refused to be treated despite her mother’s injunctions. When she was praying in the sanctuary, she made mud from her tears and put it on the tumour. Her mother still insisted that she be cured, so Macrina invited her to make the sign of the cross over her ailment, which she did. The tumour disappeared, leaving just a small mark to be “a memorial of divine intervention, a subject and motive for unceasing thanksgiving to God”.[18] This account reveals the depth of Macrina’s faith. The very structure of this text is reminiscent of the evangelical healings performed by Jesus: “Go, your faith has saved you” (Mt 9:22).

The miracle of the soldier’s child

The account of this miracle is marvellous (VSM 37-38), because it constantly moves back and forth between philosophical life and the illness of a soldier’s child. This soldier and his wife went to Annisa to see Macrina and visit the monastery. They brought their little daughter, who was suffering from an infectious disease in one eye. The soldier visited the men’s monastery (run by Peter, Macrina and Gregory’s brother), while his wife visited the women’s monastery (run by Macrina). As they were leaving, as a sign of friendship, they were invited - each to their respective monasteries - to take part in the philosophical table. The little girl is with her mother. Macrina takes her on her lap, notices her ailment and promises her mother a reward for coming to the philosophical table. She gave him eye drops to cure eye diseases. After the banquet, the couple went home and, on the way, they realised that they had forgotten the eye drops; at the same time, they discovered that the child had been cured. The mother realised that the real eyewash was prayer, the divine remedy. The soldier then took the child in his arms and remembered all the miracles of the Gospel: their faith had saved them. These two miracles are very evangelical. Their common basis is faith. They are reported in a style deliberately imitated from the Synoptics (see Lk 4:40; 7:21).

Macrina’s life is a race towards and with Christ

This is reminiscent of the De instituto christiano attributed to Gregory of Nyssa.[19] Gregory, and this says everything about Macrina’s character, compares his sister to a runner who is close to the finish line, having overtaken his opponent and already announcing his victory, seeing the victor’s crown and directing his gaze towards the prize of the call from on high. Macrina lives as an athlete of Christ. Her pursuit of Christ is progressive liberation with a view to seeing him (VSM 23). Christ is her Lover. Macrina felt a divine and pure love for Christ, her invisible spouse. She nourished this love in the most intimate part of her being. Her heart was driven by the desire to hasten to her Beloved, to be with him sooner, once freed from the bonds of the body: “In truth, it was towards her lover that she ran, without any of the pleasures of life diverting her attention”.[20](The authorship of Saint Gregory of Nyssa is not certain).

Fascinated by Christ, she contemplates in him the beauty of the Bridegroom and keeps her eyes constantly fixed on him. She dies as she lived, “dressed as a bride” for her husband.[21] Resplendent in light, even in a dark garment, Macrina is clothed in Light, like Adam and Eve in the beginning, before the adventure of the tunics of skin. Like Christ, Macrina lives for God (Rom 6:10). Macrina has become Light, like her Creator. Her life has been an ascent towards Christ. The goal of the race, a face: that of the Beloved.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!

In conclusion, Saint Macrina’s life was one of constant progress and celebration. The pursuit of the philosophical ideal is a mystical ascent: to free oneself from the passions, that is, to master them, is to be crucified with Christ, to nail down one’s flesh with the fear of Christ; it is to purify one’s soul so that it may be found without blemish before God (VSM 24) and welcomed by him. The values highlighted by the philosophical life are also: virginity, poverty (“poverty, the nurse of philosophy”[22] wrote Saint Basil), a poverty that is renunciation of a career, of habits of luxury, and a deliberate desire for equality with the poor, hence the profound meaning of work; all these values not being an end in themselves. The end is Christ. So we move towards him in the “immaterial” life, also called the angelic life. What does this mean? Angels are those who constantly see the face of God; through contemplation Macrina lives in the society of angels, “walking on high with the heavenly powers”.[23] Since Christ sat down at the right hand of the Father, in his resurrected humanity, people have become citizens of heaven: they have ascended into heaven with Christ, they have been born to new life. This is an ontological truth, not a moral one. Baptism has made us heavenly dwellers: “God has raised us up and seated us with Christ in the supra-celestial regions” (Eph 2:6). We are there, we are fellow citizens with the angels, we have the right to live in heaven. Our membership of the heavenly city frees us ontologically from the grip of the earthly city and places us under another jurisdiction, in a body politic. But we are still on earth! Yes, that’s true, but we are no longer on earth, “we are strangers on earth” (Heb 11:13). Through the sacrament, the mysterium, the realities of heaven come to be communicated in the sensible, to take their place in time, thanks to which we are not transported to heaven by ecstasy, like Plotinus, but ontologically.

Co-citizenship of angels means confronting the devil, the fallen angel, the angel whose jealousy never fails to affect those who have become co-citizens of angels, hence the importance of spiritual combat, which is a reality we must not shy away from. As long as there are monks and nuns, they will fight against the demons, whatever form these demons may take at any given time. The monastic life is not simply a return to paradise; it is an entry into the city of angels, into the kingdom of Christ where everything is restored, where order is re-established. Little by little, the whole being of the monk, of the nun, is deified as was the being of Macrina. While we are still on earth, we share in the cross of Christ and at the same time we rejoice with the angels. We live in both worlds at the same time. The mission of monasticism in the Church is to keep open the door of communication between heaven and earth, the door through which the angels enter and leave, the door through which the Church attends and participates in the liturgy and life of the heavenly city.

[1]   This article appeared, in a slightly different form, in “Liturgie”, no. 124, March 2004, pp. 23-35. (Reproduced with the kind permission of the editors of this Review and the community of Venière). Conference given at Koubri, on the feast of All Saints, 1st November 2003; in memory of Mother Marie Hamel and Sister Joséphine Balma.


[2]   Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, Ed. Sources chrétiennes, 178, Cerf, Paris, 1971. [VSM: Life of Saint Macrina.]


[3] Gregory of Nyssa, Discours catéchétique, Ed. Sources chrétiennes, 453, Cerf, Paris, 2000.

[4] See Gregory of Nazianzus, on the death of his father, mother and sister Gorgonia.

[5] Jean DANIÉLOU, “Le ministère des femmes dans l’Église ancienne” [The ministry of women in the early Church], La Maison-Dieu 61 (1960), p. 88., page 2.

[6] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 3, p. 151.

[7] Gregory of Nyssa, Ibidem 8. Saint Jérôme, Lettres, t. 5, 107, 4, CUB, Paris, 1955, p. 147.

[8] Rule of Saint Benedict, 48,10.

[9] Annisa is the name of the family estate near Neocesarea, where Macrina founded a convent in 341., page 3.

[10] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 12, p. 185.

[11] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 25, p. 227., page 4.

[12] Basil of Caesarea, “Monastic Rules”, PR 312.

[13] Rule of Saint Benedict, 53,4,, page 5.

[14] Gregory of Nazianze, Discours funèbre pour son frère Césaire, 7, 15, in Discours 6-12, “Sources chrétiennes” 405, Cerf, Paris, 1995, p. 219.

[15] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 33, p. 249., page 6.

[16] See Gn 9:25 ; Lv 18:7.

[17] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de Moïse, “Sources chrétiennes” 1 ter, Cerf, Paris, 1968.

[18] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 31, p. 247., page 7.

[19] Gregory of Nyssa, Écrits spirituels, Migne, Paris, 1990, p. 61-100.

[20] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 22, p. 215-217., page 8.

[21] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 32, p. 247.

[22] Basil of Caesarea, Lettres I, 4, CUF, Paris, 1957, p. 15., page 9.

[23] Gregory of Nyssa, Vie de sainte Macrine, 11, p. 181.

The implementation of the reform of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours in the Benedictine congregation of Brazil



Dom Jerônimo Pereira, OSB

Monastery of São Bento, Olinda (Brazil)


The implementation of the reform

of the Monastic Liturgy of the Hours

in the Benedictine congregation in Brazil



Litugical life appears to be the character which, in a certain sense, distinguishes Benedictine monastic life. This perspective guided the International Congress of Abbots and Conventual Priors of the Benedictine Confederation, held at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome from 19 September to 4 October 1966, under the direction of Abbot Primate Benno Walter Gut (1897-1970). The central issue was the reform of the monastic breviary. The always lively discussion revolved around the themes of plurality or uniformity, Latin or the vernacular language, “modern” chant or Gregorian chant, and, especially for the psalter, the application of the concept of quantity or quality. The challenge was to find a balance between the letter and the spirit of the Rule. The Congress ended with the formation of a commission - De re liturgica - charged with studying the most appropriate way to respond to and harmonise these impasses and to calm the atmosphere.

The following year, the second part of the Congress took place (from 18 to 30 September), as planned. The proposals put forward by the commission were voted on, the new Abbot Primate, Dom Rembert George Weakland, was elected, a new commission was formed to continue the studies, and on 15 October of the same year the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia approved the use ad experimentum of the provisional Ordo of the Psalter, presented to the Congress by Abbot Dom Emmanuel Maria Heufelder (1898-1982), Abbot of Niederalteich, Germany.

On 10 February 1977, the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments

and Divine Worship approved the liturgical document prepared by the commission and submitted to Abbot Primate for approval on 11 November 1976, the Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae.[1] For the distribution of the psalter, the Thesaurus presents four different schemes which bear the names of their authors: scheme A’ (from the rule of St Benedict); B, organised by a monk from the Swiss abbey of Dissentis, Notker Füglister (“Füglister” programme); C, called “Scheyern” after the German abbey of the same name where it was devised, and D, structured by the Trappist Chrysogonus Waddell, from the abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, USA.[2]

The process of action on Brazilian land

1. Setting up the Commission

In order to carry out the reform of the monastic Breviary in Brazil, the General Chapter of the Benedictine Congregation of Brazil, under the direction of Dom Basílio Penido, Abbot of the Monastery of São Bento, Olinda, since 1964, and Abbot President of the Congregation from 1972 to 1996, set up a commission of monks and nuns under the direction of Mother Maria Teresa Amoroso Lima (1929-2011), then Abbess of the Abbey of Santa Maria in São Paulo. In addition to the abbess mentioned above, the Commission included Dom Timóteo Amoroso Anastácio (1910-1994), abbot of the monastery of São Sebastião, in Bahia; Dom Marcos de Araújo Barbosa, poet and translator, from the abbey of Nossa Senhora do Monserrate, in Rio de Janeiro; Sister Francisca Biolchini (1920-2012), from the Abbey of Santa Maria in São Paulo; and two nuns from the monastery of Nossa Senhora das Graças, in Belo Horizonte, Sister Maria Teixeira de Lima (1913-2012) and Mother Martinha Marques Mello (1925-2020). Unfortunately, the archives of the Abbey of Santa Maria contain no documents on the work of the Commission.

