Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for April 2, 2006

I am (was) on retreat this week at the French Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault, a daughterhouse of the Great Abbey of St. Peter’s in Solesmes. Some of you may know that I was blessed to live nearly an entire year at this ancient Benedictine Abbey a little over six years ago. (A picture of this monastery is also hanging in my office.) More than 70 monks live at the abbey and they are entirely self-sufficient, providing themselves with fruit, vegetables, eggs, and other produce. They are also able to sell much of what they grow and raise to townspeople and visitors.

In the first half of the 19th Century in France, a young diocesan priest named Propser Guéranger was drawn by the Holy Spirit to discover the beauties of Benedictine monasticism. After much prayer and discernment, he re-founded the Abbey at Solesmes, becoming its first Abbot, and essentially restoring the monastic life to France, which had been desolate since the destruction left in the wake of the French Revolution. French monasticism had been a pillar of the Faith in Europe throughout the middle ages; pilgrims often stayed at monasteries as they walked to Mont-Saint-Michel, Tours, or Santiago de Compostela (in Spain), and they were a center of learning and culture, preserving the exercise of faith and reason. Abbot Guéranger is most famous for his monumental 15 volume work entitled The Liturgical Year which has recently been reprinted in an English translation.

In their rebuilding of monastic life, the monks from Solesmes began the arduous task of further restoring the precious and ancient patrimony of Gregorian Chant. Much of the actual practice of chant had fallen into disuse and many of the ancient manuscripts had been lost or forgotten. These tireless Benedictines uncovered the melodies and methods of the ancient “plainsong” chant that provided the backbone for the Divine Office and the Mass. Their small community continued to grow, and despite the horrors visited upon France by two World Wars (and rampant secularism) spread throughout the country.

The Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault was originally founded by Petrus á Stella in the 11th Century as a Benedictine Monastery. The French Wars of Religion and the Revolution, along with sickness and disease, decimated the Abbey. The monks from Solesmes, however, restored the communal life there after the end of the Second World War. Currently, the monks chant the entire Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) in Latin each day; they also sing their conventual (community) Mass daily. The rest of their day is spent in silence, except for a brief period of daily “recreation” when conversation is permitted. All of the monks also spend some time (depending on their role in the monastery) at manual labor each day, whether gardening, tending the animals, making pottery or other crafts, or simply cleaning the monastery and its grounds.

The monks also have many recordings of Gregorian Chant, which are according to many (and not just me!) the finest example of Chant anywhere. Even the recordings, however, cannot duplicate the marvelous sense of joy and peace that fills the heart when quietly kneeling in the dark, 1000-year old Abbey church at the end of Compline (Night Prayer), listening to the final echoes of the Salve Regina fade softly into the night.

In 1999, twelve monks left the Abbey of Fontgombault to establish a new foundation in the United States, in Clear Creek, Oklahoma. If you are interested in learning more about these monks and their ministry in the heartland of our country, please visit They are in the process of building an Abbey church, similar in many ways to the Romanesque one they left behind in France. Be assured of my prayers for all of you! May God bless your final weeks of Lenten preparation for the holiest week of the year.