Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Vatican II--And the Dreams of a Swiss Abbot II

Yesterday I published an entry about Abbot Martin Werlen, Abbot of the famous Swiss pilgrimage shrine, the Abbey of Einsiedeln, and a sermon he preached to the Swiss bishops on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  Abbot Martin is himself a member of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference  by virtue of the fact that while he is not an ordained bishop he is the Ordinary of a See—the Abbey of Our Lady of Einsiedeln being an Abbey Nullius.  An Abbey Nullius is a quasi-diocese and its Abbot is the Ordinary of the jurisdiction administered by the Abbey.  An Abbey Nullius would have parishes, schools, convents, monasteries, clergy, and laity—just as would a typical diocese.  The Abbey would have its own tribunal, grant annulments, hear ecclesiastical trials, write dimissorial letters for ordinations, grant required dispensations and give faculties to priests and deacons to preach and administer the sacraments—just like a diocese.  In fact, it is a diocese but headed by the Abbot rather than a bishop.  The Abbot would normally be required to bring in a bishop to do the ordinations of priests and deacons, though he could install clerics in the minor ministries of lector and acolyte and he can confirm the faithful.  It is an unusual situation.  Belmont Abbey was the only Abbey in the United States to have this status but renounced its status in 1977 in favor of the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina. 
The Abbey of Our Lady of Einsiedeln dates back to the tenth century when Saint Meinrad, a hermit from the Hohenzollern family—the same family from whom the German Kaisers would come nine centuries later (and who says this isn’t a small world)—established a shrine to the Madonna on the Etzel Pass.  Meinrad was murdered by two thieves—traditionally named Richard and Peter—who were trying to rob the gifts left at the shrine by pilgrims.  Other hermits came to take his place, however, and the monk Eberhard, established a monastery and church on the site in the mid tenth-century.  The Abbots were traditionally princes of the Empire until Napoleon suppressed the Holy Roman Empire in the early nineteenth century.  They also were given the ecclesiastical jurisdiction—as mentioned previously—exempt from the authority of any bishops save the Holy See.   This sort of exemption was quite common in the Middle Ages and is one of the ways that the papacy employed in strengthening its own authority at the cost of that of the local bishops.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, came to Einsiedeln and preached against the cult of the Virgin there.  However, the locals knew that their bread was generously buttered by the Blessed Virgin and the Protestant Reformation made little headway in the surrounding region.  The level of monastic observance was relatively strict and the monks have been long admired for their holiness and their scholarship.  The abbey has a very good reputation today and certainly the insightful talk of Abbot Martin only adds to its credit. 

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