13 April 2010

Stages of a Discovery: Guéranger and Me, Part 1

Archimandrite Placide (Deseille) opens his fascinating conversion story, ‘Stages of a Pilgrimage’, with an expression of gratitude to ‘everyone who contributed to my human and spiritual education’. He writes:

Beginning with my family, I was shaped in the school of the Church’s great liturgical and patristic tradition. My grandmother and my two paternal aunts, who influenced me greatly, had as their bedside reading Dom Cabrol’s Book of Ancient Prayer, and Dom Guéranger’s Liturgical Year, books which contained a great many splendid texts from the ancient liturgies of West and East. [1]

Not ever having been Catholic, when I read Fr Placide’s account for the first time—back in 2001—it was the first I had heard of either of these writers. But I was interested because it sounded as though they might have some points of connection with Orthodoxy. While I never did follow up on ‘Dom Cabrol’, however, another reference to Guéranger in a completely different source ensured that I would do a bit more digging on him.

It was when I discovered the website of the eccentric Catholic monarchist, Charles Coulombe. In the midst of his ‘Ultra-Realism FAQ’—the merits of which I leave readers to decide for themselves—he begins his list of ‘famous ultra-realists and/or Christian Neoplatonists’ with a reference to—

St Dionysius the Areopagite, convert of St Paul, first Bishop of Athens, first Bishop of Paris, and author of The Divine Hierarchies and other works. (Yes, I am aware that people since Luther have declared that these four qualities belong to four separate Dionysii, and insist on calling the author the ‘Pseudo-Dionysius’; I consider their pretensions exploded by the writings of such as Dom Guéranger and the martyred Archbishop Darboy).

That was all. No footnote or anything. Curious to see how these ‘pretensions’ had been ‘exploded by the writings of Dom Guéranger’, and assuming that the writings in question meant the Liturgical Year, I eventually went to great lengths to track down a copy of the portion of that work that dealt with St Dionysius.

I began of course by looking online. Google Books has a couple of volumes of the Liturgical Year, but neither contains material on St Dionysius. I found a blog chronicling a fellow’s reading of Guéranger, but with basically no excerpts from the books at all. I even tried going by the ‘Pastoral Center’ of the local RC Archdiocese and searching the library. The librarian there had no idea what I was talking about, and a long browse yielded lots of interesting books, but no Guéranger. I was getting desperate.

Finally, one summer I went to the library website of the nearest Benedictine college, St Gregory’s in Shawnee, Oklahoma. I searched the online catalogue, and at last, there it was! I wrote down the call number, grabbed a couple of friends for company, and headed off on the 45-minute drive to Shawnee. Although somewhat disappointing to someone whose imagination has been fed by Name of the Rose, St Gregory’s is one of the more mediæval things we have in Oklahoma. I was very excited as I entered the building, call number in hand, and walked into the mostly empty library to the shelves . . . only to find that it wasn’t there. I saw the book that came before it, and the one that came after it, but the entire 15-vol. or so set of the Liturgical Year was not there.

This librarian was more helpful. Although there was the obligatory walk back over to the shelf I had just examined, she spent some real time looking around in the computer system. At last, she told me that she was going to ask one of the monks, who worked in—I believe—the ‘archives’. Now I don’t remember the name of this monk, but it was ‘Brother Something-or-other’. Perhaps ‘Brother Theobald’? I don’t know. She called him on a phone, and after a little wait, she said he knew right where it was.

Then there was a longer wait. I looked around at the shelves a bit more to pass the time, when at last Brother Theobald appeared. A man of 45 or so, he was wearing his black Benedictine habit, and—get this—he was limping! He limped over to me, and held out a small, hardbound book of some 100 years saying, ‘Be careful with it. It’s very old.’ Although the library was carpeted and lit with fluorescent lights and was typical of a small college library built in the 1950s, we might as well have been in the vast Gothic labyrinth of Eco’s novel, the limping monk corresponding thrillingly with the blind Jorge stingily retrieving only the books that he has approved the monks to read, or at least poisoning the pages of the others. After that, I had the lady from the desk do the photocopying for me.

To be continued . . .

[1] Archim. Placide (Deseille), ‘Stages of a Pilgrimage’, The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mt Athos, ed. & tr. Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin) (South Canaan, PA: STS, 1995), p. 63.


David.R said...

This is great! Fr Placide's conversion story is very interesting.I reread it every so often. Alexander Golitzin's book is one of my favorites. I also wondered about these books (Liturgical Year) but didn't think I even had a chance to find them.
But you did! Good for you. I hope you will share with us a few morsels of what you have photocopied.
Thank you

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you for your interest, David. I will indeed share a bit in Part 2!

frphoti said...