Benedictine monks of São Bento, Salvador, Bahia (Brazil). © AIM.

2. The Commission’s working method and results

The “Renewal of the Monastic Breviary” consisted of translating texts from the Thesaurus, which had recently been published. The Commission began to meet regularly at the Abbey of Santa Maria in São Paulo. According to the testimony of the current abbess of Santa Maria, Mother Escolástica Ottoni de Mattos, Abbot Dom Timóteo Amoroso Anastácio was responsible for translating the texts of Sacred Scripture, seeking a more poetic language, while the hymns were translated by the Commission, competing with Dom Marcos de Araújo Barbosa for the adjustments of metre and poetic rhyme.

The books of the Liturgy of the Hours according to the monastic rite of the Benedictine congregation of Brazil were published in four volumes. The first was published in 1981 and is dedicated to the cycle of events, Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, including the Proper of the Saints of this liturgical cycle.[3] The second volume, devoted to the celebrations of Ordinary Time, including the feasts of the Lord: Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Christ the King, appeared the following year (1982).[4] At the beginning of Lent in 1982, the third volume, with the forms for the liturgical seasons of Lent, Easter and Pentecost, was published.[5] The last volume, the Sanctoral, was published on the feast of Santa Rosa de Lima, 23 August of the same year.[6]

The volumes were presented by Mother Maria Teresa as an experiment and a provisional publication, with a view to a complete and definitive publication three years later. In any case, they are hardly official: they do not appear with a nihil obstat and a presentation by the Abbot President of the Congregation, nor do they have any kind of Praenotanda.

3. General characteristics of the volumes

Generally speaking, the volumes, whose promised complete and definitive publication never saw the light of day, have the same presentation signed by Mother Maria Teresa. Certain guidelines were observed for this “provisional” publication, of which we would like to mention the most common: the layout of the Rule of St Benedict, and layout B (“Füglister” layout) for the distribution of the psalter. In many cases, in view of the chant, the texts of the antiphons in the Thesaurus have been replaced by texts from the Psalterium monasticum, then recently edited by the monks of Solesmes.[7] For the same reason, only the obligatory memorials have been included. In the number for Ordinary Time, the antiphons for the Magnificat and the Benedictus have been included, as well as the responsories for the even (II) and odd (I) weeks. For the end of the Vigils, the possibility has been given of using the scheme of the rule of Saint Benedict, also present in the Psalterium monasticum solesmense. The responsories for Vigils, taken from the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, have been published as an appendix, pending publication of the Benedictine Lectionary.

4. Questions relating to chant

With the translation of the new books of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours, the problem of the adequacy of the chant arose, particularly the antiphons which had undergone a wide variety of changes (change of place and order, substitution, disappearance, etc.), not to mention the number of new texts of short responsories and hymns, as well as several new feasts. To fill this gap, Mother Maria Teresa “commissioned” the Antiphonal Monasticum pro Diurnis Horis (Ad instar manuscriti).[8] The Antiphonal offers “Gregorian melodies for all the texts, drawn primarily from the sources indicated in the Thesaurus, and also from the Psalterium Monasticum of Solesmes”. In order to conform to the Psalterium solesmense, the antiphons indicated in the Thesaurus have been replaced by others of similar meaning that had already been set to music. Some texts have been adapted to pre-existing melodies and many of the brief responsories published by the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar have been copied.

The work on the Antiphonary can be practically divided into three stages: the first corresponds to the period of collecting the “old and new” books from the communities; the second, the experimentation that some communities carried out as the sheets (leaflets) were printed and, finally, the gathering of all the material into a volume of over 900 pages. The fundamental criterion was that everything should be as close as possible to the Liturgy of the Hours, which was already in use in the communities. The Antiphonary, printed in a very traditional way, has two dates. On the first page is the date 24 November 1981, when Mother Maria Teresa marked the beginning of the commemorations of the 700th anniversary of the Divine Praises at the Abbey of Santa Maria. Two pages later, at the end of the general presentation of the volume, appears the date of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14 September) 1982.

Conclusion and open questions

Four decades later, the Benedictine congregation in Brazil has never attempted the project of a definitive edition of its choral books. A series of initiatives have been taken separately, leading each community to organise itself according to its own strengths in order to maintain, as far as possible, a dignified choral celbration.

It is true that it was only in 2018 that the official translation of the Bible appeared, a work of the Bishops’ Conference (CNBB), from which texts for liturgical use should be extracted and from which the psalter is not adapted to singing, particularly choral singing. Furthermore, the translation of the prayer texts in the Roman Missal only dates from 2023.

As far as chant is concerned, it should be noted that not all communities, for a wide variety of reasons, make extensive use of Latin, and consequently of Gregorian chant, in their celebrations, whether at Mass or in the Office, On the one hand, this may make us regret the loss of an age-old treasure, but on the other hand it gives us cause for joy, because such an “accident” has encouraged the development of a repertoire adapted to the current situation, even if there is always the risk of melodies of dubious taste.

The great challenge of re-editing the choral books for the Benedictine congregation in Brazil, which is absolutely necessary, is to maintain a balance between a high quality of choral prayer in all its elements, without stifling the active creativity of each community, male and female, taking into account their most varied characteristics, and the fact that they are spread across a multicultural territory of continental dimensions called Brazil.

Benedictine nuns of Our Lady of Peace, Itapecerica da Serra, São Paulo (Brazil). © AIM.

[1] Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae, ed. Secretariatus Abbatis Primatis, Tipografia Leberit, Rome, 1977.

[2] Cf. R. M. LEIKAM, “El Thesaurus liturgiae horarum monasticae de 1977 y la renovación del opus Dei benedictino”, Cuadernos Monásticos 86 (1988), 299-330.

[3] Liturgia das Horas Segundo o Rito Monástico I: Tempo do Advento, Natal e Epifania, ed. Congregação Beneditina do Brasil, Lumen Christi, Rio de Janeiro, 1981.

[4] Liturgia das Horas Segundo o Rito Monástico II: Tempo Comum, ed. Congregação Beneditina do Brasil, Lumen Christi, Rio de Janeiro, 1982.

[5] Liturgia das Horas Segundo o Rito Monástico III: Tempo da Quaresma, Páscoa e Tempo Pascal, ed. Congregação Beneditina do Brasil, Lumen Christi, Rio de Janeiro, 1982.

[6] Liturgia das Horas Segundo o Rito Monástico IV: Próprio e Comum dos Santos, ed. Congregação Beneditina do Brasil, Lumen Christi, Rio de Janeiro, 1982.

[7] Psalterium Monasticum cum Canticis Novi & Veteris Testamenti. Psalterium Monasticum iuxta regulam S.P.N. Benedicti et alia schemata Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae cum canto gregoriano cura et studio monacorum solesmensium ; abbaye Saint-Pierre, Solesmes, 1981.

[8] Antiphonale Monasticum pro Diurnis Horis (Ad instar manuscripti), ed. Abadia de Santa Maria, São Paulo, 1981.

The Saux-Abhishiktananda, a priesthood in the Spirit


Great figure in Monastic Life

Fr Yann Vagneux

Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP),

Priest in Benares (India)


Le Saux-Abhishiktananda,

a priesthood in Spirit


On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Brother Henri Le Saux, we are publishing an article by Father Yann Vagneux which has already appeared in an issue of the review Vies Consacrées, but which is still very relevant today.[1]



On 21 December 1971, the thirty-sixth anniversary of his ordination, Henri Le Saux (1910-1973), better known in India as Swami Abhishiktananda, wrote in his diary: “Consecrated for a ‘ministry’. But a ministry that goes beyond its so-called ecclesial manifestations. Ministry in the service of mystery, revelation of the Mystery. Revelation to men of their own personal mystery (sic) and also of the total mystery, the mystery in itself. The monk disappears, passes into the mystery. The priest reveals this mystery. But who can really reveal it without being lost in it?” These lines sum up admirably the priesthood of the Christian monk who had left his distant Brittany more than twenty years earlier to move to India, where his ministry as a priest was lived mainly in Hindu environments. Of course, Abhishiktananda’s priesthood, like his life, cannot easily be transposed. However, however unique and burning it may be, his priesthood has lost none of its inspirational power, especially for those who, like him, wish to encounter the heart of India in depth in order to transmit the newness of Christ.

Quaerere Deum

In 1921, at the age of eleven, Henri Le Saux entered the minor seminary at Châteaugiron. Five years later, he continued his training at the major seminary in Rennes, preparing to become a diocesan priest. However, following the death of one of his friends who wanted to become a monk, he felt called to take up this young unfinished vocation and entered the Benedictine abbey of Kergonan in 1929. A few months before entering the postulancy, he confided to the novice master the reasons for this new call: “What attracted me from the start, and what still leads me, is the hope of finding God closer than anywhere else. I have a very ambitious soul. That’s all right, isn’t it, when it comes to seeking God, and I hope I won’t be disappointed?” In this confidence, full of youthful enthusiasm, we can hear echoes of the words that Saint Benedict placed at the heart of his Rule as the goal of monastic life: “Quaerere Deum”, “Seek God” and “Nihil amori Christi praeponere”, “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ”. In his beautiful 2008 lecture at the Collège des Bernardins, Pope Benedict XVI explained the Benedictine monks’ “quaerere Deum”:

“In the midst of the confusion of those times when nothing seemed to stand up, the monks wanted the most important thing: to apply themselves to finding that which is of value and remains forever, to find Life itself. They were looking for God. From secondary things, they wanted to move on to essential realities, to what alone is truly important and secure. [...] Behind the temporary, they were looking for the definitive”.

We seem to be reading here the words of the young monk from Kergonan who took his perpetual vows on the feast of the Ascension, 30 May 1935. At the end of that year, on 21 December, he was ordained a priest on the very day that the Latin Church was celebrating the feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle of India.

