As some of you know, I spent two-and-a-half days on retreat at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan last weekend. St. Gregory’s is a Benedictine Monastery in the Episcopal Church that began back in the thirties as a daughter-house of Nashdom Abbey.
If you’re not familiar with the annals of Anglo-Catholicism, Nashdom Abbey was the second home of an experiment in having a Benedictine Order in Anglicanism, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. The first experiment was at Pershore in the late 1800’s, which ended in failure for several reasons, not least of which that the Abbot and most of the Monks went to Rome. Those who desired to stay as Anglicans, moved to Nashdom and flourished there for several decades. Probably the most famous of these was Dom Gregory Dix, whose The Shape of the Liturgy impacted liturgical studies for several generations and has been spiritually edifying to me. When I found that that Gregory Dix spent a few years at St. Gregory’s, I nearly passed out.
Both Nashdom and St. Gregory’s were once hotbeds of Anglo-Papalism, which is an odd form of Anglo-Catholicism. Anglo-Papists — truly a rare breed these days an almost non-existent in TEC — believe and work towards a corporate reunion with Rome. They try their best to keep any parts of the Church of England from doing any moves that might prevent this future reunification. This is why many of the Anglo-Catholics in England, for example, opposed women’s ordination to the priesthood and are opposing the ordination of women to the episcopacy. Anglo-Papalist Churches are usually in the continental baroque style, with glittering gold, multiple altars and plenty of statues in every single possible niche. Anyway, you can read all about the history of Nashdom Abbey in The Labour of Obedience, which I read while on retreat.
Here is a blog that has several pictures of Nashdom Abbey back in its prime and even a few from St. Gregory’s, so you can get a flavor for what it was like back in the day. St. Gregory’s Abbey eventually followed the reforms of Vatican II, so they no longer said the Mass and their seven-fold Office in Latin. I’m not sure how much Anglo-Papalism is at St. Gregory’s anymore, but they are still firmly Anglo-Catholic. Needless to say, it was nearly heaven for me to chant the Offices with the Brothers, share in the Mass and spend lots of time in contemplation. I will definitely be going back.
I’m sure that you’ll be reading a lot of what I spiritually processed while I was there in the upcoming weeks, here are a few highlights from my retreat:
- If you’re going to go to a contemplative Benedictine Monastery, take more than flip-flops with you. Seriously. My feet were the loudest thing there. I clip-clopped to Matins in the darkness before the sunrise. I clip-clopped up to take the Eucharist. I clip-clopped over to the statue of Our Lady. I clip-clopped to dinner. Wear shoes. You can thank me later.
- On Sunday, I decided not to go to Matins and Lauds at 5:30 AM for several reasons, not least of which that I had driven for most of Saturday for about eleven hours. So, laying my bed in the Guesthouse, I kept waking up every ten minutes because of the two warning bells that toll before the start of the Offices. Then, they rang the Angelus. So, I rolled over in bed, crossed myself, said the Angelus and rolled back over to sleep. Later, when my coherent faculties had returned, I got a good chuckle out of praying it in the Chapel of Saint Serta, as it were.
- I spend most of my time there reading some essays of Charles Williams and two sets of meditations for retreats, The School of Sanctity and In His Will. Both of these were written by my hero, Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar. Several years ago, I read his sermon to the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, “Our Present Duty”. I can sincerely say that it is one of the ten most influential writings in my life. That sermon is well known for this quote: “And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.” His retreat addresses are just as strong and I benefited from them greatly. I recommend them to you, especially “Our Present Duty”.
- Monday was Our Lady’s Feast Day, which the Monks kept as “The Assumption” (I actually planned to be there for that, don’tchaknow!). The antiphons and chapters for the Office all had a decidedly Marian character, including “Come, let us worship the Lord, who has taken up his Virgin Mother into heaven” and — more famously — “More higher than the cherubim, more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, lead their praises”. It was great to spend the feast with the Brothers.
- For the first time in over four years of doing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I actually got to confess in a confessional. You know, be a box-talker and all. It was quite exciting. And, of course, spiritually edifying.
- During a walk on the Monastery’s grounds, I greatly enjoyed running into a Doe in the woods that, then, followed me almost to the guesthouse. It was a moment of great beauty and I’m sure I’ll write about what happened.
Well, that’s about it for now. I hope y’all are well and making good decisions. I’ll be writing more when I have a chance.