Wednesday, 9 June
Our second day at Clear Creek Monastery started with Matins and Lauds beginning at a quarter after five in the morning. The morning air cool, the church interior silent and dimly lit, a few guest attendees already waited for the monks’ arrival when Christopher and I took our places in the pews. The monks entered. There was no conversation, no music, no fanfare. The bells tolled, and there was a sort of silent anticipation. The monks chanted their prayers, starting the clock, so to speak, on their day.
As Matins and Lauds echoed, outside the sun rose. Slowly, surely, light filtered in through the small windows to our left and right. The dark stained glass windows behind the main altar illuminated. Morning prayers finished, and the new day had dawned. Most of the monks left. A few stayed to prepare three altars for Masses.
Each Mass was “said” in silence, all three simultaneously. Two altars on our side of the Communion rail stood to the left and right. The main altar stood some distance away. While I couldn’t be sure because of distance and dim lighting, I think there is a smaller altar between the main altar and the farthest wall below the stained glass windows. A fourth priest may have been celebrating the Mass at that altar as well. Although the celebrants spoke nothing aloud, the familiar gestures and postures clearly let us know which part of the Mass we were witnessing. In the downstairs crypt chapel, there is another main altar as well as eight side altars. For all I know, nine more priests also could have been celebrating the Mass at each of those altars.
Part of every Mass said everywhere in the world every day of the week includes petitions of prayer offered for others. The monks celebrate Mass twice each morning: the Low Masses after Lauds and the Conventual Mass after Terce. This is the first part of the Benedictine Order’s motto: Ora et Labora. Prayer and Work. Every Mass is a prayer, and everything the monks do begins, includes, and ends with prayer. By means of Ora et Labora, the entire day is ordered toward God. Everything is done for God out of love for God.
The first Mass of the day completed, we had some time before Prime, the next period of common prayer. Christopher and I didn’t do much. After Prime, it was time for breakfast, which was served about 9 a.m. We’d been up since before 5 a.m. Half a workday had elapsed before our first meal of the day.
Breakfast is somewhat informal. There’s still no chit chat, but the monks and guests come and go as necessary during the time breakfast is served. I had Frosted Mini-Wheats, hot coffee, cold milk, and bread with peanut butter and jelly. Once breakfast was done, we had some time to kill before Terce and the Conventual Mass.
I called my wife Trina, who informed me of car troubles with the Kia. She was working back in Houston to see how serious those troubles were. Christopher and I were due back in Houston some time Friday. Leaving my wife and daughter without a vehicle for two days was not an attractive thought.
Then, it was time for Terce and the Conventual Mass, both of which are open to the public. Several families arrived. This second Mass was the first Latin High Mass I’ve attended. As is the case with the Latin prayers, not knowing Latin is not really an obstacle. The English translation is included in the prayer books and missal. The austerity of the Mass has a sort of stark beauty. There’s no choir, and, thankfully, no band.
Bongos, tambourines, and guitars are not bad things, but they have no place in the Latin Rite. Such innovations do not add to the Sacred Liturgy. Also, there were no hymnals, which, in Catholic parishes, are too often filled with cringe-worthy folksy music influenced by the 60s and 70s. Again, such music has no place in the Liturgy, which is supposed to offer our best to God. The works of Marty Haugen and Dan Schutte, for example, are never going to be our best.
After Mass, Christopher and I visited the monks’ book store. I purchased both The Death of Christian Culture and The Restoration of Christian Culture by John Senior. I called Trina again, talking outside to get a signal, which also necessitated staying away from the gradually increasing number of wasps and hornets, two of the main reasons why I like the idea of the country more than being in the country. The prognosis for the Kia appeared dire. I found Father Guestmaster and let him know that Christopher and I would need to leave in the morning, a day earlier than planned.
Mid-day prayer time arrived, announced by the bells. Lunch followed. The informality of breakfast was gone. Lunch begins and ends with communal prayer. Of course, we had bread. There was also a potato-in-vegetable-broth soup, something very much like a quiche, and a mixture of hominy and cabbage. For dessert, we had cold lemony curds with Hershey’s Kisses and coffee. By this time, my knee was swollen again, which meant it was time to recline and read more of The Wind in the Willows. I also slept some. Christopher ended up working in a garden with one of the monks.
Twenty-four hours after our arrival, it was time for Vespers again. Dinner followed Vespers, which meant more communal prayers before and after the meal. The meal itself consisted of bread and broth, steamed carrots mixed with some sort of grain, and a wedge of heavy, bittersweet cake. Also, I drank water. Lots of water.
We ended our day with Compline in the chapel. As the monks chanted the last prayers of the day, outside the sun set. The gradual illumination of the large stained glass windows we watched in the morning reversed itself. Light and color faded into shadows and muted tones.
Christopher and I packed non-essentials before retiring for the evening. After Matins and Lauds the next morning, we packed the remainder of our things and hit the road. Our trip to Clear Creek Abbey ended, albeit earlier than planned.
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.