It’s important to emphasize here that Abhishiktananda’s priesthood was first and foremost lived within the Benedictine monastic framework, whose indelible imprint he retained to the end of his life. His priesthood was fully inscribed in the quest for “quaerere Deum”, as Benedict XVI once said:

Quaerere Deum: as they [the monks] were Christians, this was not an adventure in a pathless desert, a search in absolute darkness. God himself had placed milestones, or rather, he had smoothed the way, and their task was to find it and follow it. This path was his Word, which, in the books of Sacred Scripture, was offered to men”.

The life of the Christian monk is built on lectio divina of the Scriptures. These also find a very special echo in the liturgy, with the seven daily offices in the choir. Gregorian chant, which Henri Le Saux was passionate about as a liturgist, is built entirely around biblical

passages - mainly the psalms - magnified by movingly restrained singing. Abhishiktananda was nostalgic for it to the end of his life, and wept when friends in India hummed the “Dominus dixit”: the introit of the midnight Mass, which he hadn’t heard for decades... At Kergonan, Henri Le Saux was also librarian, i.e. in charge of one of the central places in monastic life. In his daily contact with books, he cultivated a close relationship with the Church Fathers who, in the early centuries, developed a unique contemplative approach to the Mystery revealed in Christ. But it was above all in the atmosphere of silence, so impressive at Kergonan, that Henri Le Saux lived the “quaerere Deum”. Such was his vocation as a monk, of which he wrote many years later: “The solitary is in the Church the minister of the Silence of God”.

The nineteen years Abhishiktananda spent in his Benedictine abbey were foundational in many ways, not least in terms of living out his priesthood in India, a culture so marked by the figure of the monk, whether Hindu, Jain, Buddhist or Christian:

“The monk is the man of the eschaton. He is the one who bears witness that time comes from eternity and goes to eternity. Who bears witness to advaita, to the non-duality of being, in the succession of times and the multiplicity of religious forms”.

The priesthood of Melchizedek

Henri Le Saux arrived in South India in 1948 and joined Jules Monchanin (1895-1957), who had been living there for over ten years, near Trichy. In 1950, the two founded the Shantivanam ashram, not far from Kulitalai, and took on new Christian sannyasis names. Monchanin chose Paramarubyananda in honor of the Holy Spirit, and Le Saux, Abhishikteshwananda in reference to Christ, the Anointed (abhishikta) of the Father. Through their humble ashram, they hoped that the Church in India, already so rich in educational and medical institutions at the time, would also be able to make its contemplative form visible, like Mary at the Lord’s feet while her sister Martha busied herself serving the table. For them, it was essential

that Hinduism should be able to discover that Christianity had a long contemplative and monastic tradition. They also thought that this ashram could be a place of exchange in which they, the Christians, could receive the gifts that the Holy Spirit had deposited in the heart of India.

A few years later, when writing A Mass at the Sources of the Ganges, an account of his pilgrimage to Gangotri, Abhishiktananda put these words into the mouth of Raimon Panikkar, his fellow traveller:

“Our role as Indian Christians is to draw on the treasures bequeathed to us by our rishis, seers and sages, to scrutinize the Scriptures, to drink from the purest and most primordial sources of their experience, in order to pass on their incomparable secrets to the Church.”

In this book, he wrote:

“India and its Scriptures are part of the immense cosmic Testament that preceded the Sinai covenant and the one God made with Abraham [...]. It is within this Testament, this original covenant, that the Spirit prepares for the fullness of time, the coming of the Incarnate Word through all the peoples, all the places, all the times of the Universe”.

By speaking of a “cosmic testament”, Abhishiktananda was placing the Hindu quest in the plan of salvation, long before Christian Revelation. Such a broader theological perspective was necessary to account for all that he experienced in his discovery of India. In a singular way, he discovered this mysterious “cosmic testament” in his encounters with sannyasis on the roads or in the caves of Arunachala. He also contemplated it in the Brahmin priests who officiated in the great temples of Tamil country, and among his neighbours in Uttarkashi in the Himalayas, where he bought a plot of land in March 1961 to set up a small hermitage. Abhishiktananda was truly touched by the priestly complicity he experienced with the Hindu pandits. This is how he described the unique Masses he celebrated in Latin in their neighbourhood:

“I think I told you about those first Masses celebrated in the Himalayan village of Gyansu. Although I celebrated it as early as possible, the sadhou in the room below was already up. He was already chanting the Gita or repeating his mantras, punctuating them with bright OMs. I was muttering the Dominus vobiscum of the liturgy. These were namah shivaya - Glory be to Shiva - that came up in response. Hari Om alternated with my Kyrie and Bhagavan answered my Sursum corda. In the Shiva temple opposite, the bell rang and accompanied the rites that my brother Melchisedech the Brahmin celebrated with all his piety. I imagined that our heavenly Father was bending over this literally cosmic and universal liturgy with special joy.

In his reflections on India and the cosmic testament, one figure in particular stood out: that of Melchisedech, the mysterious pagan priest who came to Abraham to bless him (Gen 14:18-20). Abhishiktananda, like Panikkar, did not hesitate to see Hindu priests as distant brothers of the cosmic high priest:

“Do you see these priests of the temple of Mother Ganges here, those of Kedar, those of Badri, those of all the sanctuaries of the mountains and plains? Are they not the brothers of the biblical Melchisedech, of the one who blessed Abraham and whose memory the priest of the Roman rite recalls every day at the most sacred moment of the liturgy? Melchisedech is indeed the type of priest of the Cosmic Testament. It is according to his order, not according to the order of Aaron, the priest of Israel’s covenant, that Christ wanted to be a priest - and in him, I am too.”

What’s more, Melchizedek has always been considered by the Church Fathers as the prefiguration of Christ himself. Above all, the Letter to the Hebrews showed how Christ’s priesthood was not descended from the cultic priesthood of Aaron and the priests of the Jerusalem temple, but, in its unsurpassable newness, was linked to the priesthood of Melchizedek, according to a verse in Psalm 109: “Jesus has become for eternity a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:20; cf. Ps 109:4).

By linking Hindu priests with the mysterious figure of Melchizedek and Christ himself, and recalling the mention in the Roman Canon of the Mass of “the sacrifice offered to you by Melchizedek, the high priest, as a sign of the perfect sacrifice”, Abhishiktananda himself was discovering the cosmic dimension of his priesthood, and also the call to gather into the sacrifice of the Mass “all human prayer, all human desire, all true human devotion, the true search for God, which is finally realized in Christ”. Numerous testimonies illustrate this double discovery. From his hermitage in Uttarkashi, he wrote to a friend:

“In the loft of my hut, I offer Mass every morning, seated in the manner of a Brahmin priest, with the rites of offering water, incense and fire. I read the Gospel in Sanskrit. [...] For here, as never before in the Church, Christ manifests himself as a priest ‘according to the order of Melchisedech’”.

Above all, we have the magnificent account of the Mass Abhishiktananda celebrated with Raimon Panikkar at Gangotri on June 6, 1964 in Une messe aux sources du Gange. “What other cathedral than the origin of the sacred river in the Himalayas could be more propitious for living the priesthood of Melchisedech?” In truth, there are few places in the world where the Eucharist is more eagerly awaited and more mystically prepared by the Spirit than here, at the place of the springs”. It was here, in fact, that the offertory of their silent mass could join the millenary quest of Hinduism, which, with the bread and wine, he wanted to unite with the offering that Jesus made of his life:

“The bread and wine I offer in my Mass here in Gangotri will be the call to God of all these pilgrims to the sacred springs of the Himalayas, of all these priests, of all these ascetics, of those of today, yesterday and tomorrow, for the Eucharist transcends time.”

The guru

During the twenty-five years between his arrival in 1948 and his death in 1973, India profoundly transformed Abhishiktananda’s vision of his ministry as a priest. His new people obviously deepened the monastic dimension of his priesthood, particularly in the “quaerere Deum” - the quest for God that he discovered so ardent in many Hindu monks - and also the ministry of silence that he also witnessed in a few silent hermits (muni) hidden in the heart of the Himalayas. His daily life with the Hindus deepened his perception of the priesthood and expanded it into unsuspected dimensions through new experiences, as he wrote in his 1971 confession:

“Consecrated for a “ministry”. But a ministry that goes beyond its so-called ecclesial manifestations. Ministry at the service of the mystery, revelation of the Mystery. Revelation to men of their own personal mystery and also of the total mystery, the mystery in itself”.

This last sentence also shows that another figure in the Indian tradition was decisive for the renewed perception of his priesthood: the figure of the guru, the spiritual master.

A few months after his arrival in India, Henri Le Saux had the grace to meet Sri Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950) in Tiruvannamalai in January 1949, whose first darshan left him with an indelible memory:

“In this Sage of Arunachala and of that time, it was the One Sage of eternal India who appeared to me, it was the uninterrupted lineage of his sages, his renunciants, his seers, it was like the very soul of India that pierced to the innermost depths of my own soul and entered into mysterious communion with it. It was a call that tore everything apart, that split everything open, that opened up an abyss...”.

In the encounter with the guru that he had first with Ramana and then, in December 1955, with Swami Gnanananda, Abhishiktananda clearly discovered that at the heart of the priesthood lies not only a mystery of liturgical mediation between earth and heaven but also a mystery of transmission of the Spirit, of which the guru is the charismatic figure. This essential aspect of the priesthood became increasingly clear to him, as his 1966 text “The priest that India is waiting for, that the world is waiting for” testifies.

Every Catholic priest should reread this text which, today, has not aged. From the very first lines, Abhishiktananda gave the essence of his vision:

“In the Indian context, the Christian priest can only be a guru. [...] For a Hindu, the guru is not some preacher who simply repeats to anyone who will listen what he has learned from teachers or read in his textbooks. He is a man who speaks from experience. The guru is the one who dispenses the teaching of salvation; and is it not only in the depths of the heart that the mystery of wisdom is heard, that the experience of salvation springs forth?”

Abhishiktananda could also write that, for a Christian, the impression of his meeting with Ramana was still very vivid:

“The guru or spiritual master is the one who one day encountered in the depths of his soul the ‘true and living’ God of whom the Bible speaks on every page, and who was from that moment on and for life marked by the burn of that encounter [...]. The guru is the person who, having discovered in the depths of his heart the spark of being - not an abstraction, but the I AM that manifested itself at Horeb - can no longer fail to recognise it everywhere from now on, outside as well as inside every creature, every human being, in the most intimate part of everything that is, every event, every movement of the cosmos as measured by time”.

