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    chapel at The New Melleray Abbey

    Christ’s Ascension, Brother Placid’s Remains

    Life everlasting puts human death into perspective.

    By Peter McDonald

    May 18, 2023
    • Ann

      Interesting and moving account of how those monks celebrated the death of one of their own. I loved the account of the prayers and psalms and above all was deeply moved by the utter simplicity of the farewell. How gently and easily they let him go back to God.

    • Daniel Quick

      Excellent analysis of why the Ascension is so important to all of us believers, especially when it comes to each person's human mortality. May the good Lord Jesus hold Brother Placid and each one of us in His everloving Presence when it becomes our turn with faith, love, hope, and trust in our Savior always. In Jesus's name Amen 🙏

    I’m in New Melleray Abbey in Peosta. Not heaven, but Iowa. My shirt is wonderfully semi‐soaked on the right front from a dolloped blessing of Holy Water. It is 7:55 p.m., and so, outside, it is starting to become dark. Yet inside this vast church, though Compline ended about twenty minutes ago, some lights remain on. The taper over the tabernacle is lit, as is the Paschal candle. Two lights over the center of the church are on as are two lights in the back of the church where visitors are invited to participate in the daily offices and masses. The gate between the visitor area and cloistered monastic area is open.

    Two monks are present and praying in the center of the church. Christ is present too. Also present is a third monk, silent but listening, lying flat on a wooden platter. The third monk is Brother Placid. Last night at about this time he took his last breath and died.

    This evening the Psalm schedule at Vespers changed for Brother Placid. The Coming Age of Peace and Justice is the title of the first of the Psalms sung.footnote We sang of mercy and faithfulness meeting. “Faithfulness shall spring from the earth and justice look down from Heaven.” We continued with Psalm 102 footnote by singing Praise of God’s Love, starting with “My soul gives thanks to the Lord. All my being, bless His Holy Name.”

    Now the monks are praying. I can’t understand or hear them very well, other than a cough or two. Perhaps they are praying in tongues or Latin.

    window at the monastery of The New Melleray Abbey

    Photograph courtesy of The New Melleray Abbey. Used by permission.

    The Paschal candle, situated near Brother Placid, continues to shine brightly. The candle over the tabernacle grows increasingly more distinct as the world outside darkens further. A flashlight keeps my paper lit. Night is coming upon us. Yet, in spite of the physical darkness there is no darkness in this church. Though the corpse might suggest otherwise, life everlasting resides here.

    These men live and believe in an eternity such as I have rarely encountered. Dates no longer matter. Brother Placid’s notice on the church door lists no start or end date, simply “Celebrating the Death of a Monk.” Note to self to reconsider how we measure life. Some, if not many, of our human measurements for life are irrelevant. How long or how much do not much matter.

    Vespers earlier this evening started with all the monks in the hallway in the monastic area, proclaiming “With the Lord there is mercy without end.” Then the monks entered the church with the Paschal candle first, then Brother Placid’s body carried on a wooden platter of sorts, followed by the monks in the community and Father Mark, New Melleray’s Abbot. (It is simultaneously humorous and congruent that the monks who manufacture and sell Trappist Caskets do not use Trappist Caskets themselves but an even simpler wooden platter.)

    We sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” followed by the intonation “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.” John 12:24 is read: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The wisdom of these monks to read that verse at this moment is beyond rational human understanding.

    It is Ascension Thursday, a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church in which Christ’s ascension into Heaven is revered and celebrated. Truly, Brother Placid is in heaven also. But, just in case, these monks and others in the community, and visitors like me, pray that Jesus Christ will open a place in heaven for him. The community of monks will pray here in this church throughout the night, through the 3:30 a.m. Vigils footnote and 6:30 a.m. Lauds,footnote till the 7:00 a.m. funeral mass tomorrow. The sisters of this community from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, what one monk mentioned earlier to me with both joy and jest as “the best part of New Melleray,” will be here in the morning for Lauds and Brother Placid’s funeral mass.

    It is said that death puts life into perspective. But times such as this make abundantly clear the incorrectness of such a statement. Life everlasting puts human death into perspective. Life everlasting exists through the one whom human death did not and could not kill, or at least could not keep dead. And so, because of Jesus Christ, a hope and joy founded upon the truth of Christ’s life and love exists in this church – in this moment for Brother Placid, and also for the world entire. Maybe this really is more than just Iowa.

    The lights and the candles illuminate the monks and me. The world listens. A new pair of monks arrives to start praying and relieve the initial monks. Christ listens too. Christ is present, now and forever and ever. Amen.


    1. Psalm 84 in The Psalms: Singing Version and Psalm 85 in most Bibles.
    2. Psalm 102 in The Psalms: Singing Version and Psalm 103 in most Bibles.
    3. Psalms 24, 26, 29, 37, 41, and 64 in The Psalms: Singing Version.
    4. Psalms 50, 62, and 22 in The Psalms: Singing Version.
    Contributed By PeterMcDonald Peter McDonald

    Peter McDonald is President of the McDonald Agape Foundation, a foundation that encourages distinguished scholars for Christ at leading global universities.

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