60th ANNIVERSARY OF FOUNDATION
ABBEY OF OUR LADY OF THE GENESEE
1951 - 2011
Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO, Liturgist
Liturgy - it's what we do. Not run a bakery. You can have a monastery without a bakery, and that's a good description of Genesee in the early days. But you can't have a monastery without a liturgy, and we've had a liturgy since the day they planted the foundation cross in the Genesee valley 60 years ago.
Actually, we had as many liturgies as we had founders, because a monastic liturgy begins in the monk's heart. "Guard your heart more than anything you treasure", says the book of Proverbs, "for from it flow the springs of life" (Pr 4:23), including liturgical life. In guarding the heart, the monk knows intuitively what would be proclaimed in Vatican II: "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows". In guarding the heart, the monk celebrates a daily liturgy of unceasing prayer, in which he finds the strength to live the monastic life.
It was there that our founders found the strength to leave Gethsermani and plant the seed of Trappist life in the soil of upstate New York. Sometimes their interior liturgy found expression in outward forms, as when they made the sign of the cross before beginning any work, struck their breast to apologize to a brother, stopped whatever they were doing when the bell rang for the Angelus, or bowed whenever they passed a brother in the cloister.
But the individual monks also form a monastic community, Our Lady of the Genesee, which praises the Lord seven times day in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In this we have been greatly assisted by the talents of our resident musician and composer, Fr Marcellus. It was he who composed the music for many of the Masses which we sing throughout the year, of which the Masses for Our Lady are especially beautiful.
Fr Marcellus also composed the music for the day of the Dedication of our Church on October 24, 1975. Bishop Matthew Clark dedicated the round altar in the center of the church, modeled after the round altar now in the abbey of Citeaux in France. Our unique choir stalls, shaped something like cubicles, are designed to encourage private prayer as well as community prayer.
Up to that time, and a few years afterwards, we had been singing the psalms in two weeks, like nearly every other Trappist monastery after Vatican II. But then in 1979, Dom John Eudes asked Fr Justin to come up with a way of singing the psalms in one week, which would be more in keeping with the Rule of St Benedict. After a good deal of discussion, the community voted to adopt the one-week psalter, and with one minor change, that's the same one-week psalter we're still singing today.
Finally, there's one liturgical day which is unique to our community, and which is very dear to us. That's the Memorial of the Deceased of Genesee, which we celebrate every year on September 19, the anniversary of the death of our first abbot, Dom Gerard McGinley. At Mass on that day, during the Eucharistic Prayer, one of the concelebrants reads aloud the names of all the monks who lie buried in our cemetery. It's a way in which the living of Our Lady of the Genesee pray for, and with, the deceased of Genesee, that the Lord may bring us all together to everlasting life.
May we make that our prayer, and add, as we do every day at the end of the night office: "Come, Lord Jesus!"
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