Friday, November 10, 2006

St. Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, MA

It must be Liturgical Fashion Week at Abbey-Roads:

The Holy Rood Guild.
The good, the bad, the ugly - mostly just bad.

So I said the Holy Father's vestments were as bad as this stuff. How protestant does this crap look? It is all de rigeur for American clergy. I'll bet the designer at Spencer liked Benedict's ensemble - or maybe not - they can be pretty elitist at St. Joseph's.

I was a novice at New Melleray - both abbeys are Trappist/Cistercians of the Strict Observance. Spencer was considered the more artistic, intellectual of the abbeys - when I resided at New Melleray that is.

Spencer produced the venerable Basil Pennington (now deceased) with the abbot, whose name I cannot recall, who invented "centering prayer" - a form of prayer that is pretty much associated with "quietism".

Spencer also gained notice through a network or PBS special on monastic life a decade or so ago. At the time, the monks intervewed reminded me of a couple of St. Paul Seminaries rectors and spiritual directors we had in the last few decades - before the 'reform of the reform'...not impressed.

Some secular priests have this idea that vestments and liturgy from all contemplative monasteries is the epitome of liturgical correctness. (They obviously have had good retreat experiences. I still maintain many liturgical abuses found their nascence in certain monastic communities - standing around the altar for Mass, being one of them.) Granted, Spencer was a tad more culturally elevated than New Melleray, yet I wasn't impressed on my many visits there. The Trappist ideal is pretty much dead, as far as the lay-person's perception of the vocation goes - the original Cistercians seem to be more reformed, that is traditional, than the Trappists - or rather - the Cistercians never deformed as the Trappists. The 'Merton' celebrity, as well as his 'monastic experiment' pretty much contributed to this phenomenon - along with Vatican II of course.

Anyway - presented here is some of the schmaltz they design as liturgical vestments.

You have all seen this type of vestment.

What's with the 'yoke' of 'faux embroiderie'? I hate that.

No, it's not Polish.

Irish? Maybe.

Tacky? Rather.

Feminine? Decidedly.

What is so wrong with Roman vestments?

Why all the novelty and innovation after centuries of good design? I think the model in the last design is asking, "So, like I should wear dis schmata? Oy!"


  1. Alright! Look at what Saint Martin is wearing:

  2. Dear Mr. "Ask Terry,"

    I have a question, but it's off-topic...

    A friend is interested in learning more about the Catholic Church, & among the books he acquired is the King James Version of the Bible.

    I understand that this version is not the one that we use- although my knowledge is limited. I did tell him that it is missing six books- he thought I meant the gnostic gospels.

    Can you educate me so I can better educate him?

    Thank you!

  3. Michael7:45 AM

    Some amusing statements on liturgical fashion! I mostly share your opinion on the liturgical vestment stuff. I don't share the opinion that the holy father is blameless when it comes to his choice of vestments.....and some gay designer or sacristan is responsible for some subterfuge. This pope has shown no sense, whatsoever, when it comes to his public presentation. To say his clothing is decidedly feminine would be quite an understatement. Ermine stoles, red designer shoes that look like ruby slippers... maybe it would work on a more masculine appearing pontiff, like his immediate predecessor. The press has been fairly critical of his appearance. I don't think we need to blame someone else for his fashion sense.

    Re the Trappists, your entire post reads as unfairly harsh. Thos. Keating is the name of the centering prayer abbot you cannot recall. Both Frs. Keating and Pennington have done a lot to cultivate this ancient form of prayer (not quietism) among the the general public. Let's pray for authentic vocations to the religious life. As you know, Trappist houses are more or less autonomous, depending on lineage from the motherhouse. Some seem more appealing to those with a traditional orientation, while others seem more progressive, for lack of a better word. I didn't realize that standing around the altar was a liturgical abuse begun by monastics. Indeed, some of my treasured images are from religious communities of the Carthusians (Transfiguration and St. Hugh's, et. al.) depicting religious kneeling, or standing, around the altar, each man wearing the habit denoting his particular affiliation to the Charterhouse. You're saying this is a result of liturgical abuse?

  4. Michael, Thanks for your good comments. You are right - it was unfairly harsh - sounding. I agree with you about the different charisms of houses, traditional, progressive, etc. That is true. The pious perception of Trappist life, penaance, hairshirtss, silence, etc. - the de Rancey (Spelling?) style Trappist is really what I was referring to as being dead. The Cistercians have more or less homogenized within the Benedictine tradition - I think.

