Oblate Letter 30 - Birth of St John the Baptist and Summer 2016

                                       Nothing Dearer thanChrist”

                                         Oblate letter of the Pluscarden Benedictines, Elgin

                              DMB series No 30

                                 Birth of our Patron St John the Baptist and Summer 2016




The Song of songs

7:13The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and over our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.

 8:1O that you were like a brother to me, that nursed at my mother's breast! If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me.

 8:2I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranates.

 8:3O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!

 8:4I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please.

l 8:5Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in travail with you, there she who bore you was in travail.

 8:6Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame.

 8:7Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.



John of Ford

SERMON NINETY- TWO--(extracts)-------

The beginning of the ninety-second sermon on a few verses of the song of Songs


"That by 'mandrakes' is meant the charm of human applause, the sweetness of which flatters the bodily sensations of spiritual men, but only externally. They do not let it penetrate to their interior but repel the vainglory by spiritual delight, which is symbolized by 'apples'.


'THE MANDRAKES give their fragrance at our gates. All the choice apples, new as well as old, I have saved up for you, my beloved.' Scripture tells us of Reuben that 'in the days of wheat harvest, he went and found mandrakes in a field, which' he carried away and 'gave to Leah, his mother .'* In payment for them, Leah claimed that she had hired a husband from Rachel.* Here, with the bride of the Word, something similar can be seen, since she, in her turn, also went out 'into the field', and mentions that she has found mandrakes. The holy fathers have always held that 'mandrakes' are an image of the fragrance of being well thought of, and we read that they were found in a field, whether by Reuben or by the bride, specifically because the admiration of men is usually provoked more by the exterior exercise of virtue than by the tranquil leisure of contemplative repose..............

(five pages on)............ and make it extremely difficult to guard our gates faithfully and keep out any of this kind of 'fragrance', It is very rare for a man to have his gates open and not to greet with approbation and pleasure that waft of air, as soon as it breathes, however faintly, It is very rare not to be ashamed of having traded our mandrakes to Rachel for a husband,* that is, of not surrendering the happiness of a good conscience for the worthless reward of human approval .Here we can see the bride's unparalleled faithfulness and prudence, She is not entrapped by the scent of mandrakes, and, living as she does, in what we could call paradisal joy, her care is all for the treasure entrusted to her. She lays it out by preserving it, and she preserves it by laying it out. The wisdom of Solomon guides her: she has learned to scatter abroad her springs of water and let her streams flow freely in the streets, yet so as to have them all to herself. In the secret of her pure intention, no stranger shares in those waters.

7. The 'apples, new and old' can be taken as fitting symbols of joys holier than we have previously mentioned, which the bride customarily finds in contemplating her beloved. Obviously, the paradise of heaven is full of this kind of apple, and man was to have fed on them in paradise. But a thief came in, he saw him, and ran away at his side. Moreover at the end of a meal, evening or morning, apples usually appear when we have finished, more as pleasure than food. So the 'apples new and old' of the bride or the bridegroom are what the bride uses for delight and refreshment, either from the mysteries of the past, about the Word becoming flesh, or from the sacraments of today, now that he has become flesh. Even though, as the apostle says, in the light of the new creation, 'the old has passed away; behold, the new has come,' she has nevertheless learned how to make out of them both a delightful and delicate blend; she draws new things from the old, and recognizes old things in the new.......(four pages on to the conclusion of the sermon)

            But it may strike somebody that these various fruits of obedience have a right to be described as new and old, since they are taken up with either interior occupation or exterior responsibility. 'For who is faithful as David in all the king's house, going in and coming out at the king's word?' Whenever the bride is sick for love it is with this kind of apples that she begs the maidens to support her. She considers them a sovereign cure for her sickness, since she comforts herself for her beloved's absence by the fruits of voluntary obedience. To him who is the beloved of men and angels, the one who is lovable and desirable above all else, the spouse of the church, Christ Jesus, be love and honour, praise and empire, forever and  ever, Amen. "

(Twelve pages.) Sermon 92 on ( a part of) The Song of Songs by the Cistercian John of Ford.



