Since I'm recording my impressions of all the different Masses I'm attending, I figured I might as well include this one. Mind you, I'm somewhat biased, but then again, this is my journal, so who cares?
December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
Parish: The Abbey of Gethsemani
3642 Monks Rd.
Trappist, KY 40051
Number of monks: 65, according to their website. I counted about 50 or so.
Church architecture is fairly minimalistic. The church was stripped in the wake of Vatican II, but in this case, it was quite appropriate, as the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance (the official name of the Trappists) are supposed to live austerely. A stone altar, stone floor, stucco white walls, exposed beams, no statues or paintings (save for an icon of the Virgin Mary). Narrow stained glass windows for the 60s, but they are so far up that they are really unobtrusive. No real pews; instead, the monks have wooden stalls (a nice light blond wood) they use during their prayers. For the "congregation" (visitors, retreatants, locals there for Mass) they have rows of metals chairs, with foam rubber kneepads. That's about the only thing I don't like.
My ranking: 4 out of 5
The music: A gorgeous pipe organ, installed only a few years ago. There is also a smaller organ, used during prayers, which doesn't have the range of it's big brother, but both of them are more than adequate for the task. The real music, however, comes from the monks themselves. Whether accompanied by the small pipe organ or chanting a capella, their voices are the sweetest music I could ever imagine. There are one or two who are a little off-key or whose old vocal cords make them sound weak and wheezy, but I can't even fault that. The collective choir is sublime.
My ranking: 5 out of 5
The priest: Father Damien is the current abbot of the order (although he is stepping down next year). Late 50s, but looks younger, he has a strong voice with a bit of a lisp and what sounds like the vestiges of a Boston accent. I could easily see him being an Irish cop before taking his vows. I don't know how long he's been there, but if I had to hazard a guess, probably close to 20 years. Not a bit of hesitation or fumbling with papers during the Mass. The only time he needed notes was when the church was pitch-black, and he had a small light to help him read his prayers. He is a good and humble priest, unquestionably the steward of the abbey, and loves the brothers like...well, like brothers.
He did not actually read the gospel or the homily. Another priest (there are at least a dozen) did that, and since today was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the topic of both was Mary, and it was pretty much a reinforcement of their devotion. No surprises.
My ranking: 4.5 of 5 for the priest, 3.5 of 5 for the homily.
The liturgy: This was as by-the-book as you can get. There were some long pauses between the readings, which is to be expected, since the monks emphasize contemplation and quiet reflection in every aspect of the Mass. There was no Confietor, but that may not have been appropriate for the feast, so I'm not taking points off. The response between the first and second reading was sung by the schola (a group of cantors), with responses from the rest of the monks, more of the traditional pattern. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were chanted in English, but after Communion, they did sing some sort of hymn in Latin, which was a little unexpected, but quite welcome.
My ranking: 4 of 5.
Other: In addition to the Trappists, there were some visitors; a Franciscan, a Dominican, and two nuns (based on my description of their habits, Kat believes they were Dominicans).
Lots of incense. I love watching the smoke rise up over the altar and dissipate throughout the church. In my mind's eye, that represents the Holy Spirit spreading His Presence among us.
I'm not kidding when I say that if I was killed in a car wreck after attending this Mass, I could die happy.
My overall ranking: 4.5 of 5. If they had real pews instead of metal chairs, this would be a 5, my ideal Mass.
Would I return: are you kidding? I want to join them! This is probably my third or fourth Mass at this monastery. I come here a lot for day trips, and the only reason I don't attend Mass here more often is that it's a 3 hour drive. Still, I can't wait to return for the Triduum (Easter weekend)...assuming I don't come back down here next month.