Sunday, 29 August 2010

Dom Constantine Bosschaerts

Providence has led me to find out something about Dom Constantine Bosschaerts. I have not pieced together all the elements of what I have found out about him yet. It seems to me he has much to teach our present generation about Unity, Liturgy and Spirituality.

He lived from 1889 – 1950 was an Olivetan Benedictine who had drive and a strong vision for the renewal of Liturgy at the service of Christian Unity. He writes "The most powerful agents (for the work of reunification) is the Liturgy: The Liturgy develops into an intense internal and external prayer atmosphere, its rising to more than listening, it develops to the full richness of line and colour and sound playing, make her a true Christian family party where the wine of God's joy streaming into the soul, where the Bread of God's power strengthens the souls to life that is powerful tool for all God's people by tingling with new Christian power. "

This vision appears to have sound roots as Dom Constantine had collaborated with Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, before starting the Vita et Pax Foundation which embodied the ideal of religious unity. This vision was initially realised in the renewal of the Olivetan Benedictines at Schotenhof’s Priory of Regina Pacis. For the 1920’s his liturgical sense was extremely radical. He placed the altar of the chapel at it’s centre, away from the Eastern wall where Priest and People could face each other. His religious art was simple, modern and aesthetic. He also celebrated mass in the vernacular and encouraged concelebration.

His vision was also brought to England. In 1922, Dom Constantine Bosschaerts O.S.B. established a branch of ‘Vita et Pax’ Benedictine Sisters in Stanley House at the Sacred Heart R C Church, Eccleshall. Although they stayed only three years, Father Constantine found time to decorate the sanctuary and paint scenes from the lives of the local Saxon Martyrs on the walls of the baptistery. Remnants of his work can be still seen on the beams of the sanctuary.

In 1936 the Parish of Christ the King, in Cockfosters was founded by Dom Constantine. One of his confreres Dom Placid Meylink (1926 – 2003) appears to embody Dom Constantine’s vision. After the Second Vatican Council opened the Roman Catholic Church to modernity, Meylink with his fellow Cockfosters monks and nuns toured Britain with innovative exhibitions communicating the exciting and radical new thought spreading through the Church.

Later ecclesiastical revisionism frustrated him but, with his Dutch determination and tenacity, rarely deflected him. The monastery guesthouse, the Benedictine Centre for Spirituality, a Christian Meditation Centre and in 1995 a new monastery building were the enduring fruits of his prime years.

Meylinks ideas continued to develop. For 10 years he served on the guiding board of the World Community for Christian Meditation which teaches contemplative prayer worldwide in the Christian tradition. Meylink saw in this movement a complement to Abbot Constantine's emphasis on liturgy as a way to Christian unity.

Unity remained his keynote, but increasingly he recognised it as a unity stretching across all religions and cultures that needed a contemplative foundation.

This discovery of the life of Dom Constantine I suspect is only the beginning of a ‘spiritual friendship.’ I have long since thought that unity amongst all faiths will come about through a growth in spirituality rather than a move towards uniformity. I even wonder if elements of the search for Christian Unity have been as useful and as fruitful as Pius Xs condemnation of modernism. I’m sure others will enlighten me.

Turvey Abbey continues Bosschaerts legacy as a place of liturgy and spirituality in the service of Christian unity between churches of the East and West.

I would be interested to know more of Dom Constantine Bosschaerts and his ideas.

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