            The Song of Songs, meaning the greatest of songs (Song 1:1), contains in exquisite poetic form the sublime portrayal and praise of the mutual love of the Lord and his people. The Lord is the Lover and his people are the beloved. Describing this relationship in terms of human love, the author simply follows Israel's tradition. Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7; 54:4-8), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:2, 3, 32), and Ezekiel (Ez.16; 23) all characterize the covenant between the Lord and Israel as a marriage. Hosea the prophet sees the idolatry of Israel in the adultery of Gomer (Son 1-3). He also represents the Lord speaking to Israel's heart (Song 2:16) and changing her into a new spiritual people, purified by the Babylonian captivity and betrothed anew to her divine Lover "in justice and uprightness, in love and mercy" (Song 2:21). The author of the Song, using the same literary figure, paints a beautiful picture of the ideal Israel, the chosen people of the Old and New Testaments, whom the Lord led by degrees to an exalted spiritual union with himself in the bond of perfect love. When the Song is thus interpreted here is no reason for surprise at the tone of the poem, which employs in its descriptions the courtship and marriage customs of the author's time. Moreover, the poem is not an allegory in which each remark, e. g., in the dialogue of the lovers, has a higher meaning. It is a parable in which the true meaning of mutual love comes from the poem as a whole. While the Song is thus commonly understood by most Catholic scholars, it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union. Although the poem is attributed to Solomon in the traditional title (Song 1:1), the language and style of the work, among other considerations, point to a time after the end of the Babylonian Exile (538 B.C.) as that in which an unknown poet composed this masterpiece. The structure of the Song is difficult to analyze; here it is regarded as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest. The use of marriage as a symbol, characteristic of the Song, is found extensively also in the New Testament (Matthew 9:15; 25:1-13; John 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23-32; Rev 19:7-9; 21:9-11). In Christian tradition, the Song has been interpreted in terms of the union between Christ and the Church and, particularly by St. Bernard, of the union between Christ and the individual soul. Throughout the liturgy, especially in the Little Office, there is a consistent application of the Song of Songs to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

            John of Ford conceived the idea of writing a commentary on the Song of Songs when, as he writes, he was 'burning with the desire of God's love'. Typically, this ardent yet earnest Englishman studied in preparation the works of the 'elephants and giants' who had begun the task before him-men like Origen, St. Gregory the Great, and Alcuin, but chiefly his Cistercian brothers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose sermons on the Song had been halted by death at chapter three, and Gilbert of Hoyland, who had continued the commentary to chapter five, verse nine. A master of language and exegesis, and apparently oblivious of the rising scholasticism of his day, John had an avowedly practical purpose in completing the Cistercian commentary. He sought to lead souls to the love of God which inflamed him. He wanted to persuade others to seek to imitate and to contemplate Christ, the one perfect Image of God. For, he believed, by allowing itself to be re-formed into that

Image, the human creature will gradually and gloriously itself be transformed into God's clear image.

            Never before translated into the vernacular, John of Ford's sermons on the Song of Songs have survived in a single extant manuscript. Hidden for eight hundred years, the abbot of Ford emerges as a spiritual father who speaks from his own profound experience of the transforming love of God.

            Perhaps today the Carmelite St John of the Crosswould be better known in his use of the Song of songs:-  "That voice is sweet to her ears, and calls her sweetly, as it is written: “Arise, make haste, My love, My dove, My beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come: the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”1 When the bride hears the voice of the Bridegroom in her inmost soul, she feels that her troubles are over and her prosperity begun. In the refreshing comfort and sweet sense of this voice she, too, like the nightingale, sends forth a new song of rejoicing to God, in unison with Him Who now moves her to do so. 11. It is for this that the Beloved sings, that the bride in unison with Him may sing to God; this is the aim and desire of the Bridegroom, that the soul should sing with the spirit joyously to God; and this is what He asks of the bride in the Canticle: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come; my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, show me your face, let your voice sound in my ears.”( "A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ"--St John of the Cross)

            However high these exegetical and mystical works seem to soar above our humble Benedictine spirituality as at times might seem-- it does give us fearless examples of how free in their lectio were our fathers (and mothers) in the faith when drawing nigh to the Lord. May we feel strengthened and unfettered in their example and rest never until we rest only in the arms of the Lord.




It has been brought to my attention that Dom Odo Casel's: "The Mystery of Christ Made Present"(see last Oblate letter 29) is out of print-- but I'm happy to say that another good collection is: "The Mystery of Christian Worship " and it is in print.(Milestones in Catholic Theology) Paperback – March 1, 1999--about £12- £13 new-- but the Oblate library has one copy of" The Mystery of Christ Made Present"!

