Baculum Senectutis

In one of the old Latin liturgical books of the Norbertine Order is one of the most infrequently celebrated rites in our tradition, especially in the United States. It is the “Rite Accustomed to be Used in Celebration of the Jubilee (50th anniversary) of Solemn Profession.” The rite closely follows that for solemn profession itself and is the sole instance of explicit “renewal” of vows in our Order. The most distinctive elements of the rite occur at two different moments: the first, immediately before the preparation of the altar and gifts, when the jubilarian stands with the abbot at the altar, as he did on the day of his solemn profession, and reads from the very text of the vows he professed and signed fifty years before. Then the abbot places on the confrere’s head a corona, a biretta encircled with laurel leaves.  Then, as he did five decades earlier, the jubilarian exchanges the sign of peace with all the other solemn professed while the choir  sings the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace”(Luke 2, 29), and the Mass proceeds as usual. At the end of Mass comes the second specific element of this rite when the jubilarian again comes before the abbot who gives him a cane, appropriately named the baculum senectutis (the staff of old age). The jubilarian then intones the church’s most traditional thanksgiving chant, the Te Deum, which is taken up by the choir. Then the abbot, the jubilarian and liturgical ministers retire to the sacristy. The rubrics give no indication of the festive meal which would have certainly followed the rare celebration of this rite.

Why might this rite have been celebrated so rarely? At the time of the latest printing of this rite (1932) and until the last quarter of the 20th century few Norbertines lived long enough to become golden jubilarians. Moreover, the Order in this country has generally put greater emphasis on the celebration of the silver (25 years) and golden jubilees (50 years) of ordination to the priesthood. Only the lay brothers marked the significant anniversaries of their profession of vows.

Frater Gerard
Frater Matthew

In my own community of Daylesford Abbey (Paoli, PA), the first daughter house of St. Norbert Abbey, five of our 33 members have been solemnly professed more than fifty years. I believe that for the reasons given above, our community did not celebrate the rite described above for any of them. This August 28th, the Solemnity of St. Augustine and the date on which the majority of American Norbertines professed solemn vows, I and my classmate, Fr. Maurice Avicolli – both of us weeks away from being inducted as St. Norbert College Golden Knights (graduates of the class of ’64) – will join this number. We will not receive a corona or a baculum senectutis. We will, however, be graced by being able to “renew” our profession” by participating in celebrations of solemn profession: Maurice at Daylesford for the profession of our Frater Gerard Jordan and I at St. Norbert Abbey at the same rite for Frater Matthew Dougherty. On the same day, at St. Norbert Abbey’s second daughter house, Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque, NM, Frater Stephen Gaertner and Frater Graham Golden will also profess final vows.

Frater Stephen
Frater Graham

The biretta is no longer in use at St. Norbert Abbey, Daylesford or Santa Maria de la Vid; so for jubilarians among us no biretta with corona — unless it be the Mexican lager, Corona Extra. Some have had their baculum medically prescribed before or after their golden jubilee. But the solemn profession of members in our houses – small though their number may be – is indeed a crown of promise and a baculum of support looking to ongoing collaboration in our life, prayer and ministry. Though we “elders” may not yet be ready to chant our Nunc Dimittis except in praying Night Prayer, God gives us ample reason to intone a Te Deum.