One of the confreres remarked on how the announcement of the identity of the newly-elected abbot contained elements of the most venerable means of communication, but also the most contemporary and instantaneous. So last Tuesday, the tower bell pealed and the local college community assembled in the abbey church to await the procession when the monastery’s choice of a new abbot would be revealed. The last monk to walk in wearing a pectoral cross would be the new abbot of Saint Anselm Abbey. If one of the laity was really in the know he or she would be able to figure out who the new abbot was before the end of the procession emerged. You could tell by who was missing in the regular order. (“Hey, the red-haired monk is not where he usually is!”) Saint Benedict’s rule was very explicit on community rank, and so the abbey’s procession followed seniority order, juniors first. In this regard, this could have taken place in the high Middle Ages.
And yet, the big reveal also was transmitted to hundreds watching a live webcast online, with over a thousand people having participated in a live chat. It seems everywhere I have gone in the past week, someone comes up and tells me they watched it on the web.
One of the most interesting and unbelievable things to me was that none of the hundreds of people in the church knew who the new abbot was until the procession entered from the monastery. In the weeks and months leading up to the event, I had said to many people planning the event that it was unlikely that we would pull off the surprise reveal that everyone was looking forward to. Yet, in the half hour or so following the election but before the Thanksgiving ceremony the identity of the new abbot did not leak.
While that may have been the most interesting aspect, the whole event as a whole was incredibly moving and joyous. People not only applauded when the monks and the new abbot processed in, they cheered. I expected applause, but not the cheers. Tuesday, June 5, 2012, Election Day, was truly one of the great days in the history of Saint Anselm Abbey and College.