Life and death at Douai Abbey

A few days back I posted some pictures of some wagtails and their chicks, safely nested in one of our crumbling garages. A snap was taken of two chicks. (As usual, all photos get bigger if clicked.)

Today, making a pitstop in the dry on the way to the neighbouring garage I looked in on the family and got quite a shock to find three chicks.

It seems my catching them unawares exposed their ruse of being only two, so one chick decamped stage left. It was a chaotic flight, probably one of its first. It gave up after a bit and just sat in the rain glaring at me and thinking dark thoughts.

But I could not discomfit it any longer, as there was a funeral to prepare. Having received Fr Romuald’s body last night in the abbey church, today we spent singing the liturgical offices of the dead and, in the fullness of time, committing him to the earth and God’s mercy.

Being a cantor and concelebrant for the Mass I could not take pictures, but Greg, our clerk of works, snapped a few that give a soupçon of an impression of the liturgy. It was a traditional Douai monastic funeral, dignified yet not without warmth. We were blessed with a cheering number of local diocesan clergy, the Abbot President and monastic brethren from Downside, Belmont, Buckfast, Worth and Ealing Abbeys, as well as our own oblates and parishioners.

As the procession entered the cantors led the congregation in singing the introit, Requiem aeternam, and later the Kyrie. The epistle was from Romans 6:3-4, 8-9. The Psalm, 129 (130)With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption, was sung to one of Fr Romuald’s own compositions, a most pleasing melody that has become traditional in our monastic funerals. The Gospel, taken from John 6:37-40, was preceded by the singing of the Gregorian Alleluia and verse, (again: it cannot be sung too often!) Requiem aeternam.

The homily by the abbot, after providing a potted biography of Fr Romuald, touched on some of his more notable characteristics, both explicable and otherwise. Some were a revelation to us his brethren, as most of us never really got to know him deeply. He was not given to intimacy, either in the giving or receiving. That 60 years of his life was spent living at Douai, either as boy in our boarding school or as a monk, probably goes some way to explaining that. Fr Abbot felt that the touchstone of Fr Romuald’s life was his obedience, a worthy testament indeed for a monk, as indeed it should be for every Christian according to one’s state of life.

During the Offertory the schola sang Psalm 41 (42), Like as the dear that yearns for flowing waters, set to soothing music from Tamié Abbey, arranged by Dom Charles Watson OSB. After Communion (a long time indeed, so good was the turn out to farewell Fr Fomuald) we sang the plainsong antiphon, Lux aeterna.

For the final commendation and procession to the graveside we sang, in succession, a number of plainsong pieces: Libera me Domine, Suscipe me Domine (proper for a monastic funeral, being the chant we sing on making solemn profession), In paradisum and Chorus angelorum, and the Benedictus with its funeral antiphon, Ego sum resurrectio. Our only accompaniment was the slow tolling of the church bell. Having committed Fr Romuald to God and grave, we sang the Salve Regina before dispersing. The day, grey and moist, made a suitable backdrop to the sombre rites of burial.

The funeral Mass, the ordinary form of the Mass with singing both English and Latin, with its use of black vestments, incense and water, its sober restraint and air of recollection, made for a wonderful opportunity to do what we really are meant to do at funerals: to pray for the deceased, invoking God’s mercy while yet holding before our mind’s eye the promise of the resurrection to eternal life. We kept the “celebration of his life” to its proper place, the wake.

Some charming photos of Fr Romuald, unknown to most of us, have emerged. The first is of him as a pupil in the monastic school in the mid-1940s.

Next is a shot of Fr Romuald outside the abbey church fresh from his ordination in 1955.

Lastly is a shot of him as bursar (a post he held for 22 years), in which we see him directing staff in preparing the tables in the boys’ refectory for the annual dinner of the Douai Society in 1964. Donato, second to the right of Fr Romuald in the photo, is happily still with us!

Farewell, Fr Romuald.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Something lighter – birds!

After the heavy discussion the appointment of the new bishop of Portsmouth provoked, let us turn to something less cerebral and controversial.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a nest on high in one of our garages with a brooding parent aboard it (the pictures get bigger if you click them):

S/he usually hid behind the lip of the nest when I appeared, but a few days later I managed to spot the tell-tale beak of a chick:

Then one day I caught Mr (or Mrs?) Wagtail out having a stretch:

And today, the two chicks were up and about, having outgrown their orange infant beaks, their parents outside going berserk as I took this picture.

This wet summer had to have at least one compensation!