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.

6 thoughts on “Life and death at Douai Abbey

    1. He certainly is! If you look at the picture of the procession into the church, you will see the abbot with funeral mitre and crozier on the right of the coffin. Click to the picture to make it bigger if that helps.

      Pax.

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  1. Small question: the vestments for the funeral are beautiful. However, it was my understanding that black was going to fade away as a liturgical color in the Roman Rite. It is also my understanding that, in some places pre-Vat II, black vestments were the most common used —because of the frequency of Masses for the dead. Clearly that is no longer the case.
    I wonder what the reasoning is for use of black at your monastery.
    Thank you , Mike McCue

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    1. Hi Mike. We always use black for monks’ funerals, as we always have and I hope we always will. It is the traditional, centuries-old, colour for the dead in the Roman rite. It is the colour of mourning. Black was not abolished as some maintain, but made optional, along with purple. Purple is a satisfactory colour as it symbolizes repentance and sorrow for sin. White has come to be used in many places, no doubt for the not-unworthy reason of emphasising hope in our funeral liturgies.

      However this is rather putting the cart before the horse in liturgical terms. We have hope, of course, but it is hope that allows to acknowledge that we all die sinners, most likely in need of purification so that we might attain to the holiness without which no one can see God (Heb 12:14). So the first thing we do in the Church at death is to pray for the dead that s/he might freed from whatever slough of sin and selfishness remains in us and so come quickly into God’s presence. This acknowledgement of sin, and the need to be made holy, is an essential element in Christian death, and flows from hope, being in no way a denial of it. No saint died without having begged God first for his mercy; they knew more than any our constant need of God’s mercy and grace. This essential element is best represented by black or purple.

      Moreover, white is a poor colour choice for other reasons. It is the colour of our Lord and of saints: is the funeral a canonisation!? If so, then we are really doing the poor dead person a disservice with such presumption. How tasteless and incongruous is it that mourners come wearing black but the priest is in white! Moreover, there is a certain artificiality in the symbol of hopefulness it supposedly represents. At funerals we can justly mourn and lament our loved one. Indeed, we must allow our grief to find expression in a way that is acceptable and “safe”, and this is what the traditional funeral rites of the Church did. We dressed to mourn, priest included; we sang songs of lament and of seeking mercy. We allowed ourselves to be honest about the person, that s/he had fault and sins, was imperfect, was in need of God’s mercy and still is, and in the midst of all this still we can love that person, because s/he is no better or worse than we are in most cases.

      When I die I want no one to wear white, to say how wonderful I am etc – I want people to pray for me, to acknowledge my weakness and God’s mercy and grace to cover it, to make me holy enough to abide with him eternally. That service to me would be the truest charity.

      So black is still the traditional and legal colour for funerals and Requiems (including All Souls). It is hallowed by tradition, expresses visually our natural and just need to mourn the dead and acknowledge our grief, and supports the true theology of Christian death which always enjoins us to pray for the dead that they might be loosed from their sins (2 Maccabees 12:46).

      Mike, I hope that gives you some idea of our use of black for funerals and Requiems. As I said, purple is now permitted and is not inappropriate, though I feel it is less powerful as a symbol. White I find appalling!

      Peace be with you.

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      1. From a nostalgic point of view I agree with some of the above … the black sombreness of the many Requiem Masses both funeral and All Souls Day when I served Mass plus the impressive black and purple of the simple catalfalque in our church in October 1958 when Pope Pius XII died. It had quite an affect of the ten-year-old boy I was. Within twenty minutes of the death of JPII, as sacristan, I was erecting a white catafalque in our church . . . not quite the same impact as most people coming into church thought that it was just a table.
        As for all the stuff about how sinfull we all are . . . sorry, but I moved on from that many years ago. I FULLY accept that I am far far far from perfect and never will be in this world, but my faith in the LOVE of God is far far greater . . . . “nothing . . . absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God . . . “

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      2. Sorry, but we can make a free choice to separate ourselves from the love of God. That is the price of the gift of freedom. Otherwise we are not free; if not free, we cannot love. I stand by what I said and what the Church teaches.

        Pax!

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