Whether in a Hindu or Christian context, such an experience is given by the grace of the one guru, the jagadguru: God residing in the heart. However, the light of this single guru is, as it were, diffracted by other lights that help us along the path of spiritual experience. This is the case, for example, with what Indian tradition calls the gurugrantha: the sacred scriptures. As Abhishiktananda remarked about the priest: “No doubt the books will have helped him in his quest for the Real - especially the books bequeathed to him by his Tradition, which communicate to him, as far as possible, the experience of those who were the first to have access to the inner mystery”. Above all, the unique guru manifests himself in the darshan of the sages whose teaching takes place above all in the depths of silence:

“No doubt he will have been helped by teachers, for it is from others alone that the teaching of salvation is received. [...] This teaching is not just communication, it is communion, as we would say in Christian language. But it is precisely here that the great secret lies. The role of the Master is not to pass on concepts. It is above all to awaken the disciple. It is to open his inner eye, the eye that plunges within and recognises the mystery there. It is to open the disciple’s mind to the spirit that dwells within him, to that Spirit that probes and scans the depths of God. The words spoken by the guru undoubtedly pass by word of mouth to the outside world, like all human speech, which necessarily propagates through the surrounding air. But even more truly, the guru’s words are transmitted directly from heart to heart, through the unifying medium of the Spirit, the communion of all with the eternal Word. And this is why silence is considered in India to be the privileged environment for wisdom teaching.”

It is clear that in this 1966 text, Abhishiktananda set out a very high ideal of the priesthood, but for him it was the very measure of India, for “the priest that India awaits, that the world awaits” is also “the priest that India hears, that the world hears”. It’s not surprising that, as a young bishop of Benares, Patrick D’Souza (1928-2014) tried to convince Abhishiktananda to join him on the banks of the Ganges to help him found a “pilot seminary” that would train Catholic priests capable of being heard by their Hindu brothers. Above all, this ideal of the priest as spiritual master was lived out in a very moving way by Abhishiktananda at the end of his life with his disciples: two Hindu Brahmins, Lalit Sharma and Ramesh Srivastava, Sister Thérèse, a French Carmelite nun from Lisieux who joined him in India, and Marc Chaduc. In 1972, he wrote to a friend: “I’ll be in Haridwar with Thérèse; for the next ten days, I’ll be with Ramesh, the young Hindu who reads the Gospel and who, through an inexplicable experience, shows me what a guru is for a disciple. This goes so far beyond spiritual direction and even natural or even spiritual paternity”.

Abhishiktananda’s most burning adventure as a guru was with Marc Chaduc, a French seminarian who arrived in India in 1971. Marc was the one who collected more than anyone else the spiritual heritage of his master. On 30 June 1973, during an ecumenical diksha in the Ganges at Rishikesh, he was introduced into the lineage of Hindu sannyasi by Swami Chidananda of the Divine Life Society and into the lineage of Christian monks by Henri Le Saux. Mysteriously, 30 June 1973 was the day on which he should have been ordained to the priesthood with his seminary companions in France, but India had led him down a different path, even if Abhishiktananda still hoped that one day he would become a priest:

“The priesthood? I get the impression that it’s waiting for you on the timeline. A highly spiritualised priesthood, far beyond limitations, a priesthood in the Spirit. This diksha on the Ganges will signify your gift of yourself to this priesthood, and the Spirit, in its own time and in its own way, will respond to it.”

Marc Chaduc (1944-1977), who became Swami Ajatananda, never became a priest but, in his silent life as a sannyasi, he brought to incandescence what lay at the heart of Abhishiktananda’s priesthood: the “quaerere Deum”, “to seek God and allow oneself to be found by Him”. Marc’s mysterious physical disappearance, four years after the death of his guru, can be read as an illustration of the necessary hidden dimension at the heart of the priesthood and of all Christian life:

“Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1, 3).

Indeed, for Abhishiktananda, the priest, like all true spiritual beings, is a being who, in a certain way, remains secret. This astonishing idea means that the mystery of his encounter with the living God must shun all publicity, to be manifested and given generously only to those who approach him with a genuine spiritual thirst. What is at stake here is a genuine recognition of which the Hindu tradition says: “when the disciple is ready, the guru appears”. Thus, on the subject of the “priest that India is waiting for, that the world is waiting for”, Abhishiktananda could still write:

“Most often he is hidden, ignored, except by a few, those in whom the Spirit has made his dwelling, and who, as if by instinct, led by that same Spirit, go to him”.

The great Vedic hymn to the Purusha - the primordial man - states that: “With three quarters, the Purusha ascended on high, the fourth remained here below”. (Rg Veda X, 4). This tiny terrestrial manifestation of the Absolute reminds us of icebergs, where most of the ice is hidden in the water. The same is true of the priesthood in the Spirit, whose essence - the contemplation of the divine mystery through silence and prayer, the “quaerere Deum” - must remain hidden in order to be the very soul of its spiritual action at the heart of the world. This was the message of Abhishiktananda’s priesthood:

“The monk disappears, passes into the mystery. The priest reveals this mystery. But who can really reveal it without being lost in it?”

[1] With the kind permission of the publisher and the author. This text also appeared in Portraits indiens, Médiaspaul, 2022, p. 215.

As the story goes, “Mary kept these things in her heart ”


Art et liturgy

Dom Ruberval Monteiro, OSB

Monastery of the Resurrection, Ponta Grossa (Brazil)

Professor of symbolic language, art and liturgy at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome


As history unfolds,

“Mary kept these things in her heart”.

(Luke 2:19)


A silent image that speaks

Images are so often considered as the “decoration” of a church, a monastery, a house, or any other space. On the contrary, all the elements are in continuous communication: nothing is neutral! Even the emptiness of white walls has an effect on us, the children of minimalism, which is not always positive. The early Christians made extensive use of images to communicate their symbolic content, which could not be translated into concepts. A widespread false theory has led people to believe that the aniconic precepts of the Hebrew tradition prevented the early Christians from using images. On the contrary, serious studies[1] and archaeological discoveries have shown how, in the Greco-Roman period of the first centuries AD, when communication was by means of images, both the Hebrews and the Christians, influenced by the former, used them in the service of their faith and worship.[2] They conveyed an experiential rather than theoretical access to the ineffable mystery. In this short article, we will look at an iconographic module that was used throughout the first millennium and is still relevant today.

The sarcophagus from Pignatta (5th century), found in Ravenna, bears on its shorter side the primitive figure of a splendid Annunciation: Mary is depicted seated on a sort of throne, on the left, almost entirely wrapped in a large cloak, and engaged in the art of weaving a vertically upright thread. In front of her, on the right, the angel is standing, slightly tilted towards the centre, with majestic wings that create a sort of mandorla; his right hand seems to be holding a scroll or a traveller’s staff (the figures are very deteriorated) and is pointing at Mary’s raised hand, while his left is moving towards the large wicker basket containing the purple-dyed wool. The Virgin’s right arm has disappeared, but the sign of her hand moving horizontally towards the angel remains.

The Virgin spinning wool

This iconography is inspired by the apocryphal tradition according to which Mary, on the arrival of the angel Gabriel, was spinning wool to weave the new veil for the Temple in Jerusalem:

This iconography is inspired by the apocryphal tradition according to which Mary, on the arrival of the angel Gabriel, was spinning wool to weave the new veil for the Temple in Jerusalem:

Some time later, there was a council of priests and they said: “We must make a tent for the Temple of the Lord”. The high priest said, “Call me some unblemished maidens from the tribe of David”. (...) The high priest remembered Mary, a young woman from the tribe of David, who was without blemish in the eyes of God. The servants also went looking for her. They brought them all into the Temple of the Lord, and the high priest said to them: “Cast lots to see who will spin gold and asbestos, fine linen, silk, hyacinth, scarlet and purple”. The true purple and the scarlet fell to Mary. She took them and returned to her house (...) Meanwhile, Mary took the scarlet wool, spun it and made it into thread.

One day, Mary took her pitcher and went out to draw water. And a voice said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women”. She looked around, to the left and to the right, to see where the voice was coming from. Trembling, she went home, put down the jug, took the purple wool, sat down on her stool and spun it. (...) Mary finished working the purple and scarlet and took it to the priest. And the priest blessed her, saying: “Mary, the Lord God has glorified your name, and you will be blessed throughout all the generations of the earth”.[3]

This thread appears very frequently in Western and Eastern Byzantine art, and it was only after the Middle Ages that this detail disappeared from Western iconography while remaining in Byzantine iconography. The question that arises is the reason for this non-biblical detail and the significance of its repetition. The reference to the text of the Apocrypha is not enough to justify the representation, because Palaeochristian art seeks to show not how things were in the past (historical vision), but their meaning in the present.

Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, 5th century.

This little sign is loaded with rich content. Spinning wool is a very ancient act for mankind: the different fibres of wool are brought together into a single thread, thanks to the spindle and the delicate gesture of the fingers that control the number of fibres to create uniformity, which is then gradually wound onto the bobbin. This activity, which was widespread among women in the ancient pre-industrial world, has been understood since the first centuries by Christians as a grand symbol of the mystery of the Incarnation, in which, in the sacred circular movement of the spindle, human matter in the womb of the Virgin Mary becomes the Word of God made flesh. She holds in her hand the purple imperial thread that she has woven: her work from now on will be to become “the loom of the flesh of God”, according to the metaphor of Saint Proclus of Constantinople (+ 447). We can only express the mystery of the Incarnation in symbols, because human words and concepts are incapable of doing so. Pope Benedict XVI said it well:

The Evangelist Luke repeats on several occasions that the Virgin meditated in silence on these extraordinary events in which God had involved her. “Mary kept these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). The Greek verb symballousa literally means “to bring together” and suggests a great mystery to be discovered little by little.[4]

In the Western Middle Ages, the iconography of spinning gave way to another image very close to the artisanal gesture of creating a thread: psalmody! Mary holds the psalter in her hands and “unites” the Word and life. This “joining” helps us to understand that the mystery of the Incarnation is not something that happened only once in time, but that it continues throughout our life, the life of the Virgin Mary, the life of the Church and our own life, throughout the liturgical year, which teaches us to bring together - without excluding anything - all the fibres of our personal, community and ecclesial history, to create a thread that will reach the single piece before the Sancta Sanctorum. The curtain or veil symbolises the revelation of a hidden mystery,[5] the threshold of eternity.

