January 30 – Dom Guéranger

January 26, 2023

Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger

Benedictine and polygraph; b. 4 April, 1805, at Sablé-sur-Sarthe; d. at Solesmes, 30 January, 1875.

Ordained a priest 7 October, 1827, he was administrator of the parish of the Missions Etrangères until near the close of 1830. He then left Paris and returned to Mans, where he began to publish various historical works, such as “De la prière pour le Roi” (Oct., 1830) and “De l’élection et de la nomination des évêques” (1831), their subject being inspired by the political and religious situation of the day. In 1831 the priory of Solesmes, which was about an hour’s journey from Sablé, was put up for sale and Père Guéranger now saw a means of realizing his desire to re-establish, in this monastery, religious life under the Rule of St. Benedict. His decision was made in June, 1831, and, in December, 1832, thanks to private donations, the monastery had become his property. The Bishop of Mans now sanctioned the Constitutions by which the new society was to be organized and fitted subsequently to enter the Benedictine Order. On 11 July, 1833, five priests came together in the restored priory at Solesmes, and on 15 August, 1836, publicly declared their intention of consecrating their lives to the re-establishment of the Order of St. Benedict. In a brief issued 1 September, 1837, Pope Gregory erected the former priory of Solesmes into an abbey and constituted it head of the “Congrégation Française de l’Ordre de Saint Benoît”. Dom Guéranger was appointed Abbot of Solesmes (Oct. 31) and Superior General of the Benedictines of the “Congrégation de France”, and those of the little society who had received the habit 15 August, 1836, made their solemn profession under the direction of the new abbot, who had pronounced his vows at Rome, 26 July, 1837.

Thenceforth Dom Guéranger’s life was given up to developing the young monastic community, to procuring for it the necessary material and indispensable resources, and to inspiring it with an absolute devotion to the Church and the Pope. Amongst those who came to Solesmes, either to follow the monastic life or to seek self-improvement by means of retreats, Dom Guéranger found many collaborators and valuable steadfast friends. Dom Pitra, afterwards Cardinal, renewed the great literary traditions of the Benedictines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Bishops Pie of Poitiers and Berthaud of Tulle, Pere Lacordaire, the Count de Montalembert and Louis Veuillot, were all interested in the abbot’s projects and even shared his labours. Unfortunately the controversy occasioned by several of Dom Guéranger’s writings had the effect of drawing his attention to secondary questions and turning it away from the great enterprises of ecclesiastical science, in which he always manifested a lively concern. The result was a work in which polemics figured prominently, and which at present evokes but mediocre interest, and, although the time spent upon it was by no means lost to the cause of the Church, Dom Guéranger’s historical and liturgical pursuits suffered in consequence. He devoted himself too largely to personal impressions and neglected detailed and persevering investigation. His quickness of perception and his classical training permitted him to enjoy and to set forth, treat in an interesting way, historical and liturgical subjects which, by nature, were somewhat unattractive. Genuine enthusiasm, a lively imagination, and a style tinged with romanticism have sometimes led him, as he himself realized, to express himself and to judge too vigorously.

Abbey of Solesmes, Sarthe, France.

Being a devout and ardent servant of the Church, Dom Guéranger wished to re-establish more respectful and more filial relations between France and the See of Rome, and his entire life was spent in endeavouring to effect a closer union between the two. With this end in view he set himself to combat, wherever he thought he found its traces, the separatist spirit that had, of old, allied itself with Gallicanism and Jansenism. With a strategic skill which deserves special recognition, Dom Guéranger worked on the principle that to suppress what is wrong, the thing must be replaced, and he laboured hard to supplant everywhere whatever reflected the opinion he was fighting. He fought to have the Roman liturgy substituted for the diocesan liturgies, and he lived to see his efforts in this line crowned with complete success. On philosophical ground, he struggled with unwavering hope against Naturalism and Liberalism, which he considered a fatal impediment to the constitution of an unreservedly Christian society. He helped, in a measure, to prepare men’s minds for the definition of the papal infallibility, that brilliant triumph which succeeded the struggle against papal authority so bitterly carried on a century previously by many Gallican and Josephite bishops. Along historical lines Dom Guéranger’s enterprises were less successful and their influence, although once very strong, is daily growing weaker.

In 1841 he began to publish a mystical work by which he hoped to arouse the faithful from their spiritual torpor and to supplant what he deemed the lifeless or erroneous literature that had been produced by the French spiritual writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “L’Année liturgique“, of which the author was not to finish the long series of fifteen volumes, is probably the one of all Dom Guéranger’s works that best fulfilled the purpose he had in view. Accommodating himself to the development of the liturgical periods of the year, the author laboured to familiarize the faithful with the official prayer of the Church by lavishly introducing fragments of the Eastern and Western liturgies, with interpretations and commentaries.

Amid his many labours Dom Guéranger had the satisfaction of witnessing the spreading of the restored Benedictine Order. Two unsuccessful attempts at foundations in Paris and Acey respectively did not deter him from new efforts in he same line, and, thanks to his zealous perseverance, monasteries were established at Liguge and Marseilles. Moreover, in his last years, the Abbot of Solesmes founded, at a short distance from his monastery, a community of women under the Rule of St. Benedict. This life, fraught with so many trials and filled with such great achievements, drew to a peaceful close at Solesmes.

The complete bibliography is to be found in 126 numbers in CABROL, Bibliographie des Benedictins (Solesmes, 1889), 3-33. We shall only mention here the most important works: Origines de l’Eglise romaine (Paris, 1836); Institutions liturgiques (Paris, I, 1840, II, 1841, III, 1851), 2nd edition, 4 vols. 8vo (Paris, 1878-1885); Lettre a Mgr. l’archeveque de Reims sur le droit de la liturgie (Le Mans, 1843); Defense des Institutions liturgiques, lettre a Mgr. l’archeveque de Toulouse (Le Mans, 1844); Nouvelle defense des Institutions liturgiques (Paris, 1846-47); L’Annee liturgique (Paris, 1841-1901, tr. SHEPHARD, Worcester, 1895-1903); Memoire sur la question de l’Immaculee Conception de la tres sainte Vierge (Paris, 1850); Essais sur le naturalisme contemporain, 8vo (Paris, 1858); Essai sur l’origine, la signification et les privileges de la medaille ou croix de Saint Benoit, 12mo (Poitiers, 1862); L’Eglise romaine contre les accusations du P. Gratry (Le Mans, 1870); Deuxieme defense (Paris, 1870); Troisieme defense, Eng. tr., Defence of the Roman Church against Father Gratry, by WOODS (London, 1870); De la Monarchie pontificale, a propos du livre de Mgr. l’eveque de Sura, 8vo (Paris, 1870); Sainte Cecile et la Societe romaine aux deux premiers siecles, 4to (Paris, 1874), and Reglements du noviciat pour les Benedictins de la Congregation de France, 16mo (Solesmes, 1885).

H. LECLERCQ (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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