 The Cistercian Studies series has published all of John of Ford's sermons on the Song of Songs-- 7 volumes-- they vary in availability and price from £12 upwards ( for one volume)-- very readable as you can see and can help reawaken our thirst for Scriptures and for God.




For Abbot Anselm's and Bishop Hugh's intentions.

 For vocations to Pluscarden--for Br Vincent who is a postulant from Vietnam and for all aspirants. St Mary's, Petersham and Kristo Buase. Br. Adrian and Br. Finbar health. Fr. Dunstan--the repose of the souls of his mother Honoré and now his father Ian-- may they rest in peace.

For Brothers Joseph and John who have come to us from Tien Phuoc priory in Vietnam for two years to study English.

Made his Oblation:- Fr. Andrew MAXIMILIAN Clark.

Novice oblate:-Mrs Jane Marie MacGillivray

 God's blessing on Robert Johnston, Oblate, 40 years continuously as an altar-server.

Pat Carrigan in Fife preparing for Diaconate next year, to be made Acolyte this September and for his Wife Pauline's intentions.

Please pray for the repose of the souls of our recently dead Oblates-- Evanne Foster and Eugene Fernandez-- may they rest in peace.

Please pray for ProvostRobert McDonald and Netta Ewing, Rev. Christopher Mayo, Fr. Bob Halshaw, Paul Costello, Albert Paterson. For Siobhan Gilmour's husband and for her son with a fractured leg. Mrs. Allie Brien, Mrs. Alice Sullivan. Gitte Mackay and Joe and Maggie Barrett and daughter newly married, Leonora Duson hip replacement 14th June, Paul Miller, Margaret Rawcliffe, Mrs. Gertrude Corker’s two daughters, Bob Barr, Brian Milne, Gail Schmitz, Fiona Sellar, Johan(Joy) Baillie, Susan Carson-Rowland's husband Mike, Martin's wife Mary, Graham Dunbar, Beth and ChrisFraser, Bob Clark, Nick MaCrae’s(just turned 90--congratulations!) son, Martin MaCrae battling illness, Dr. David Paterson and his wife Angela granddaughter Grace, Bryan Miller, Jacqui’s daughter Sally, Hester du Plessis, Poppy Sinclair, John Gleeson hip operation, Ian and Frederick Brodie--the twins, for Pat Foster, Eddy Sands, James and Helen Timoney, Carolyn and Marshall Boardman and especially their son Malcolm, Martin Farrelly and especially for his wife Val, and also for Peter Wynne Sunday, 8.00 am altar-server at Mass here for 40 years in hospital at writing, David Braine, philosopher, Susan Stephen, Evelyn, Violet and Sheila and all friends of the Abbey and for all oblates, and all the sick, and those who care for them--and for Josaphat and Charles our sponsored seminarians. For Deacon Peter Macdonald of Aberdeen being ordained Priest on the 13th June.


Every Year

Julian Group Monthly at the Abbey. contemplative prayer group meet monthlyon the first Tuesday of each month after Mass here. You are welcome. Silent prayer inspired by the spirituality of Venerable Julian ofNorwich.



This Year 2016 The monks of Pluscarden Abbey offer a special opportunity to see at firsthand what monastic life is about, during the weekend Friday 19th to Monday 22nd August 2016.The invitation is extended to single young men, Catholics who practise their faith, aged 18 - 35. There will be no charge for the weekend.

Do you our Oblates and friends know of anyone who might be interested?--- and can be invited to contact us through the web form, or write to:

Fr. Benedict Hardy OSB

Pluscarden Abbey,

Elgin. Moray. IV30 8UA


This Year 2016Why not join in with the Diocesan Annual Pilgrimage--Pluscarden Abbey has a designated Holy door of Mercy-- the north, solid oak, Norman door with the latch. Join with our Lady of Pluscarden and Bishop Hugh and Abbot Anselm on the

26th June Programme for the Day:

1.00pm – Exposition in the Lady Chapel (until 3.00pm)
1.00pm – Individual confessions available in 4 parlours at St. Benedict’s Retreat (until 3.00pm)
3.30pm – Principal Mass of the day followed by a Marian procession, with hymns and devotions in the garden, facing St. Benedict’s Retreat Everyone is Welcome to Come and Join this Glorious Celebration!