Annunciation to Mary, Fra Angelico, 1431, Institute of Arts, Detroit (USA).

The craft of “symbolic” spinning of historical events with the psalms, the prophets and the Gospel continues the work of the Fathers of the Church, weaving the history of salvation with their contribution, on the edge of the now and the not yet.

The unfolding of liturgical time unifies us as integrated human beings, within ourselves and with others, in the weave of a story that surpasses our understanding as time passes. Celebrating liturgical feasts with care, attention and love is always a way of stepping outside ourselves and allowing ourselves to be taken out of ourselves, in order to contextualise our own personal journey in a wider and therefore even truer context. Every time we celebrate a feast or a simple liturgical hour, as well as reciting the prayers that mark the turning of the days in our lives, we experience being part of a project that is greater than our feelings, emotions, desires and frustrations. “The liturgy has a therapeutic value for everything in us that is in danger of turning in on ourselves, of closing off possibilities for expansion and growth in life.”[6]

The iconography of the early and medieval Annunciation reveals itself, in the light of the great Tradition, as an effective symbol for contemplating the Christological Mystery in itself, as well as a method for active participation in the liturgical celebration, a true divine service for our unification as, and with, the Body of Christ. After all, according to the symbolic image, God himself is the divine weaver.

[1] A. GRABAR, “Recherches sur les sources juives de l’art paléochrétien I”, Cahiers Archéologiques XI, Paris, 1969, 58-71 ; A. GRABAR, Le vie della creazione nell’iconografia cristiana. Milan 1983, 5.

[2] See P. PRIGENT, L’image dans le judaïsme du IIe au VIe siècles, Labor et Fides, Genève, 1991, 23-42.

[3] “Protovangelo di Giacomo” (X-XII), in Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento, a cura di MORALDI, L., Unione Tipografico, Torino, 1971, 77-78.

[4] Benedict XVI, Homily at the Mass for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and the 41st World Day of Peace, 1 January 2008.

[5] H. PAPASTAVROUP, Le voile, symbole de l’Incarnation - Contribution à une étude sémantique, Cahiers archéologiques 41, Paris 1993, 141-168.

[6] M. SEMERARO, La messa quotidiana, July, EDB, Bologna, 2015, 308.

Journey to the Holy Land




Journey to the Holy Land

April-May 2023


Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB,

President of AIM



Monday 24 April 2023

Better late than never! This is the first time I’ve been to the Holy Land, even though I’ve made so many trips around the world. But in the end, isn’t it better to be a little more mature before embarking on such an adventure? In any case, my heart is totally open to this crucial step. I’m leaving with Father Andrea Serafino, from Novalesa (Italy), a member of the AIM International Team, and Olivier Dumont, treasurer of the Association of Friends of Monasteries throughout the World (AMTM).

The journey went smoothly and we were met in Tel Aviv by Father Christian-Marie from Latroun Abbey. This monastery has just experienced an important moment: the community has recently changed abbot, Dom René has handed over his office and Dom Guillaume Jedrzejczak, abbot emeritus of Monts-des-Cats, who is also president of the Fondation des Monastères and recently administrator of Sept-Fons Abbey (France), has just been appointed abbot of the community by the Trappist Order. After all, this is a Trappist community. Dom Guillaume is not permanently present at the monastery and it is Father Christian-Marie, as prior, who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the community.

Latroun Abbey is located 15 kilometres west of Jerusalem, on the border between the West Bank and Israel. It is famous for its wine! The abbey was founded in 1890 by Trappist monks from Sept-Fons Abbey in France. They planted the first vineyard in 1898, which was soon followed by clearing and planting of olive trees, vines, cereals and citrus fruits. The monks were expelled during the First World War. The area was the scene of fierce fighting during the Battle of Latroun in 1948, and came under Jordanian control after the war; the monastery is currently in Israeli territory. Less than a kilometre to the east of the abbey is the site of Emmaus Nicopolis, one of the sites often cited as the location of the Emmaus of the Gospel.

Arriving at the monastery in the late afternoon, we had just enough time for dinner and then went straight to the Chapter Hall for a meeting with the community on current AIM issues. To emphasise the significance of our trip, I reiterated the importance of monasteries getting closer to each other and helping each other out. In this land of Israel, there are six communities of the Benedictine family. It would be really useful if they could offer regular meetings for consultation, training and dialogue, as exists in other parts of the world.

The upper cloister of the Latroun abbey. © AIM.


Thuesday 25 April

On Tuesday 25 April, we rise for vigils at 4.15am, followed by Mass and Lauds at 6.30am. In the morning we visit the monastery. The buildings, constructed in the first half of the 20th century, are imposing. They are built of stone. Unfortunately, the clay soil does not allow for great stability. The walls show progressive cracks on all sides. This has led to major and costly repairs.

There are around twenty monks. They are attached to this place and wish to remain here, even if some find that the maintenance costs are disproportionate. In any case, the monastery is now being managed very well, and we hope that this will enable us to meet future needs.

Church of Latroun Abbey. © AIM.

The estate comprises around a hundred hectares, part of which is cultivated with vines and olive trees. The monastery produces olive oil and an outstanding wine. The winery is located in the buildings of the old farmhouse that existed before the monastery, around a primitive building that was a hostel for pilgrims.

After a tour of the site and the Office of Sext, we shared lunch with the monks. The table is well laid, even if, as is only right and proper, there is no meat; there is no shortage of wine and a walnut cake is served in our honour for dessert.

After a long meeting with Father Christian-Marie, we set off in the afternoon for the Abbey of Abu Gosh. When we arrived, we were greeted fraternally by Father Louis-Marie Coudray, the current superior. We spent a long time with him and Father Christian-Marie discussing the various aspects of our trip and the context of the monasteries of the Benedictine Family in the Holy Land. It would be interesting to strengthen the relationship between the different communities, in particular to imagine joint actions, mutual support, consultation or simply live exchanges of news. From this point of view, our visit can be an encouragement.

The sound of Vespers calls us to the Romanesque church, where we meet the sisters from the community united with that of the monks: Vespers sung in two choirs (men and women); a brief chat with one or other of the sisters. Together with Mother Prioress, we plan to travel to Bethlehem tomorrow morning.

Church of Abu Gosh monastery. © AIM.

Wednesday 26 April

We left at 9am for Bethlehem with a sister from the Abu Gosh community who had to run an errand there. She takes us first to the Shepherds’ Field. This is the presumed place where the shepherds of the Gospel heard the message of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus. The Arab village of Beit-Sahour, situated in the middle of the fields of Boaz, as recorded in the Book of Ruth (Ruth 3:5), has traditionally been identified with the Shepherds’ Field. There are not too many pilgrims here, so we can gather in a grotto and admire the landscape of mountains and meadows on the edge of the town of Bethlehem.

We then make our way to the basilica, which is already overrun with tourists. Inside, we admire the beautiful frescoes that have recently been restored. The Basilica of the Nativity is one of the oldest churches in the world, built according to tradition on the presumed birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. It was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine I and restored under Justinian in the 6th century. It has since undergone numerous alterations. Today, it is administered by the Orthodox, Armenians and Latins.

We prayed for a while, away from the crowds, in the parish church of Saint Catherine. On my birthday, I ask to be reborn from above, as Jesus invites the old Nicodemus to do. It was a particularly intense moment.

We then went to a shop selling religious objects that the sister from Abu Gosh had introduced us to and who, in the end, offered to take us himself to the Benedictine nuns of the Emmanuel. They are based near the separation wall between Israel and Palestine; the check-point is not far away, and no one really likes to come to this area where undesirables can be threatened by the policemen in charge of the checks. But in the end, all went well and we entered the courtyard of the monastery just before noon.

Monastery of Emmanuel, Bethleem. © AIM.

There is a very small community of four sisters belonging to the Congregation of Mary, Queen of Apostles (Rixensart, Belgium). The community follows the Eastern rite. The story of the monastery began in Algeria at the end of the Second World War, a stone’s throw from the monastery at Tibhirine. As the surrounding area was predominantly Arab-Muslim, the Benedictine nuns prayed services in Arabic. At the request of Patriarch Maximos V, they agreed to move to the Holy Land, where Melkite monastic life was disappearing, despite the presence of a large community. A family from Bethlehem gave them a large plot of land on one of the hills surrounding the grotto of the Nativity, with a superb view over the Jordan Valley and the Mountains of Moab, and they were able to lay the first stone, supported

by their Congregation. Three sisters celebrated the first Oriental liturgy in the small chapel in 1963.

Of the four sisters in the current community, one is studying in France as part of the STIM programme. This means that there are now only three sisters on site, and they also benefit from the presence of a laywoman who is familiar with the community.

Mother Marthe, the prioress, welcomed us with open arms. She takes us straight to the church where the Office of Sext is about to take place. The chapel is covered in frescoes painted by Sister Marie-Paul from the Calvaire monastery on the Mount of Olives. The effect is striking. The service is sung very simply in an extremely prayerful atmosphere. We left with our hearts full of hope.

Mother Marthe has prepared lunch herself, and we’re going to take the time to talk with her and Sister Anna-Maria, as well as the lay person present at the monastery during the meal.

Sister Bénédicte was missing, accompanying a group of French pilgrims. They are young students. Like many other groups, they are accommodated on site and sleep in a large room on the floor. Hospitality plays an important role in the life of the monastery, in addition to the icon workshop and the production of jam and other food products.

Their presence near the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories gives this community a special colour. The sisters are neither on one side nor the other; they remain in the middle ground and pray for everyone. They have links with both sides and always try to work towards reconciliation whatever the cost.

Mother Marthe explains to us the meaning of the community’s adherence to the Greek-Catholic ritual for the beauty and meaning of the sacred. We share the fact that their very fragility is an indisputable testimony.

Sister Anna-Maria comes from Romania. She has had a very full life: she was an Orthodox nun in her country and was finally touched by the message of the Sisters of Bethlehem during a trip they made to the Roumanian monasteries. Sister Anna-Maria ended up joining them. This moment of grace left a lasting impression on us. Mother Marthe took us on a tour of the grounds, and we were delighted to see that the garden was as beautiful as the monastery buildings, both with their simple layout.

