Of Chantry Chapels and Olden Times

It isn’t often we have the opportunity of visiting any of the lovely medieval churches and chapels one finds throughout the length and breadth of the country, but when we do, it is always with a sense of pilgrimage. I am very conscious of the fact that ‘here prayer has been valid,’ and after we have prayed for the present incumbent and people of the parish, we say a Pater and Ave in Latin for those who worshiped here in earlier times. If no one else is around, we’ll conclude by singing the Marian anthem of the season. I wouldn’t want you to think, however, that this is an exercise in mere antiquarianism or religious sentimentality. On the contrary, it is an act of worship and a fulfilment of the duty of prayer, but especially so in the case of chantry chapels.

Most of the chantry chapels of our medieval churches were endowed in perpetuity for Masses to be sung and prayers offered for the souls of the deceased. In most cases, the Reformation brought an abrupt end to this practice; so, whenever we come across a chantry chapel, we pause and say the De profundis and Requiem aeternam dona eis for the souls of those for whom the chapel or altar was erected. I regard this as more than a pious act. It is the fulfilment of a sacred obligation to which we, as Benedictines, are particularly sensitive. Yet the obligation is more general than many people realise. It is too little known, for example, that when prayers are offered or Masses said ‘for the pope’s intentions’, those intentions include all the obligations of pre-Reformation times for chantry chapels, guilds and the like.

It is good to remember that the Church never forgets any of her children — no matter how badly or sinfully they may have lived.