    The liturgical abuse of standing around the altar or throughout the consecration is an abuse in parishes. Monastic communities have their own traditions. My reference was really to when liturgists or parish priests go on retreat and return home to implement their interpretation of monastic liturgies in their parishes.

    Centering prayer, though widely practice, and as it is practiced, has some elements of quietism, links to hesychast prayer, with an influence of the oriental. Influencedas it is by "The Cloud of Unknowing" the practice leads many to think they are overnight contemplatives. Without wasting too much time here, I stand by my quietism critique.

    My personal opinion - the Cistercians of the Ancient Observance have it more together than the O.C.S.O.'s.

    As for B16 - the traaditional clothing, ermine, red pumps, etc, are not at all feminine - his papal attire is all-together apprpriate. (I wish he'd take back the tiarra!) I was critical of the novelty of liturgical vestments.

    Thank you Michael!

  5. Rhapsody - Thanks for changing the subject - my post on fashion and Spencer Abbey is an opinion I've wanted to express for years.

    As for the Bible - Catholics are forbidden to read the Bible - it's a mortal sin. Kidding - just kidding!

    Anyway - the KJV is missing canonical books that are consider the apocrypha - accepted by the Roman Catholic Church - so the protestants took them out. In no way are they the Gnostic gospels however.

    We use the RSV - Revised Standard Version at Mass - the new translation of which I generally do not like, but it's better than the New American in many respects.

    I use a New American bible I got from a friend (david) in 1972 - it is loose-leaf now, as well as the RSV, sometimes the Jerusalem (though I dislike reading the name Yaweh) and I enjoy the Good News Bible, and I also use the KJV. I don't read them all at once however. The Douay-Rheims is wonderful as well. For me, the Grail version of the psalter is the very best.

    I have to post on this subject soon on Leaflet's blog - so hopefully I'll answer more questions there.

  6. Forgive me for returning to the subject of Centering Prayer, but I do want to offer a comment.

    My experience has been that folks who make Centering Prayer their preferred way of praying sooner or later end up:

    1. minimizing the sacraments and, concomitantly, minimizing the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord;
    2. distancing themselves from the sacred liturgy with its own rhythm of feasts and fasts;
    3. forsaking lectio divina
    3. becoming cold or indifferent to Eucharistic adoration;
    3. neglecting devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the rosary;
    4. being dismissive of the intercession of the saints;
    5. disdaining sacramentals, holy images, and the worthy cult of holy relics;
    6. failing to incorporate holy study into their personal rule of prayer;
    7. a slow withdrawal from the active practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

    In a word, Centering Prayer seems to lead to a decatholicization of the soul. Not a good thing.

  7. As for standinng around the altar; it did begin in some monasteries where the choir stalls were deemed "too formal." Bringing everyone into the sanctuary was also seen as way of unifying at Mass the communities formerly divided into choir monks and converse religious (laybrothers).

    Some monasteries went so far as to remove the choir stalls completely and replace them with chairs! Result: the whole age–old pedagogy of bodily engagement in prayer was lost or compromised: profound inclinations, prostrations on the knuckles, satisfactions, turning eastward or choirwise at different moments.

    Leaving the stalls never really worked, not even at the practical level. Most communities have returned to the stalls for Mass. The concelebrants, of course, stand at the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer.

    And yes, Terry is right: diocesan priests on retreat in some abbeys saw the monks standing around the altar and thought, "Cool! I have to do this at the parish." Folks don't do it very well. Monks in cowls can pull it off, maybe . . . but in a parish it looks frightfully disordered and the folks seem vaguely uncomfortable.

  8. don marco: As someone who has participated in "centering prayer" I could not agree with your list more.

    Terry: I agree with rhapsody. We should start calling you: Mr. Terry.

  9. Agreed, Cathy of A:)

    & many thanks, Mr. A.T, for answering my off-topic question so ably for me.

  10. PS

    Dear Mr. "Ask Terry,"

    In the words of one of my favorite detectives, Lieutenant Frank Columbo...

    "Just one more thing"...

    Did you go Beta?

  11. Yes - I went beta. I love Columbo as well!

  12. Hi again:)

    Well then, you might like this:

    One of my favorite works by him:

  13. PPS

    Check out the shoe lace:)

  14. Hi, I've been browsing around your blog and saw this post. I've been praying about a vocation to a Trappist community and was wondering if you've written extensively about your experience at New Melleray .

    1. Nothing really to say about it. Very ordinary, silent, simple - very Cistercian. It is a wonderful abbey.


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