by Frances Gumley THE OLDEST monastic family of the western Church celebrated its 1500 years of prayer and service with a unique festival of praise and thanksgiving in London last week.
More than 300 Benedietine monks and 130 Benedictine nuns, drawn from Britain's 44 cornmunities took part in a joyful invasion of Westminster to mark the birthday of their father. St Benedict.
A special Mass in his honour was concelebrated by Cardinal Hume, 16 abbots and two priors in Westminster Cathedral. The
Benedictines together with representatives of the Cistercian and Bernardine houses shared the singing with the cathedral choir. It was an occasion of unselfconscious ecumenism with representatives of Britain's six Anglican Benedictine cornmunities taking their natural place beside their Catholic brothers and sisters.
After Mass, the monks and nuns made their way to Westminster Abbey to sing solemn Vespers there at the invitation of the Dean, the Very Reverend Dr Edward Carpenter. Abbot Victor Farwell, the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation led the singing of the traditional Latin Vespers for the feast of St Benedict. The plainsong was serene and restrained, It was a homecoming without a hint of triumphalism.
The celebrations were faithfilled and forward-looking. Mapping out the noa chellenges beckoning the Benedictine communities in the modern world, the Cardinal told the monks and nuns: "What you have to give is much needed in our day. The present generation want to hear about God, and what they hear must have the of authenticity born of experience."
He made it clear that however withdraa n the monastic life, it was something which could not be dissociated from tie problems facing contemporary society. "Our world is indeed full of problems and the signs of the times are clear: the dignity and rights of all men, women and children must be asserted and achieved; the hungry must be
Patrick O'Donovan — page lo led: peace between nations must be worked for the environment protected; human life respected... • As monks and nuns we cannot fail to be concerned with these matters."
But concern for social problems was not sufficient in itself. The Cardinal explained that the Benedictine way of prayer
and patient searching for God could contribute an invaluable dimension to the solution of these problems. "The more we try to see the world as God sees it, the clearer will he our understanding of it and the ways in which we can contribute to resolving its problems will be shown to us,"
Of the value of monastic witness, the Cardinal said: "Live the monastic life faithfully and lovingly. and you will have something precious to say and show, which will encourage and enthuse visitors to your monasteries and to all those for whom you are in some way responsbile."
This work of witness could also extend beyond the believing community to those searching for belief. "It is good to know that there are still men and women who are prepared to dedicate their lives to praising God and to labouring in his service without reward or credit in this life.
"Monks and nuns are not romantics: indeed they are generally pretty hard-headed. We know ourselves to be rather ordinary people, stuggling to live up to an almost impossible ideal."
Dr Carpenter paid tribute to the many fields of human endeavour with which the Benedictines had been associated, "The wearer of the black habbit became a man for all seasons" he said. "Nowhere was the contribution of their order greater than in these islands."