3rd July The Annual Pilgrimage Mass at Scalan the secret seminary in times of open persecution will be held on Sunday 3rd July. This year marks the 300th anniversary of its founding. Archbishop Leo of St Andrews and Edinburgh will be the preacher.--Within striking distance of Pluscarden if you are staying here for the week of the two pilgrimages.

 This Year 2016:-17-20 October: 6th UK National Oblates’ Retreat at Mount St Bernard Abbey led by Abbot Erik Varden and Sr. Laurentia Johns. Please register throughUKOT website/for details: www.benedictine-oblates.netor Mrs. Pam Morey 1 Lypiatt View, Bussage, Stroud, GL6 8DA. Englandor email   ukoblateteam@gmail.com




2017--Pluscarden Oblates Lenten Retreat led By Fr. Abbot the first weekend of Lent 3rd-6th March next year. Put it in your diaries please-- and you could always ask the guestmaster to pencil you in.

2017 next year4th International Congress of Benedictine Oblates 4th-10th November 2017 in Rome- Theme " A Way Froward--The Benedictine community in Movement"--"Three days, a wonderful opportunity for reflection and meeting Oblates from other monasteries."--Fr. Martin: I think we are allowed at least 2 delegates--we have one already--John Mckinlay. So we needanother -- and you can always go on the short leet -- just let me know-- again you can get more information possibly from Mrs. Pam Morey contact as above. As you know I'm at oblatemaster@pluscardenabbey.org or if you are looking at our website just now the @ is substituted with AT for all email addresses for technical reasons! ( if I remember to do it!)


2017  Next Year5th June-3rd September   1230 pilgrimage      (sponsored)

-- in aid of South range appeal.

Pluscarden 1230 Pilgrimage-please register to take part as soon as possible! Contact Postal Address and full details:-

Pluscarden Abbey Appeal Office

216 High Street

Elgin IV30 1BA

Phone: Tel. +44 (0)1343 555038 Mob. 07415 971024 www.appealpluscardenabbey.org.uk                  (with a web form to register if you prefer)


·      St Mungo's  chapter, Glasgow:-We meet on the second Saturday of each month at 2 p.m. Contact can be made via Peter Aitken. Tel. 0141 427 2084, or via Graham Dunbar at 0141 558 4323 as group Secretary and Treasurer.

·      St Margaret’s Chapter, Dunfermline monthly meetings as announced, All details contact Pat Carrigan smcb_oblates@live.co.uk

·      St. Monica’s Chapter, Thurso. Contact Jane Coll. "Scaraben”, Westside, Dunnet, Thurso, Caithness, KY14 8YD. Phone 01847 851467 and as announced.

·      St. Peter's chapter of oblates Aberdeen:- next meeting-- will be Wednesday 6th September 2016 at St. Peter's Catholic Church, Castlegate, Aberdeen.   at 5pm. e-mail brianbmilne2647@gmail.com that's my personal e-mail        (Brian Milne convener),  phone 01224 485781 mobile 07443032289

·      St. Mirin’s Chapter. Paisley. Date: 1st Saturday each month. Time 2-4 pm. Venue: Hall 2, St Mirin’s Cathedral, Cathedral Precincts, Incle Street Paisley, PA1 1HR—secure parking there within Cathedral enclosure. Farther information: St Mirin Chapter, Benedictine Oblate Group, c/o Campbell Murdoch, Fircroft, Knockbuckle Road, Kilmacolm, PA13 4JT m: 07810 350006



JOSAPHAT, our Ugandan Seminarian, is now well into the second semester of his first year at Major Seminary in Gulu in the North of Uganda.  He will spend three full years here studying theology and philosophy.  He will then go on to National Seminary to study theology.  


We are now supporting a second student.  CHARLES has started at junior seminary, St Peter's College in Tororo. Tororo is also Josaphat's home town.  Charles plans to follow the same path as Josaphat.


Without the prayers and financial support of the Oblates, these young men would not be at seminary.  If you would be interested in helping us support Josaphat and Charles (this would entail a monthly standing order of between £10 - £15) please contact Campbell Murdoch, Fircroft, Knockbuckle Road, Kilmacolm, PA13 4JT.  Tel: 07810 350006 or email: jcmurdoch@yahoo.co.uk












                        IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST                              


                                                                                                     Fr. Martin