In a monastery cupboard

If you do not like books, you are bound to be bored here. If you are indifferent to liturgical books, you are likely to yawn a little. If books and liturgical history fascinate you, even if presented in a fairly superficial and fleeting way—then read on Macduff.

A monastic friend has asked if we have copies of an old liturgical book. I endeavoured to track down our stash of them, seen years ago in a now-reformed part of the monastery. They must have been moved somewhere else, right?

As yet there is no sign of them. Perhaps they were moved without not within the monastery. However, along the way I discovered a small (St) Aladdin’s cave of liturgical and monastic incunabula (I use the term loosely of course 👨🏻‍🎓). Some of you may be interested to see some of the things that cupboard held.

I will start with the purely monastic rather than the liturgical.

First to hand is one of multiple copies of unbound, unused (ie the pages are uncut) monastic rituals for the use of the “Black Monks of St Benedict, English Congregation,” published in 1911 by Desclée. It contains such things no longer perceived useful, such as the form for a papal blessing and an appendix with music, inter alia, for receiving the clerical tonsure. With the pages uncut I cannot delve too deeply as yet.

rit 1911_1
Most of this volumes are paperbound, with a view to local binding later.
rit 1911_2
You can see the embossed effect of the letterpress on the the thin paper.

Also in multiple unused copies, though this time nicely printed and bound at Stanbrook, are monastic rituals for the EBC from 1960. The appendices are rationalized compared to 1911, but you will overjoyed to know that the music for the receiving of the clerical tonsure survives.

rit 1960_1
Stanbrook’s lovely printing.

rit 1960_2

Then, from 1933 and again at Stanbrook, are multiple and fine copies in softcover of Dom Basil Whelan’s Lists of Priors, Generals and Provincials etc (though it is his Annals of the EBC you really want to read—I believe it is no longer suppressed!)

Excuse the angle

More multiple and fine copies emerged, this time of a work unknown to me, Dom Justin McCann’s paperbound survey of the EBC missions that had been served by our monks up to 1940, published not by Stanbrook but by the Alden Press, Oxford.


Again from the Alden Press, 1936 this time, is the 1931 revision of the EBC Constitutions with an undated later insert detailing the changes since 1931.

const 1931

From Stanbrook’s Press in 1931 comes a Latin paperbound edition of the Rule of St Benedict, containing also the Constitutions, Decrees and Formularies (all in Latin, naturally).


From the Cambridge University Press in 1910 there are multiple uncut paperbound copies of the seminal papal bulls governing the EBC, with parallel English translations.

bulls coverbulls

From 1912 are several larger paperbound and (some) uncut copies of the Bullarium, which contains all the papal bulls and rescripts directed to the EBC up to that date, printed in Latin at Fort Augustus.


Lastly for today, and to whet your liturgical appetites, is this altar edition of Masses for the Dead, inscribed as being used at St Benedict’s altar (ie, the abbot’s altar), printed in Italy in 1954. Though thin, obviously, it is altar-sized, with tabs and ribbons, and its binding showed that for the decade until its supercession it was well used by Abbot Mooney.

mass of dead

If you are not too bored by books (which alliterative phrase I shuddered to type) then further a sample of what I uncovered would cover another post or two. They are not of merely antiquarian interest, but illustrate something of recent liturgical and monastic history, and for some (maybe many) they offer glimpses of what we have so recently left behind of our ancient tradition.

The next instalment will get more liturgical though still with the odd dose of the monastic. It was quite a cupboard or two. A teaser for next time…

devout mass server


Join the Conversation

  1. Oooh, what fun! That’s the kind of discovery that would stop me getting anything I was supposed to do done for weeks!

  2. When I was a small (diminutive) altar boy, frequently the weekday Mass would be the Daily Mass for the Dead, [In Missis cotidianis defunctorum] in which case the heavy Missale Romanum was replaced by the – as you say – greatly thinner edition of the Missale Defunctorum.

    On these days I would ask my fellow altar server if I could serve on the ‘Book side’ so that I could carry much more easily the Missal from the Epistle side of the altar, down the predella, genuflect, and carry it to the Gospel side of the altar without a wobble. Happy days indeed.

  3. I’m a sucker for books, older the better and “religious” in nature is a real treasure–now whereas past Catholic mistrals, in latin to boot, are not in my proverbial wheelhouse—yet I can greatly appreciate them for what they are—
    When I was still teaching, I had a unit on “artist books” —a bookmaking unit which introduced the concept of books as art—
    and here you share several such examples—albeit it examples that may appeal to a smaller audience—but lovely none the less—and it does my heart good knowing of your affinity for such Father—keep spreading the good word….Good Word…get it 😉


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