Mother Marthe arranged for a friendly driver to take us back to Abu Gosh. He is a Palestinian Christian. He doesn’t speak fluent French and we have a bit of trouble getting into a real conversation. We were struck by his kindness and availability.

In the evening, after Vespers, we shared a festive meal with the brothers from Abu Gosh, during which we talked a little about AIM. At the end of the meal, I was surprised by the arrival of a cake in honour of my birthday. The atmosphere was more than fraternal. We talked for a long time, we were happy!


Thursday 27 April

On the morning of today, we visit the Brothers’ House. It was originally an inn, a caravanserai built on the remains of the Roman camp abandoned in the 9th century during the Arab period. It served as a lookout point on the road leading to Jerusalem. It was at this time that the village took the name of Karyat el-Anab. In the 12th century, the Crusaders, identifying the site with the Emmaus of the Gospels, built a church and monastery here. These were repeatedly destroyed by Muslim, Turkish and Caucasian armies. Following negotiations undertaken by Emperor Napoleon III, the land was offered to France in 1875. The site was gradually restored by the French authorities and the monastery was entrusted successively to the Franciscans, the Lazarists and then the Olivetan Benedictine monks. The latter were sent in 1976 by the Bec-Hellouin community and were soon joined by the Oblate sisters of Sainte-Françoise-Romaine. To this day, the Eïn-Marzouk spring serves as the crypt of the religious building. During the Arab-Israeli war, the monastery was used as an improvised infirmary by the Harel unit.

The village of Abu Gosh is home to one of the largest modern mosques in the region. It stands on the edge of the monastery.

At the end of the morning, we join the sisters’ community to share lunch with them in their refectory. Then we had a meeting with the whole community. It was a very good exchange, with many questions giving us a glimpse of the diversity of the members of the community.

At around 4pm, we were driven to Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives to join the community of the Sisters of Calvary. We were welcomed very fraternally and, almost immediately, we took part in Vespers. The community was small but very fervent. As soon as we arrived, I was struck by the invitation to intimacy in this place where Christ withdrew with his disciples. It’s a place set apart, reserved and worthy of protection.

We dine in the hostel with two young volunteers: one, a young boy, has been there for several months and the other, a young girl, has just spent two months there and is preparing to return to France. The community is happy to offer this kind of hospitality, which allows people to have a unique human and spiritual experience, while contributing to the life of the place.

In the evening, overlooking the sisters’ garden, we admire the panorama of the old town, with the Temple esplanade, the dome of the Great Mosque and the various bell towers on the horizon. On the right below us is the Jewish cemetery, where the dead await the coming of the Messiah to this valley of the Kidron.

Jerusalem, seen from Mount Olivet. © AIM.

Friday 28 April

We spend the morning exploring the area around the monastery. We visit the Russian sisters near the presumed site of the Ascension. There are around forty of them. Their style is very different from that of western monks and nuns. They live in small houses spread across their grounds, and pilgrims and tourists can come and go as they please. It’s like being in a small village. We meet a Ukrainian sister who tends the garden and looks after her father, who is in a wheelchair, very old and completely deaf and blind; he is a priest, we are told. He looks like an old staretz. They fled Ukraine and took refuge in this monastery in Jerusalem. We also met the community’s singing sister, who is Jordanian, and Sister Myriam, who is French. A beautiful fraternal exchange that shows the quality of their profound life.

We pass by the mosque that houses the footprint of Jesus (at the time of the Ascension). We stroll through the streets of the Arab village surrounding the monastery of the Sisters of Calvary.

After lunch, we had a very long chat with the Benedictine nuns. They explain their situation and what is at stake in their presence here. They explain their projects in detail. At their last General Chapter, they gave themselves until 2024 to find a viable solution on site. We will have to wait and see whether or not concrete avenues open up in the next few months that will enable them to present their situation positively at their next Chapter in 2024. It seems difficult for help or collaboration to come from other Benedictine congregations or communities; it would be better to turn to lay people who would be willing to commit themselves in communion with the sisters, to take up the challenge of an active presence in this place. Otherwise, other sisters will take over, if they can be found. In any case, it would be important to maintain a Christian presence in this protected area on the Mount of Olives.

We then set off for Abraham’s House for a meeting of the leaders of the contemplative women’s communities in the Holy Land. We walk there, passing among the tombs of the Jewish cemetery, with an incredible view of the valley, the City of David and old Jerusalem.

Meeting at the House of Abraham. © AIM.

The House of Abraham is the former monastery founded by the monks of Belloc in the 19th century. The building has been completely restored. It is a great success in welcoming pilgrims of all faiths and religions who cannot envisage staying in a hotel.

There are two lay couples, including the one who runs the house, and around fifteen Benedictine, Carmelite, Beatitudes and Bethlehem sisters. They meet regularly to discuss themes and practical matters concerning their lives (administration, building work, finance, etc.). I introduced AIM, with the help of my two companions, and many questions arose. We raise the issue of gender diversity in the group formed by the sisters, but it remains unresolved.

This kind of meeting is an encouragement to consider holding a meeting of Benedictine superiors once or twice a year. This is my proposal.


Saturday 29 April

Today, after lunch, we set off for the Abbey of the Dormition. We go there on foot and cross the Valley of Gehenna again, we go to Saint Peter of Alicante, then we stop at the Western Wall where, from afar, with my forehead resting on the outer grille, I pray intensely for peace; we pass by the Cenacle which, obviously, has a whole architectural history. We meditate for a moment with emotion. Then we went down to David’s tomb. I’m touched by this place, because Saint David remains for me one of my favourite biblical characters. Finally, we reached the imposing monastery of the Dormition.

Dormition Abbey. © AIM.

We find the Abbot, who has just finished visiting a group. He gives us almost two hours. We talked about all sorts of subjects: the history and life of the monastery, the importance for them of the German language and culture, which makes them a little different from other monasteries with a more French culture; the educational work with the theology faculty from a monastic perspective, with around twenty students; the renovation work on the monastery, entirely paid for by Germany, the owner being an association of the city of Cologne; the complementary nature of their Tabgha foundation, which is a real spiritual centre near Lake Tiberias, at the place of the multiplication of the loaves, and a thousand other things.

We are visiting the monastery’s renovation work, which involves all the buildings; it is an ambitious undertaking that will be completed in a few months’ time. The church is due to be ready for Father Nikodemus Schnabel’s abbatial blessing on Pentecost Day.

We take part in Vespers. There are only three monks present, as some of the other nine are in the Tabgha monastery and others have ministries here and there. The service takes place in the crypt dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin. An impressive representation of the Virgin is enthroned in the centre of the room. During the construction period, this is where the services are held. Of course, everything is sung in German, in a very pleasant way with generous acoustics.

We then had lunch with the three brothers and Sister Gabriele from the Mount of Olives, who had been our guide that afternoon. We said goodbye immediately afterwards, as the Abbot had to prepare for his departure for Germany early the next morning.

On the way back, we cross the old town and go to the Holy Sepulchre, which, luckily, is open. There are lots of people inside. I venerate the anointing stone at the entrance, which is easily accessible. We pray in front of the tomb, which is always an impressive moment, and one that we’d like to keep going. But there are a lot of people there and it’s a bit difficult to meditate. We then moved on to the chapel of Saint Helena, where the group Harpa Dei, whose musical work interests me, was singing. They sang Vespers, and I joined in their prayer, delighted. The sisters know this group and we can meet them tomorrow morning. We walked a little further and returned home by taxi, exhausted.


Sunday 30 April

After celebrating the Mass of the Good Shepherd, we set off for Jerusalem to join the afternoon meeting we have planned with the monastery superiors. This meeting will take place at Abu Gosh. We have to get there by bus, which will take us first through the old city of Jerusalem and give us a chance to stop off at some of the holy places.

First, we stop at the place where Judas was betrayed and arrested. There is a small basilica at the foot of the Mount of Olives. I’m impressed by the intensity of the emotion that seizes me in this place: I feel as if I’m on the edge of my seat. I feel like bowing down to the ground and begging God’s forgiveness for all our (my) betrayals. Then there’s the Garden of Gethsemane and the art-deco basilica next to it.

We then stop off at St Anne’s, the presumed birthplace of the Virgin Mary. This church and the buildings around it are run by the White Fathers. We are welcomed by one of them, whose attentiveness and simplicity are particularly impressive.

We then walked towards the Holy Sepulchre, starting with the Ethiopians in the upper part. We meet two members of the Harpa Dei group. The discussion was very stimulating. The group travels the world, with a missionary aspect to their music. They’re due to come to the Normandy region of France soon. I’m thinking of bringing them to Ligugé. They have a lot to say to inspire monastic prayer. The Office sung by them is like a revelation, and even non-Christians are drawn in by its beauty.

Entrance to the Coptic Monastery. © AIM.

We then descend to the lower part and visit the Copts, where you can see tombs carved out of the rock, similar to the one where Christ was buried. An impressive sight. On the way out, we come across Father Stéphane, a French Franciscan who, “by chance”, made a retreat at Ligugé before joining the Franciscans. He is part of the community assigned to the Holy Sepulchre. He explains to us with enthusiasm how this place shows the density of the Body of Christ through all the people who come to visit it. They come in all shapes and sizes, not always knowing what they are looking for or doing, but they represent the teeming body of humanity saved by Christ. Just as the desert reveals the Father and Galilee the Son, so here it is the Holy Spirit who manifests himself in a permanent Pentecost!

We had a pizza in a restaurant in the new town and then boarded the bus to Abu Gosh, where the superiors of the monasteries of the Benedictine family in the Holy Land were meeting. The meeting concludes with a few points worth noting:

- It is a good idea for the superiors at least to meet from time to time, if only to exchange the latest news concerning the various communities, to discuss in common certain questions linked to the life of the Church, the world, the situation in the Holy Land and so on...

- Mutual support for each other’s projects.

- Mutual support in training at all levels.

- The proposal to organise stays for teachers who already have some experience. They could spend two or three months taking advantage of teaching, visits and, above all, hands-on experience on the spot. Participants would come from Europe as well as Asia, French-speaking Africa and Latin America.

The meeting seemed to open up a way forward: that was the aim.

We then return to Jerusalem by bus, and to the Mount of Olives monastery by tram and another bus. A long journey.


