The first Sodality retreat took place at Aylesford Priory from tea time on Monday 15th February, 2016 to after tea on Wednesday 17th February.
Aylesford is a place of pilgrimage and devotion revived after the Second World War. There are a number of stunning chapels and shrines, as well as a lovely out door Rosary walk and Stations of the Cross. Through St Simon Stock and the devotion of the Carmelite friars the Priory is a powerful place for our Sodality to gather under the patronage of Mary, Mother of Priests. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we use to enrich the prayer of our Sodality, has its origins in the Carmelite tradition.
Accommodation and food at the Priory is basic, with shared bathrooms, but adequate.
The preacher of the retreat was Father Martin Browne OSB. Fr Martin is a Benedictine monk of Glenstal Abbey, Ireland and was Head Master of Glenstal Abbey School for a number of years.
The Office was celebrated in common each day. The Rosary prayed and Mass celebrated. Confessions were heard and anointing for healing given. The first 24 hours were observed as silent time (including meals), and a vigil before the Blessed Sacrament until midnight; the second a more social period; including a ‘Gaudium’ as our Benedictine retreat giver referred to our cheese and wine after a festal meal. Twenty-two of us gathered for the retreat, three were welcomed as Associates and two as aspirants, the remainder became the founder members of the Sodality. The first two Associates included, movingly, Fr Martin, the other a priest of The Society of Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda. It was good, in this way, to express the very strong desire of the Sodality to be a ferment of reconciliation and unity.
After the Gospel at Mass on the second day we processed, singing the Litany of Loreto, from the St Joseph Chapel to the reliquary of St Simon Stock in the neighbouring Chapel. The reliquary contains St. Simon’s skull, the rest of his remains being in Bordeaux. St Simon (sometimes called ‘of England’) was a Kent boy, born at Maidstone. He lived as a hermit from an early age and joined the Carmelite hermits when they arrived in England and established a convent at Aylesford. A vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) convinced him to add to the contemplative/hermit vocation of the Carmelites a ‘friar’ vocation of ministry to the needy and preaching.
At the reliquary the first admissions as full members and as Associates took place. Received by Mother Vienna McCarthy as Deacon of the Mass. Mother Erica Woof presided at Mass. After being received the new members and Associates were able to venerate the relics.
Fr Martin gave five excellent ‘spiritual conferences’ and aspirants / members of the Sodality preached at each Mass.
The first three conferences were ‘Marian’ in theme and the final two on the Liturgy of the Hours and priesthood.
Some highlights of the talks by Fr Martin included an exposition of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the air we breathe” the full text can be found here. He especially highlighted the section round “Let all God’s glory through” as a key text for priests. He also talked frankly about the possible difficulties around some of the material on the image of Mary as “Mother of priests” in the context of a community of men and women.
In other talks Fr Martin mentioned the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Directory on the Work of God of the Benedictine Confederation. He urged us to be faithful to the Anglican inheritance of public daily prayer and managed to get Calvin, The Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version into his talks.It is impossible to do justice to the depth of experience which Fr Martin brought to us in his talks. This link, at the very beginning of the Sodality, with common life lived in the church for so many centuries was deeply moving.
Fr Martin has agreed to us distributing the papers among us but they will not be available for public release.
On the final day the members of the Sodality met in Chapter with Associates and Aspirants in attendance. Fr Martin acted as returning officer for the Sodality Council (and indeed we had a contested election for clerk), all other officers were elected without vote. The Chapter made a number of decisions including use of the initials after names for those who wish; use of the Breviary (The Divine Office, British edition) at our meetings; Missal (when we are together) and the adoption of the badge, scapular and cincture for any who desire them. There was a positive response to the paper on Marist spirituality published earlier. Next year’s retreat will also be in February. A closed Facebook group will be established to help us keep in close contact with one another.
It was a grace-filled and powerful three days ending with Vespers and Benediction (Mother Imogen presiding). Father Richard (Superior) presented Fr Martin with two icons of Our Lady of Lewisham for Glenstal Abbey. Fr Richard encouraged the members of the Sodality to stay in close contact, to show that we are Christians by our love and to demonstrate unembarrassed positivity and enthusiasm for the Gospel.