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The Terror and Joy of Worship: A Photo Essay (Part II)

Editor’s note: this is part two of a two-part essay. You can see part one here


After Norcia, my family visited Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland, about a half hour’s drive from Dublin. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Cenacle, this new foundation represents a new haven and point of departure, steeped in the perpetual youthfulness of Eucharistic adoration. One has heard of nuns, even Benedictine nuns, who are dedicated to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament; but for monks to do the same is a grace reserved for our time, so desperately in need of renewed thanksgiving, heartfelt reparation, and liturgical reorientation.

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On this trip from the wild west of Wyoming, where my family lives, to two great centers of monastic revival, Norcia and Silverstream, we had many airplane flights and therefore spent some time in airports.

In the sayings of the desert Fathers, Abba Anthony admonishes: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’” Although no one called us mad on our travels, we felt like it when we were immersed in the swarms of people at the airports. It felt like a bad dream in which nothing is quite right, and you can’t quite escape the suffocation of the dreamland which has turned against you.

There was a good side, though: when we woke up from the bad dream, we found ourselves in a place like Silverstream, awakened by the warm greeting of the Prior and the monks.

In The Forge, St. Josemaría Escrivá gives us this point to meditate on: “‘Have a good time,’ they said as usual. And the comment of a soul very close to God was, ‘What a limited wish!’”[1] I’m glad we didn’t have a “good time” at Silverstream. When one discovers the kingdom of the blessed, having a “good time” is no longer what anything is about.

The Heart of Silverstream

1The main house at Silverstream: a noble edifice with a still more wonderful interior—interior in more senses than one: the holy monks that live there, the high-ceilinged rooms, the chapel with its own house, that of the Tabernacle, with the Most Wonderful Inhabitant of all, with whom the monks strive to make constant communion.

The Interior and the Exterior—the welcoming, balance, battling, and discovery of the powers in these two realms is what monks try to do.


The Oratory, and the entire monastery, is like a heart, with concentric circles that contain less and less of the world until one reaches the center of the heart. The center is the Oratory and the tabernacle therein. The guest-house and gift shop is on the outside of the monastery, while the building which contains the monastic cells, library, chapter room, and Oratory is inside the walls, and is reached after a courtyard and drive, a further circle. In the Oratory is the “nave” for the laity, separated by a screen from the choir. Separation, but for the sake of union. In the choir there is a further division, that of the choir proper and the sanctuary. Only the monks (and, on rare occasions, the laity) are allowed into the Choir stalls.

Photo courtesy of the Monks of Silverstream.

Finally, the sanctuary encloses the Tabernacle, which is the very center of the heart of the monastery; for these monks are Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, and their aim is for their hearts to be one with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.

As a wonderful book says (I will discuss this book below):

“And what do you do all day?” “Oh, we drink with joy at the fountains of the Saviour.”—Amazement—“Yes, to drink and to eat God all day long, that is the monastic life.”—Astonishment…Here is the kingdom of the Blessed.”

Sacrificium Laudis

I would be remiss if I did not discuss the Mass and Divine Office at Silverstream. However, while I was able to participate fully in the Hours at Silverstream, I don’t feel qualified to talk about this tremendous network of Liturgies. Instead, I will just provide a few quotations from a little book that was brought to my attention by the Prior. The book is The Life of Little Saint Placid by Mother Genevieve Gallois, O.S.B. It is hard to describe, being a combination picture-book, mystical journal, and monastic manual. What this book says about the office is richer than anything I could presume to say:


“To sing one’s life and live one’s song.” What is this song and what is this life which it opens up for us? To whom do we speak in such terms? What is our relationship to Him? Little Placid found himself placed objectively before God. The Liturgy put into his mouth words he never dared to utter. His words formed his thought and his thought formed his being. And so, the Liturgy enfolded him as in a mould, then rose to God as the expression of his own being, Little Placid.

Little Placid immerses himself in the Divine Mysteries; he wears them like a cope which covers his humanity infirma et sauciata. And the Angels wait on him, seeing in him the Image of the Son of God.

My life would be abundantly profitable if I were able to achieve the holiness and understanding shown on one page of this little book.

The Scalpel


It is the custom of Silverstream Priory to chant this phrase of adoration before and after beginning any office: “Laudetur Sacrosanctum et Augustissimum Sacramentum in Aeternum” (May the most holy and august Sacrament be praised for ever). This prayer focuses the heart and mind. My experience of being touched by this prayer has been this: it has given me words which are selfless praise, short enough to be said during a long genuflection; it is nourishing food, like the Jesus prayer of the Byzantine tradition, sufficient for all that needs to be said. When chanted monotone, as the monks do, it is stark, putting into one the fear of God necessary for the recitation of the Psalms before the Tabernacle. It brings quiet to the soul when these rolling words are said mentally. The “Laudetur” prayer is a scalpel used by God to cut away the stony heart and to make room for the Eucharistic heart.

