The Monastery, the Motu Proprio, and the Heart of the Church
Dom Antoine Forgeot, the abbot of Notre Dame de Fontgombault, greeted me upon my arrival at the monastery by pouring water on my hands before the evening meal, welcoming me as if I were Christ. Fontgombault, founded in the eleventh century, has had an immense influence on the religious life of France and the United States since its reestablishment in 1948 by the Benedictines of Solesmes, and it is now an important center of Gregorian chant. For several days this past summer I received the hospitality of the monks, attending the singing of the Divine Office and participating in the solemn conventual Mass chanted each day according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII—a form of the Mass also known as the usus antiquior or the Tridentine Mass.
One afternoon before one of the hours of the Office, I spoke briefly with Dom Forgeot in the monastery garden. We discussed Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent motu proprio which has expanded the ability of the faithful to request and of priests to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. I described to Dom Forgeot some of the immediate effects of the motu proprio that I had witnessed in Rome, having been there for some weeks prior to my arrival at Fontgombault.
“The liturgy is the heart of the Church,” the abbot responded with a serene expression, “and Pope Benedict knows what medicine the Church requires.”
Hearing his words, I recalled participating years before in a seminar discussion of John Senior’s essay, “What is Christian Culture?” at the University of Notre Dame. Some students were puzzled by Dr. Senior’s description of the ancient form of the Mass as “the most refined and brilliant work of art in the history of the world, the heart and soul and most powerful determinant factor in Western Civilization.” Our professor explained this to us, for though he himself was not a Catholic, he still appreciated the importance of the Mass: “Think of what happens if your heart becomes sick,” he suggested. “It is no longer able to supply blood to the rest of the body. If the Mass is truly the heart of the Church, its health and strength are of utmost importance to the proper functioning of all aspects of the Church’s life.”