A month ago, my wife and I were on a ten-day retreat at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, near Pecos, New Mexico – where I wrote my last post. It was a deep experience of Advent and Christmas in a setting of great beauty and prayer, made even more serene by the blanket of snow that surrounded us.
There were no more than five guests at any one time during our retreat, so our small group was invited to take all our daily meals with the monks in their upstairs refectory, which afforded gorgeous views of the grounds, nearby mountains, and the Pecos River canyon. One day everyone got up to watch a pair of golden eagles sitting on a tree branch not more than twenty feet outside the window.
While my wife was working on her own project in the monastery library, I attended most of the daily offices. The normal schedule began with Vigils at 6AM, Lauds (Morning Prayer) at 7AM, Holy Mass at 7:30AM, and then breakfast. Noon Prayer was followed by the midday meal. The normal evening rites included Rosary, Vespers, Adoration, and finally Compline, at 7:15PM. Because of the changes required in the schedule due to the Christmas solemnities, Vigils was sometimes observed the previous evening, and Compline was omitted. Mass was always attended by a handful of people from the village of Pecos, but on Sundays as well as Christmas Day there were many attendees.
At the end of each day, it is traditional to sing the Antiphon to the Virgin Mary appropriate to the season – and whether the last office of a particular day was Vespers, Compline, or Vigils, we all turned to the back of the chapel to face the mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was illuminated. The antiphon sung from the First Sunday of Advent until the Feast of the Purification on February 2 (Candlemas) is the Alma Redemptoris Mater – you can listen to the simple tone here.
One of the most vivid memories in my retreat was a reading at the 6:00AM office of Vigils on December 22. There are normally two readings at Vigils: the first is from the non-Gospel portions of the Bible, and the second from the great literature of the Church – on this day the second reading was from a commentary on the Gospel of Luke by the Venerable Bede, concerning the Magnificat (the Song of Mary). Here is the first part:
Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it, and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. As I contemplate his greatness, which knows no limits, I joyfully surrender my whole life, my senses, my judgment, for my spirit rejoices in the eternal Godhead of that Jesus, that Savior, whom I have conceived in this world of time.
It was personally moving for me to be hearing this reading, in the presence of those who had also surrendered their whole lives, to offer all the powers of their souls in praise and gratitude. This was my first time on retreat for more than a couple of days – and I know it won’t be my last.