Very well written! I wish all blogs would leave a bit of a 'cliff-hanger' like this one.
There is an abbey (Mt. Angel) about an hour south of Portland which has a very well-known and large library. When I was a RC and would visit there (I was planning on becoming a monk) and just walk and smell the books. Ahhh,...good memories.

Great post!

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you, Father, for your kind words. The pictures I have seen of large (typically Benedictine) monastic libraries are one of those things that evoke in me what the Romantics call Sehnsucht, & C.S. Lewis translates 'joy' or 'longing'. Unfortunately, my friend Owen tells me many American RC monasteries have been slowly discarding their old collections in order to add more books on Buddhist spirituality and the enneagram to the shelves. (In an interesting parallel, my spiritual father tells me they have done the same thing with many of their holy relics. Perhaps those who do not value the relics of the Saints will not value books either.)

Elijahmaria said...

I do so enjoy watching you have fun, Aaron. I have a friend with all the volumes on her books shelves at home and so I borrow them when I find a hole in my own collection.

No need to worry about the Catholic Church loosing her books or her saints ~smile~


The Ochlophobist said...

My friend henry (http://www.henrysbooks.com/) has this for sale:

1 Gueranger, Abbot (Prosper Louis Pascal) The Liturgical Year. 15 Volumes
London Britons Catholic Library 1983 0907364039 / 9780907364030 Reprint Cloth Very Good 12mo - over 6¾" - 7¾" tall
15 volumes. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Only a few minor bumps here and there with unobtrusive pencil notes to only a very small number of pages. Minor wear to cloth. A very nice, clean set
Price: 275.00 USD

When we were at Loomes we used to sell Guéranger all the time, though we maintained a number of waiting lists. I suppose it will not be long until an RC press reprints his works, but to get the real deal here would, of course, be best. I highly recomment it if you can get your hands on the cash.

Elijahmaria said...

You can get a brand new set of Gueranger's Liturgical Year for 165.00 plus shipping from St. Bonaventure Publications.

aaronandbrighid said...

Owen> Thanks for letting me know. I wish I could get my hands on the cash!

EM> Thank you, as well, for the cheaper alternative. As for the Catholic Church and her books & Saints, I certainly didn't mean to imply that all Catholics had lost their reverence for these things, just that from what I have heard a lot of the religious orders seem to have done. Maybe the orders are not representative of Catholics as a whole. That said, I have heard other Catholics complaining about (& unwittingly exhibiting!) a sense of 'desacralisation' that seems widespread in modern Catholicism, something borne out in my experience by my limited exposure to Novus Ordo churches here in Oklahoma.

frphoti said...

Re: my comment and yours on RC relics

It is funny you mention the relics at RC monasteries. At this one that I mentioned, the relics are(were?) kept in a vault back behind the altar. I had never seen any that were out to be venerated.

Anonymous said...

Our Lady of the Annunciation Monastery of Clear Creek (recently raised to the status of an Abbey), in Hulbert, OK, will almost certainly have copies of the complete Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger. Clear Creek is a foundation (1998) of Notre Dame de Fontgumbault, which is in turn a foundation of Solesmes. The website is:

Elijahmaria said...

Dear Aaron,

Some of that desacralization is regional in the United States, with respect to diocesan parishes. I am in an area where you rarely find the formal and most damaging liturgical abuses that you find elsewhere, for example.

It will take another generation of priests to ease away from the banal that oozed into the liturgies, which is not entirely harmless. But I always try to be careful not to substitute my good taste, for the uncouth and pedestrian preferences of others.

But I have women friends from all over who have asked for a churching ritual after their children are born, and been accommodated. And even where there are guitar,piano, flute and string masses there are also masses that use Gregorian chant for one of their Sunday masses.

Things are always a little bit different when you are accommodating 5 to 8 thousand families in a parish. The smallest Latin rite parish among the seven nearest to me is 2000 families and it is not brand new but it is younger than the rest.

The orders are divided. There's no doubt about that but they keep going and are returning to more of the old ways. The Dominicans and Carmelites did not divide quite as dramatically as a the Franciscans and Benedictines, at least from my experiences of their communities.

But again when you are dealing with large numbers these things become all the more apparent.

There are always those who desire more and those who desire less. We have among us the more faithful, the most faithful and the faithful, not at all. They all leave their mark.

The thing that the papal Church needs more than anything else, at the moment, is a total overhaul of their process of choosing bishops. At this point, a diocesan committee sends three names to Rome in rank order, and in times past the order has been unbearably rank!, and Rome nods and in goes the next clone. That needs to stop!!