Monday 1st May

This morning, we are due to meet the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. We travelled by bus across the city to the patriarchate. The meeting was scheduled for 9am, but the Patriarch’s secretary had emailed to ask us to be there at 8.30am and we forgot. So we were late and Mgr Pizaballa couldn’t see us. The chancellor of the diocese made himself available to us and we were able to have a few moments of discussion with him. He gave us an overview of the development of religious life since the Middle Ages. It was especially in the 19th century, after a long period of interruption, that foundations multiplied, mainly in apostolic religious life. The congregations thus founded were fed by foreign recruitment. Only two indigenous congregations developed and are still very much alive. The monasteries, for their part, flourished in line with the success of religious life in Europe (especially in France and Germany). But today, when religious life is less easy on the European continent, the contemplative communities of the Holy Land are more fragile and there are many questions about their future.

Finally, the Patriarch is able to join us for a while. We explained to him the purpose of our trip to the Holy Land. He was attentive, but summed up his position in two sentences: “The Holy Land is not Europe; it’s a fragile place, and we need strong, stable religious communities. Nothing that is being sought for the future of religious life in France, particularly in collaboration with the laity, is relevant here, it’s too uncertain”. The discussion could go no further. We ended the conversation fairly quickly.

Place of the multiplication of the loaves, Tabgha. © AIM.

We then travel to Tabgha, the holy place of the multiplication of the loaves, on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. There are monks of the Dormition and sisters from the congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of the Eucharistic King (BSEK, Philippines). They welcomed us to their table for lunch. We spent an extremely fraternal time with these five sisters who live there at the service of pilgrims, in coordination with the monks. The site is particularly impressive. Like many others, we were touched to be walking on the shores of the lake. You get the impression that at any moment Christ could appear with his disciples, there on the sea. Often, in all these holy places, that’s the impression I’ve had: Christ is there, I see him, I’d like to be with him, stay with him, hear him, live with his disciples and never leave him.

After lunch, we went to the pilgrimage centre and met Father Joseph, who explained the mission of the monks there, in communion with the Dormition community in Jerusalem, to which they belong. The place is really well laid out. The church contains ancient mosaics illustrating the episode of the multiplication of the loaves. We were impressed by the fraternity of our host, who showed us around the house. It’s some ten years old, in perfect condition and harmoniously integrated into its surroundings. We are well aware of the important role played by these two communities in this much-visited place. The longer we’re here, the more we realise the need to support these monastic communities in the Holy Land. It would be serious not to show solidarity.

Benedictine Sisters of Tabgha, Dom J.-P. Longeat, Dom Andrea Serafino Dester, and Mr Olivier Dumont. © AIM.

On our way back to Jerusalem, we pass through the impressive landscapes of the desert of Judah, Jericho and many other places.


Tuesday 2nd May

This Tuesday morning, we have an appointment at the Mount of Olives Carmelite convent. This is very close to the Benedictine monastery where we are staying. We celebrate Mass, then visit the Pater site next to the monastery. This is the place where Christ taught the apostles about prayer and where he passed on to them the “Our Father”. This prayer is inscribed on the walls in 170 languages! The monastery chapel is dedicated to this “devotion”. The site covers a large area and is the property of the French state, which is responsible for its upkeep, including the chapel, which is in need of some work and minimal interior refurbishment. But decisions are slow in coming from the State, and everything remains on hold. As for the convent, it is independent; the sisters are in charge of it and manage it as best they can. We meet the community, which is quite large, with a few young sisters. I present AIM and its challenges. The debate was very open and questions flowed freely. I came away impressed by the beautiful witness of this community, which has taken its rightful place in the local landscape. After lunch, we make our way to the airport. Last checkpoint: we are checked. One of us wanted to get out of the car, but immediately, drawing attention, the machine guns pointed at him. He soon got back into the car and waited patiently for the green light to be given. This happened a few minutes later.

We are ready to embark, our heads and hearts still full of the testimonies of truth that we received here and there in the communities we visited. We tried to encourage mutual links between communities, and we listened to everyone as much as we could. That was the aim of our trip: mission accomplished!

Journey to India



Journey to India

11-27 February 2023

Sister Christine Conrath, OSB

secrétaire de l’AIM

On the occasion of the annual meeting of the ISBF (Indo Sri Lanka Benedictine Federation), Sister Christine Conrath, secretary of AIM, and Mother Anna Brennan, abbess of Stanbrook and member of the International Team, visited India. Here are a few echoes of their stay.

Saturday 11 - Sunday 12 February

After an uneventful departure from Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport and a direct flight to Delhi that took almost nine hours, we arrived at Delhi airport at 10.30 am on Sunday 12 February. We had five hours in transit, where we had to complete visa formalities and collect our luggage. We then embark for Cochin, arriving at around 7.10pm. Abbot Clément Ettaniyil, from Kappadu, was waiting for us, and we headed straight for Mariamala, Kottayam, where the ISBF meeting was to be held: two hours on the back roads of Kerala. We arrive at 9 p.m. for dinner and a good night’s sleep. Father Bino Tom Cheriyil, superior of the community, gave us the schedule for the rest of our stay. Several people came to greet us, including Father James Mylackal, President of the ISBF.

Monday 13 February

At 6.30 am we celebrate Lauds and then Mass. Everything is recited or read in succession, there’s no time to breathe, and we remain seated for the doxologies of the psalms - it will be like this for all the services. Voracious mosquitoes and fans accompany our prayer. Notker Wolf, the former abbot-primate, presided over the Mass, accompanied by Mrs Gerlinde. She is a great benefactress to the monasteries of India. We then had breakfast at the head table.

At 9.30am, the ISBF meeting opens: inauguration rites, lighting of the oil lamp, speeches, distribution of flowers, gifts and scarves for everyone. A member of the ISBF is always on hand to introduce the guest of honour at the microphone, and another to present the gifts. Around 60 people are present: major superiors as well as a few monks, nuns and sisters.

The first talk was given by a neighbouring bishop from the Vallombrosian family, on the subject of patience. Father Notker Wolf then spoke, saying that in the current turmoil in the Church, we members of the Church have lost all credibility. No longer in power, we are worried about the future. There has been a paradigm shift, for the first time since the Middle Ages. In this context, what is the path of inculturation in India? In fact, this is a task for the brothers and sisters in charge of the communities in India. Saint Benedict is very open. Take food, for example: we give this and that so that everyone can find what they need. And if there’s nothing, we bless God. Our most precious tool is lectio divina. Based on his experience during his travels around the world, Father Notker notes that the communities are more or less contemplative and more or less apostolic; but something is common to us all: we feel that it is “Benedictine”. The love of praying together is a criterion of authenticity. A community is like a football team: we rely on each other and we love each other. It’s a school of patience. The Holy Spirit is the one who guides our future. With fervent love for our community and good zeal, we don’t need to reorganise anything. That’s not what we need first. What we need first is faith, love and listening. Our hope is rooted in an authentic life. In this sense, we see all that Jesus endured, even Peter’s denial. It is now up to us to follow him on this path.

Meeting of ISBF.

Mrs Gerlinde then gave some details of her Foundation, which helps young girls in the North East, hampers human trafficking and combats domestic violence. She also fights to help children left to fend for themselves. She first came to India in 1997. The Covid19 pandemic really changed the face of the world. She urges everyone to keep their eyes open for street children.

We then attended a show put on by the St Kuriakose school: dazzling dances, songs, rites of welcome...

In the afternoon, a presentation of AIM. Although there were few questions, the participants showed great interest: How am I affected by what we represent together? How does feeling concerned by others keep my mind alert? Why do I often confine my brothers and sisters to their frailty? Isaac de l’Étoile tells us that my brother and sister are not adversaries; they are a help, an opportunity for me to work on my own conversion. The most important thing is not what we do in the Benedictine Family but how we get to know each other, how we draw closer to each other. AIM tries to strengthen the link between all the communities, with patience, as the bishop reminded us in his opening remarks, and with the perfected tool of lectio divina, as Father Notker mentioned. In Western Europe, the communities are often old, and the communities of the South are the future of our religious family. But more than anything else, our common future is Jesus Christ.

Father Vincent Korandiarkunnel, prior of Makkiyad, gave a talk on synodality, opening with a fine sharing from Father Peter Dowe, of Douai Abbey, on the very synodal preparations for the election of their new abbot: it was indeed synodality in action.

Tuesday 14 February

The Mass was presided over by Father Clément Ettaniyil (Kappadu) in the Syro-Malabar rite.

Mother Anna Brennan began the day’s presentations with a talk on Cor orans. She shared her experience in her own monastery and in the English Congregation.

Abbot Clément, from Kappadu, then spoke about the measures of exclusion in the context of Covid and in relation to the measures recommended by the Rule of Saint Benedict concerning excommunication.

Then comes the ISBF General Meeting.

In the afternoon, a report on the activities of the regional DIM-MID was presented by the superior of Kumily, Father John Kaipallimyalil. 7 December 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Henri Le Saux. Mother Vandana presented the CIB report. Then began the reports on the various communities.

A visit is organised to the monastery of the Little Vallombrosian Sisters of Saint-Jean-Gualbert.

Wednesday 15 February

Father Vincent Kundukulam, professor at St Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary in Aluva, talks about the work of the DIM in India. Dialogue consists, between religious people who really have a competence, in sharing how they experience God. To begin a dialogue, you don’t have to have the same representation of God. Dialogue is not a strategy for conquering others, but a source for going back to the origins of our faith. He applies this pedagogy to the question of the Incarnation, which represents a very different reality for Christians, Hindus and Muslims. How can such different visions be traced back to the source of faith in God and shared? I thought Father Vincent’s teaching approach was excellent.

In the afternoon, a boat trip takes ISBF members to the Kumarakam lagoon, an immense dyke on the sea that opens or closes the waters of Kerala. It is 3 to 5 metres deep. Landscapes of outstanding beauty, and charming fraternal relaxation.

Thursday 16 February

The elections for the Bureau re-elected Brother James Mylackal as President; the Treasurer is Father Michael Kannala (Vallombrosian, Bangalore) and the Secretary Father Pinto Irudayaraj (Shantivanam); Father Abbot Clément will be responsible for relations with AIM.

The next ISBF meeting will take place from 4 to 10 February 2024 in Shantivanam.

