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Book Review: The Glenstal Book of Prayer
Glenstal Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in County Limerick on the south-west coast of Ireland. It's situated on a 500-acre estate with streams, lakes and woodland paths which surround a castle built in the romantic Norman style.
It's in this extraordinarily beautiful setting that the monks of the abbey assemble in the chapel five times daily for the Divine Office and the Mass. As a Benedictine community, their worship emphasizes beauty and harmony, celebrating God's presence, while evoking a response of loving reverence in the monk.
As part of their ongoing development plans, the community has recently built a new library to house its collection of books, manuscripts and archives. The collection has grown steadily from its humble origins in 1927 and is now one of the most important private libraries in Ireland holding approximately 58,000 volumes.
While the focus of the library is primarily theological, it also contains substantial holdings in the areas of Irish history, Irish literature, biography and art. Of priceless value, is its collection of antiquarian books ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries; a restoration program is now underway to restore some of the more important volumes.
Indeed, the ancient manuscripts are unique. But, ironically, it is a much more modern work that has gained Glenstal Abbey a coveted place on the best-seller list. At a time when statistics show that the Irish aren't nearly as religious as they once were, the Glenstal Book of Prayer surprised and amazed everyone with its almost overnight popularity and success.
Perhaps it can be said that, while many of us are rejecting outward religious practises, prayer still plays an important role in our personal lives. And, within the pages of this remarkable book, the reader will find what the monks describe as 'the whole sweep of prayer'.
Divided into four sections, included are prayers for daily devotions, familiar favorites, special occasions, blessings, readings from St. Benedict, psalms, and a calendar of Saints and Feast Days.
Of special interest are the prayers given in Irish and Latin, including The Sign of the Cross and The Hail Mary; this reader also particularly enjoyed the blessings in Irish for the infirm, for travelers, and for grace before meals.
The book sits by the bed - taken up before sleep and slowly browsed through until a particular line or paragraph seems to jump from the page:
"I bind myself today
With the words of St. Patrick's Breastplate softly soothing an always over-stressed mind, the serenity of healing slumber swiftly erases the concerns of the day.
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
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March 4, 2011
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