Destruction and Rejuvenation

In the Monastery library are many beautiful altar missals (the line drawing of the Sacred Heart, above, was in one of them). But there was one missal that especially caught my attention as I was paging through these beautiful, heavy tomes, many rich with illuminated initials. In the Canon of the Mass—the same canon which the very first monks of Ireland would have been saying, so old is it—in this essential part of the Roman liturgy, rubrics calling for genuflections, auscultations, and signs of the cross over the gifts were covered over with pieces of paper or crossed with a red pen. What a specimen, showing the mutation of the Liturgy during the first radiation of the 1960s!


Contrast this sickening disregard of the visible signs of the respect and love towards the Eucharist with the reverence shown by the Monks of Silverstream during their deeply reverent celebration of the Mass. For example, when all in choir have received communion and the priest leaves to administer communion to the laity outside of the choir, all the monks make a profound bow as the priest passes by with the ciborium, even to the detriment of the communion antiphon. The same is done when the priest returns.


In the lovely but temporary chapel that the monks are using while they raise funds to renovate and convert a nearby building into a proper chapel, the most beautiful object is the tabernacle. Its doors were painted by a renowned iconographer, depicting the Annunciation on the outside and, when opened, revealing two angels in adoration. In the decoration of the altar with flowers and a multitude of candles, the monks do not stay their hands for fear of “cluttering” the altar and making a “distraction” from the mysteries enacted there. Rather, the luminous altar—laden with glowing candles and bright roses, leading one’s eyes to the burnished doors of the tabernacle with the adoring angels—centered, fixed, and intensified the intent prayer that flew between the monstrance within the tabernacle, surrounded with gems and gold, and the humble brother whose turn it was to watch before the Face of Christ.

The Thread

While we were at Silverstream, Dom Finnian and several other monks kindly took us to see some of the monastic ruins in the area and to venerate the head of the Reformation martyr St. Oliver Plunkett, which is kept at a shrine close by.[2]


These are part of the ruins of Mellifont Abbey, a great Cistercian monastery of the 12th century. To the left, with the gothic window, is what remains of the chapter house, and to the right is the circular lavabo.


The three monks who went with us to Mellifont, standing in front of the great gothic window of the old chapter house.


Upon the hill overlooking Mellifont Abbey stands this little chapel. Its roofless condition, five foot high doorway, and strange windows make it a somewhat haunting place; the structure seems disjointed to us today, for it is not the right size, and its proportions seem like those of a dream. But examining the place brought to light the line of the sanctuary and the place where the sacristy would have been. After all, however much the elements have changed the place, or the people inhabiting a certain area have changed, in its essence the traditional Mass has not changed and will not change; it is a thread which hangs off of the robe of eternity and from which power goes out, even at the touch.

Majesty Indoors and Out – Scenery Near Silverstream


One of several monastery cats, said to be helpful in keeping the rats away.






The grounds of Silverstream are filled with gnarled trees overgrown with ivy, and fantastical in the gloom. It was a great pleasure to stroll among the great green trees and fields surrounding the house, to feel the cool wet Irish air and to see the ocean just visible in the distance.


The sanctuary of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Drogheda, where the head of Saint Oliver Plunkett is kept with great reverence in a magnificent reliquary. Majesty: how much have we lost since this way of building and the way of worship that went hand in hand with it has been lost?


“…But, my dear Father, the lesson of the war was wasted! The world was not converted! etc. etc…” Little Placid reflected:… And what about me? This Me which is the only mission land over which I have any control and of which I must give account.

Conclusion: Death to Life


You see, Little Placid, what the Mass is? The full return to the Father. You suffered at Mass and Communion, feeling you were still yourself before God and not absorbed into him. Death was lacking. Now the obstacle is laid low—you are face to face with Him.


Saint Benedict’s death is an ideal model for the conversio morum of these monks; standing in prayer, fortified with the Body and Blood of Christ, he breathed forth his spirit and was lead to heaven on a road adorned with tapestries and innumerable lights. [3] This conversion of  oneself, the death of the “old man,” is so closely united to Christ’s own death and his institution of the Eucharist. In the monk’s struggle to become like Christ, he must do and say with Him: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.”[4]

“My son, the true apostolate is not what one says but what one is.
There is nowadays a kind of loud busy apostolate.
Our apostolate is holiness.
When a soul rises it lifts up the world too.”[5]


[1] St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge, #228

[2] Part of this trip included Monasterboice, about which my mother wrote here [at NLM].

[3] As related in the Life of Saint Benedict by St. Gregory the Great.

[4] John 10:17.

[5] The Life of Little Saint Placid

12 thoughts on “The Terror and Joy of Worship: A Photo Essay (Part II)”

  1. For one so young, you have captured the words and images of mysticism. I have enjoyed and gleaned much fruit from your two postings and am looking forward to many more.

  2. Brilliant! At Silverstream, we read Julian’s essay in the refectory yesterday as a special treat for the community on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The photographs show true artistry.

  3. Just wow! I love Silverstream Priory and have contributed to it for a while. Now I rejoice and feel I must do more. Thank you Steve. You bring us so much truth and beauty. God bless you and your beautiful family!

  4. We certaintly must and need to go back to the altars of old with the priest and parishoners ALL facing the Tabernacle and God within !!!


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