In the afternoon, departure for the priory of St Scholastica, belonging to the Grace and Compassion congregation. Here the sisters run a home for the elderly and a palliative care unit. They also run a hostel for students and a farm.

Sisters of Grace and Compassion Congregation. © AIM.

We then visit the sisters of St Lioba. They are a community of three members who house medical students.

Then it’s off to Kappadu for dinner. We got to know the place, and in the evening we had a meeting with some teenage girls who were taking an online German course. Their teacher had come from Germany to encourage them. There will be an exam, followed by a stay in Germany. The Kappadu monastery is very attentive to the students and does a lot for them in different ways.

Friday 17 February

Mass in the Syro-Malabar rite is followed by a celebration at the cemetery before Lent. We then visit the monastery. The farm has a stable with 63 cows, around twenty pigs, 2,000 chickens and 200 rabbits. They cook with biogas generated by the cow dung. There’s also a fish farm and a rubber plantation. The price of rubber has recently fallen by a factor of three. There are 300 employees in all at Kappadu; but the monks are all at work, and the whole farm is run by the aspirants.

At 10 am, we set off by car for Kurisumala. We arrived just in time for the mid-day service with a group of retired seminarians and their formator. For lunch, we were seated on the floor of the cloister; stools had been prepared for us in the library adjoining the cloister. A sober meal in silence. The brothers serve the guests rice with sauces, a vegetarian diet. After the meal, we greet the community. We visit Father Francis Acharya’s cell and the entire monastery. Kurisumala Monastery, OCSO, is now linked to Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia.

Kurisumala Farm. © AIM.

Saturday 18 February

On this day when we celebrate the 90th birthday of Father Anselme Maniakupara, one of the founders of Kappadu, Abbot Emeritus John Kurichianil is present. We are happy to be together again. Mother Nirmala Narikunnel, Abbess of Shanti Nilayam, joins us for a few days of retreat. There are some 300 guests. In the afternoon, we set off for Maduraï via Jeva Jyothi. We met the bishop emeritus who founded the monastery, along with the founder, Mother Lily Thérèse, now deceased. We saw the fragility of this community of three sisters with a Carmelite chaplain.

We arrive at Kumily Monastery (St Michael’s Priory, Angel Valley, Viswanathrapuram), belonging to the congregation of St Ottilien.

Some students from Kumily, Mother Nirmala and Sister Christine. © AIM.

Sunday 19 February

We visit one of the monastery’s activities: accommodation for young boys: 60 children receive full board. Although lessons are given elsewhere, the brothers take care of the education of these youngsters.

In the morning, we take a traditional elephant ride to Elephant Junction, just outside the monastery, after bathing these behemoths, which weigh an average of 2.5 tonnes. They are females, reputed to be gentle, with no tusks,

and there are three in all. The elephants are domesticated and very obedient to the guide’s commands: “stand, lie down, walk, stop, wave”. It was a short hour’s walk!

We visit the monastery in the late morning, as well as the spiritual centre. In the garden, wild animals come at night, the monastery is at the bottom of a slope, the jungle is just above. Buffalo or tigers (?) pass through the garden, but there is an aviary for parakeets and a vegetable garden. The brothers harvest around 50% of their crops, the rest being eaten by wild animals. We noticed that all the flowers on the banana bunches had disappeared, eaten by monkeys? Lunch in Kumily before leaving for Madurai.

Visit to Madurai in the evening, including a sumptuous 5,000-year-old temple. It’s very difficult to convey the emotion of this place, in the midst of this Indian crowd. The brothers then took us to Madurai airport to fly to Bangalore and Shanti Nilayam Abbey.

Monday 20 February

Visit to Shanti Nilayam, the garden and the vineyard. A worker says that the vineyard should be fenced off before the grapes ripen, otherwise the neighbours will continue to help themselves to the sisters’ produce... The fencing is non-existent. The waxworks is equipped with outdated equipment. With recycled wax, women in difficulty (widows, battered women who have left home, etc.) make candles that are sold or given to the diocese.

The hotel has become unhealthy as a result of flooding in recent years. It would have to be demolished and a new one built, against the boundary wall, on the street; otherwise there is a risk that the land will be squatted, with the town crowding along the walls. At the time of the foundation, the sisters settled in the open country, but the city has come to them as a result of the country’s demographic explosion. At the evening meeting, we talk with the community. The sisters still have links with the community of Benedictine nuns in Ryde, England, who helped found Shanti Nilayam. The monastery at Shanti Nilayam is in the monastic tradition of the Solesmes congregation, but adapted to Indian culture.

Tuesday 21 February, Mardi Gras

This morning, we visit the altar bread workshop.

The sisters sold all but two of their cows. Because of the flooding, the barn was under water for eight days and the cows fell ill. The sisters had already had to give up the hen houses (four buildings with 2,000 hens) because of the competition.

The flooding was caused by the overflowing of the wastewater drainage ditch, which was blocked by all the rubbish arriving from the new homes in the neighbourhood. The sewage system is out of order. The government accepted the sisters’ complaint and said it would take action, but did nothing.

Shanti Nilayam welcomes young sisters from a foundation in Burma (Myanmar) for their formation. At today’s Mass, Sister Rosa Ciin, from Burma, renewed her temporary vows for one year. The Burmese sisters will make their solemn profession together this summer, before returning to Burma. The community receives many aspirants from the north-east. Their average age is 18, and they do not yet speak English well.

We also visited the Vallombrosian community in Bangalore.

The Vallombrosian brothers from Bangalore, with Sister Christine and Mother Nirmala. © AIM.

Ash Wednesday, 22 February

On this day, Mother Nirmala asked me to give a short talk to the community on desire in RB, desire for Easter, desire for conversion, and discretio, the mother of virtues. The talk was followed by the distribution of the Lenten books. Each sister chose a book from the library; the abbess read the titles of the works chosen, before giving them to the sisters.

Joining us is Sister Asha Thayyil (the name means “Hope” in Hindi), the new Superior General of the Sisters of St Lioba, who will be travelling with me from Bangalore to Bhopal. The sisters of St Lioba often make retreats at Shanti Nilayam during their formation.

In the evenings, we have a time of relaxation in community, with some small entertainment provided by the novitiate.

Thursday 23 February

We left at 5 a.m. for Bhopal, arriving mid-morning at the monastery of the Sisters of Saint Lioba. We visit the Dev Mata Hospital with Sister Betty, a doctor who completed her training in Germany. One wing of the hospital is known as “the Vatican” (!), because many priests and nuns are treated there. Christians are less of a minority in this region.

Dev Matha Hospital. © AIM.

After lunch, we head off to the Misrod community, which runs a shelter for street women. Often handicapped, rejected by their families and by everyone else, there are 37 of them here, housed on the premises, although the house can only accommodate 30 people. And the police continue to bring women to the sisters. The residents have prepared some festivities in our honour. What follows is a fascinating

discussion with the sisters of this community. Scenes of violence are not uncommon at the beginning of the stay of these people so wounded by life.

We then get a taste of the area around the site: we visit the Tribal Museum of India, a magnificent achievement that attracts a lot of people. Then we took a boat trip around the town, which is known as the “Bhopal City of Lakes”. The sisters are planning to create a mission on the banks of the lake, which makes me dream! Back to the community, then, after dinner, a little show put on by the candidates and the young sisters, with traditional dances linked to harvest time.

Friday 24 February

Father Antony Dhande, superior of Shivpuri, has joined us. We have breakfast with him and the team from the hospital adjacent to the community. We then set off by car for Sanchi, a Buddhist centre listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the way we cross the Tropic of Cancer.

After lunch, we take the train to Shivpuri. What an experience! The station is packed with people. We got a seat in the most comfortable class, where the carriages are air-conditioned. It’s definitely more comfortable than flying! On arrival, we were met by Brother Shivprakash, who took us to the priory of Jeevan Jiothi (Life and Light, Shivpuri). At 9.30 p.m., we were welcomed by a very elaborate ceremony: music and songs performed by the aspirants.

Saturday 25 February

In the morning, we celebrate Mass at the convent of the three sisters of Notre-Dame du Jardin, right in the school playground. The dilapidated house is sinking into the ground. The chapel is scarred, the walls cracked. According to the request we voted for in the AIM Committee, a new building will be constructed.

I spend a dream morning with the children from the school, starting with a show! The curtain rises with a prayer, followed by dancing with the Indian flag, a yoga demonstration and finally the national anthem. On this date, the primary school children sit their exams, while the older ones have finished their school year.

We go to Chattry where there is a Buddhist temple in white marble and inlaid with precious stones. A jewel, as beautiful as the Taj Mahal, which we won’t have time to visit. We take a tour of the ancient city of Shivpuri and discover the Skit temple.

Chatri. © AIM.

After lunch, we meet the two communities of sisters who work with the brothers. One Ursuline community has a small school. Their economy is very precarious; the government has closed their dispensary. At 6pm, we return to the school to inaugurate and bless accommodation for two families, then return to the monastery for Vespers, followed by the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sunday 26 February

After the morning service and breakfast, we rush off to the parish church for Mass at 8.30am. The faithful arrive at 8am and pray the rosary with the young candidates, aged between 17 and 23: eight very determined young women. Mass is celebrated in Hindi in the Roman rite, and then we are welcomed by the parish. I was asked to say a few words to the congregation. The young woman who was translating was a delegate for the WYD in India; she was preparing for the trip to Lisbon. At the end of Mass, the greetings flowed freely. “What do you think of India?” people kept asking me.

We had to leave for Delhi by train. We are welcomed at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, led by Father Jervis C D’Souza, a friend of Father Anthony. Dinner at around 10pm, which is normal in India. We learn that Father Felix Machado is there, Bishop Emeritus of Bombay, who is very active in inter-religious dialogue and spent six years in France.

Monday 27 February

Mass with Bishop Felix Machado, followed by breakfast and lively discussions. He asked for news of Father Pierre de Béthune (Clerlande) and Father Benoît Billot. What has become of the French-speaking DIM since the death of Sister Marie-Bruno from Liège? But we have to leave for the airport!

At the airport, I come across a corps of United Nations soldiers who are leaving on a six-month mission to the Congo to try and bring a little peace...

A peaceful journey home, with so many memories and so many photos and videos to share and enrich our media library and the AIM archives! I’m very grateful to all the monastic communities I met on this wonderful trip.

Shivpuri. © AIM.

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