Our Lady of Montserrat
Facing the people
HAVING heard that Spanish Catholicism was very conservative in its attitude towards the contemporary liturgical movement, 1 was surprised to sec. on my recent visit, that despite the numbers who go to the many morning weekday Masses. evening Masses seemed available daily in most churches. in Madrid this perhaps is a little deceptive as there are relatively few churches for the size of the population. When I visited Montserrat. the large, but not beautiful, abbey church was filled with workmen who seemed to have everything upside down. In fact the choir was being reconstructed and enlarged so as better to accommodate the large community of more than 150 monks. But the opportunity was being taken of bringing the high high altar forward and placing it in such a way that for the future Mass would be celebrated at Montserrat facing the people as it has been for some time in Maria Laach in Germany. This innovation is becoming attractive to many in Spain, I am told, and this is interesting if only because it goes clean against the Spanish tradition still marked in Cathe drals by the closed or virtually closed choirs completely separating the people from the altar.
Young Spanish workers
I WAS anxious to try and find out what proportion of the Spanish people today can be said to be practising Catholics as opposed to nominal ones. No one seemed to have any very clear ideas, guesswork figures between 25 and 35 per cent. being suggested. But one of my best informants, the lay working class President of the Y.C.W. (who spoke more frankly than anyone else about the whole labour situation) was satisfied that the proportion was considerably higher among the younger workers than the older. This is a very encouraging sign and reflects the amount of sound social work being done by an ever better trained clergy whose numbers, at last, are beginning to fill the yawning gaps left by the disasters of the Civil War.
AN introduction to the Abbot of Montserrat afforded me the chance of rising above the tourist level and being taken all over the Abbey by the guestmaster, Fr. Michael, who has studied in this country and speaks quite excellent English — a rare gift in Spaniards. Knowing that pilgrims to Montserrat rise to six figures in a year, I apologised for giving him this trouble. But Fr. Michael smiled and explained that he always followed St. Benedict's Rule and saw Christ in every guest. It was a case of wondering whether to be flattered or not. But no one could have accomplished his religious exeicise with greater charm and friendliness. He even asked me to stay to dinner which unfortunately I could not do.
ACTUALLY. the monastery it
self is a rather bleak and cold modern building of immense size, and one has to bear in mind its fantastic history, going back, according to legend, to St. Luke who is supposed to have carved the famous black Madonna which St. Peter brought to Barcelona. It miraculously elected to stay at Montserrat when it was being protected from the Moors. Hence the monastery at nearly 3,000 feet in the heart of the long saw-like mountain. Certainly in those fantastic and jagged rocks, rising from the plain, with the snows of the Pyrenees in the distance, one gets a sense of belonging to a primitive unchanged world. One almost expects to sec dinosaurs on the rocks. The old buildings were destroyed in the Napoleonic Wars, and the community has more than once suffered anti-clericalist deprivations, the last and ghastliest occasion being the Civil War. Nothing was more moving than the Crypt where the bones of some 20 murdered monks rest with their Abbot who insisted on being buried with them.
Jesuit and Benedictine
WE venerated the famous statue which is enshrined above the I ligh Altar in blaze of light, the pilgrim climbing steps which bring him to the foot of the statue where he kisses the hand of the Child Jesus carrying the Orb. A side view of Our Lady's face gives a strong suggestion of a smile in Our Lady's eyes. Magnificent jewellery and endless lines of ex-votos attest the immense popularity of the famed Patroness of Catalonia. Among the ex-votos was a motorcar cylinder, an offering I have never seen before. I suppose it attested to the preservation of a life in a motorcar accident. Montserrat is about 30 miles from Barcelona and 14ere can be few pilgrimages which involve for the pilgrim a more delightful drive. Rising slowly through fertile country with vines and olives, so different from Castile. a round trip takes one twisting madly in and out of the steep slopes as one makes a 10-mile circle right round the tong mountain with magnificent views. 1 wished I had had time to carry on a few miles further to Manresa, for this is very much Jesuit as well as Benedictine country.