02 December 2009

When Eternity is at Stake

This reflection was written by the Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier. It really allows us to take a peak into some Carthusian gems concerning our Blessed Lady. There is some namedropping in this writing which gives us a rare opportunity to read about some Carthusians who have had personal experiences with our Blessed Mother. Unless we were in the Order, these are monks that otherwise we probably would never hear of. Most likely, Dom Louis Rouvier’s intention was that this was to be shared only with his own and other Carthusian Houses. But his thoughts here have found their way outside of monastery walls. There is one name, however, that is mentioned who has some accolades outside of the Order, and that is Dom Henry Kalkar. He was also a writer in the Carthusian Order and was the Prior of several Charterhouses in Germany. He died at 80 years of age in the year 1408 where he was serving as Prior of Cologne. Dom Louis Rouvier, in this writing, also shares some Carthusian prayer customs. The main theme of this reflection is death, and how a strong devotion to our Lady doesn’t come to full fruition until that most mysterious moment of transition from this life into eternity.

“In me is all grace of the way, and of the truth; in me is hope of all life and virtue” (Ecclesiasticus 24:25). These words the Church puts on the lips of our Lady in her Office that we say every day. It is at death and only at death that devotion to Mary receives its final fruit. Thus it is particularly with this moment in view that we address to the Queen of Heaven our most ardent entreaties. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us… now… and at the hour of our death.

In our Carthusian liturgy, five times a day, in the hymn of her Office, the… religious repeat to the most powerful Protectress of the dying, the words:

Per tuum, Virgo Filium,
Per Partem, per Paracletum,
Adsis prœsens ab obitum,
Nostrum muni exitum.

O Virgin, by your Son,
By the Father, and the Holy Spirit
Receive our last breath
And protect us at our departure from this world.

What has been her response to a plea made to her name of all that is dearest to her heart?

In this prayer, so frequently renewed, is largely the secret of the interior peace which most always surrounds the death of a Carthusian. Often enough in the course of the ages, God has revealed by exterior signs the efficacy of this assiduous recourse to her who is called Consoler of the Afflicted (Litany of Our Lady).

First, there is the incident recorded in our annals of the professed monk of the Charterhouse of Vallis Christi in Spain, Dom Giles de Bidon, who had the happiness of leading two Moslems to the Christian faith. As he lay dying, a third follower of the Prophet, whom he had tried in vain to convert, entered his cell. The good monk earnestly recommended him to our Blessed Lady, who at that moment had appeared to him to announce his approaching death. Suddenly, touched by grace, the follower of the Prophet asked for baptism, and Dom Giles breathed his last breath in a rapture of gratitude for the supreme consolation granted him (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume II).

Dom James Saline of the Charterhouse of Porta Cœli, near Valencia, loved to address his Mother often with this greeting: Salve, Sancta Parens (Introit of the Mass of Our Lady). Now, three days before he died, it being a Wednesday, when the community had gathered around him to assist him with their prayer, he said: “Do not be anxious, dear Fathers, I shall not die until next Saturday when you are singing the Salve, Sancta Parens.” And so it came about. At the Introit of the conventual Mass, it being the Mass of Our Lady, as the first words of the Introit were being sung, the soul of the Father took flight (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume III).

Dom Cyril Abendaño, a monk of Vallis Christi, after receiving the Last Sacraments, was transported in spirit, as he himself related after coming out of his rapture, to the Spring called Ribas, which gushes forth at the foot of a mountain, at the summit of which is found a grotto where there is a statue of the Madonna. “Our Lady of the Grotto,” he said, “purify me in the fountain.” At that, he came to himself, filled, as he said, with heavenly consolations. And as he lay dying, he had the strength to sing the Salve Regina, and the prayer Sub tuum præsidium (We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God). His last prayer was: “O Maria, absque peccati originalis labe concepta… O Mary, conceived without sin.”

O most beloved Mother of the Carthusians, continue to grant to the sons of Saint Bruno your assistance at the hour when their eternity is at stake. Extend to all the Houses of the Order the favor which you declared to a novice of the Charterhouse of Montrieux. “I promise,” you told him, “the religious of this House that they will all enjoy in their last moments the perfect purity of conscience, and that they will fall asleep with tranquility and in peace” (Molin: Historia Cartusiana, Volume I). For all our brethren still suffering in exile, we address to you, O heavenly Mother, this prayer which you yourself taught to one of your most devout servants, Dom Henry Kalkar: “O Queen of virgins, surpassing Tabernacle of the august Trinity, Mirror of the angels, Ladder of saints, and sure Refuge of sinners – behold our distress, O loving Mother, and pray for us now and in the hour of our death. Amen” (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume IV).