by Chris McDonnell
Many years ago, when I lived in London, I use to visit the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Quarr on the Isle of Wight off the South Coast of England. It was my first introduction to enclosed monastic life and was indeed a salutary experience. The geographical location, on the northern coast of the island facing Portsmouth, with its own stretch of beach and in some areas quicksand, the woods surrounding the abbey and the abbey itself, designed by a monk and built in brick by local craftsmen, was perfect. It was on the site of a much earlier abbey, dating from the 12th century and destroyed during the Reformation. When the monks from Solesmes were forced to leave their abbey in the early 20th century, they came to Quarr and began the rebuilding program that has become the abbey we know today.
One monk I came to know was the guest master Dom Paul Zeigler. He was also the community organist. He would come and chat in the guest room after lunch, and occasionally called in to speak with us in our rooms. On one such occasion, he told me a story of being a young boy in Austria and of going down to his village church one morning for Mass. The church was locked and on the door was a note, “Sorry, no Mass today, urgent sick call.” He then realized the great privilege of going to Mass. As he told me the story, his eyes were closed, almost screwed up, and it was obvious that he was picturing again that morning years before in his home. It made a great impression on me then and I have never forgotten it.
Who would have thought, that fifty or so years on, that closed door for a morning would be at risk of becoming closed for a much longer period, as we face the current crisis in the priesthood? Recently, I have reflected on Brendan Hoban’s recent book Who Will Break Bread For Us? on the ever-growing shortage of priests in Ireland. That story is likely to be replicated all across the West in the very near future, with the consequence that our Eucharistic celebration will become more and more restricted.
Last year, considering the Irish Church, I wrote this short piece, recently published in Dublin in the Dominican journal Spirituality.
The crop failed, first one year
and then the next.
Driven from family fields by hunger
they moved to towns
and then took ships across the water.
The Great Migration of an Island people
who sought relief from poverty.
In their ravaged, weakened frames,
they journeyed to another place.
An overwhelming emptiness
was left languishing in a deserted land.
Now in our present time
a new hunger harrows the land.
O Eucharistic Christ remain
to ease the growing doubt
and endless pain.
Although written with Ireland in mind, those last three lines are applicable to the church in general. Just as we have experienced the tectonic plate movement of the abuse revelations in so many countries, amongst many other problems, so we have need even more of the Eucharist to help, nourish and support our Christian faith.
Somehow, somewhere there must be a resolution of the crisis in priesthood that we presently face, or that hunger will spread and we will have failed future generations. Let’s be realistic. More of the same is no answer for a pilgrim church.
Chris McDonnell is a regular reader and commenter at Pray Tell Blog.