Born in Sablé on April 4, 1805, Prosper Guéranger frequently made Solesmes the destination of his childhood walks, drawn by the charm of the church building and its life-sized saints in stone. Though as a child he never imagined himself a monk, he loved the solitude of the place. Aspiring first to the priesthood, a precocious vocation led him, after his high school studies in Angers, to the seminary in Le Mans. There, he was drawn intensely to the study of Church history, and soon he discovered what the institution of monasticism had been. Contact with the great scholarly works of the Maurists soon awoke in him a real desire for the monastic life.
Ordained a priest in 1827 (Guéranger was only 22 years old at the time, so that his bishop had to obtain a canonical dispensation), he pursued his work as the bishop’s secretary in Paris and in Le Mans. In 1831, learning that the priory at Solesmes was destined to destruction for lack of a buyer, the idea came to him to find the means to acquire it and to take up the Benedictine life again. With the help of a few friends and encouraged by his bishop, he gathered together – with considerable difficulty – enough money to rent the monastery property, and subsequently moved in with three companions on July 11, 1833.
The fledgling community encountered, of course, difficult times. But its young prior, borne up by his absolute confidence in Providence, by his humility and by his natural mirth and optimism, proved to possess a calm tenacity. Without copying the past in a servile way, he took inspiration from solid monastic traditions pursuing above all the true spirit of St Benedict while accepting several very necessary material adaptations to modern times. As a result, by his uncommon intuition of the benedictine charism, liturgy and spiritual life, he became a living example to his monks. As for temporal matters, Solesmes’ first friends saw to the most urgent needs. They inaugurated a second and long list of the monastery’s benefactors: the Cosnards, the Landeaus, the Gazeaus, Mme Swetchine, Montalembert, the Marquis of Juigné, and so many others who thought constantly of the monks.
After a four-year tryout Dom Guéranger went to Rome, in 1837, to ask the Vatican for official recognition of Solesmes as a benedictine community. Rome not only granted Dom Guéranger’s request, but on its own initiative raised Solesmes from the status of priory to that of an abbey making it the head of a new Benedictine Congregation de France, successor to the Congregations of St. Maurus and St. Vanne as well as the more venerable and ancient family of monasteries belonging to Cluny. On July 26, Dom Guéranger made his solemn profession in the presence of the abbot of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. From then on began a new period in the history of Solesmes.
-Taken from the website of Saint Peter’s Abbey of Solesmes
Apart from the monumental work of establishing the Solemn Congregation, we have a great deal to thank the venerable incorrupt Abbot. First we owe to him and his congregation the restoration of Gregorian Chant to the modern world, and the immense work which they undertook culminated in the contents of the Liber Usualis. And which was then promulgated by Saint Pope Pius X in his Motu Proprio: Tra le Sollecitudini. And which was then wonderfully implemented in the United States in particular using the Ward Method, which was so successful that by the 1940’s and 50’s the vast majority of Catholic School children could not only sing Gregorian Chant, but many could even sing Polyphony!
And if all this wasn’t enough Gueranger also made another contribution to the Church which is nothing short of epic, and which is certainly his great masterpiece, his massive fifteen volume work: The Liturgical Year. You can purchase a high quality edition of the 15 Volumes from Loreto Publications here.
Some Websites/Pages devoted to The Liturgical Year:
The Liturgical Year . org
The Liturgia Latina Project
Public Domain out of print editions of The Liturgical Year on the Internet:
A wonderful companion to The Liturgical Year is his work: Explanation of Holy Mass.