In loco isto dabo pacem (In this place I will give peace) is Pluscarden Abbey’s motto, and the feeling of peace is what is most commented on by those who visit this 13th century monastery, tucked away in a beautiful corner of Moray, in Scotland. For me, Pluscarden is not only a place of peace but a spiritual home, not just whenever I come back to the Abbey, but since I was born. In fact, my family’s connection goes back to 1948, when the first five monks from Prinknash arrived to reclaim the ruins of Pluscarden after more than four centuries. My grandmother was one of the local Catholics who welcomed the monks and helped them in every way she could; she attended the inauguration Mass that year, together with my mother and my uncle, who was one of the altar servers. My grandmother became an oblate, as did my parents (my father’s involvement with Pluscarden dated from when my parents got married; later he was received into the Church in the Lady Chapel there and now he is buried in its cemetery). My sister and I were taken to Mass at the Abbey as babies and whenever we stayed with my grandmother, so I knew the Mass in Latin and could sing Gregorian chant by the age of 10. I made my first Confession with Fr Maurus, the oblate master at the time, who also received me as an oblate novice when I was 18. It took quite a few years for me to finish the job and make my final oblation, but the intervening years did nothing to lessen my love for Pluscarden and the Benedictine way of life.
As with many oblates, I live far from the monastery, which makes each visit special. There is a moment during the first Mass I attend there each time I come which I particularly relish: the first lines of Psalm 121 sung at Terce at the end of Mass. Laetatus sum in eo quid dixerunt mihi: “In domum Domini ibimus” (I rejoiced when I heard them say: “Let us go to God’s house.”). I thank God and think: “and now my feet are standing within your gates, at Pluscarden”. I was blessed to be able to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land nine years ago, and I rejoiced to recite that psalm as the coach approached Jerusalem. But for me Psalm 121 will always transport me to the south chapel of the Abbey, looking at the beautiful carving of Our Lady of Pluscarden.
It is always a huge boost when I am able to attend oblate events at the Abbey, but that is not often. It was therefore a great blessing when I discovered, through friends who are oblates of Minster and who know Pluscarden, that there was a meeting, every three months or so, of Minster oblates in London, to which I was welcome. These oblate Saturdays were a wonderful opportunity to discuss a part of the Rule, an aspect of our Faith, thoughts on the next day’s Gospel,to recite Sext and None together, and to catch up on news, ask for advice, tell interesting incidents over a coffee and packed lunch. When the pandemic struck, these meetings in person were suspended and are now held via Zoom, changing the format but also enabling others, who could not get to London, to take part from their homes, including Sr Benedict, oblate mistress of Minster. This has been one of the “silver linings” of the cloud of the pandemic! Another was the Zoom pre-Advent day-retreat with Dame Laurentia Johns organised by the UK oblate team, which was most inspiring.
The Church contains a vast tapestry of spiritualities that can help and guide each member into finding the path best suited to each one in order to come closer to God. He calls us to follow His will in the daily occurrences of our lives, but we are greatly aided when we can find what, for each of us, can become our spiritual home. I have been helped by many spiritual influences during my life, but I am so grateful to have found my spiritual home in Pluscarden, through the Providential hand of God, who brought my grandmother to move to Elgin in 1945. It has led to three generations of oblates within my family, and a steady ripple of other family members and friends who have benefitted from coming to the Abbey and receiving help, grace and peace. In loco isto dabo pacem.
Penelope Coate Oblate of Pluscarden Abbey