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When he was Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey, our Bishop Hugh Gilbert published two books based on the conferences he had delivered over the years to his monastic community, along with a few homilies. The first book, Unfolding the Mystery, covers the main seasons and solemnities of the liturgical year; the second, Living the Mystery, deals with the Christian life and how to live it more authentically.

Unfolding the Mystery

GRACEWING PUBLISHING | ISBN 978 0 85244 093 3 | £9.99

The Liturgy is the summit and source of the Church’s life, said the Second Vatican Council, and the liturgy unfolds its riches within an annual pattern: the Church’s year. Here our life, lived in time, can meet and mingle with the life of Christ communicated in time. In Benedictine monasteries, the liturgical year shapes the whole life of the community. In these community conferences and homilies a Benedictine abbot shares with fellow-monks and fellow-Christians something of the wealth of the mystery of Christ as the liturgy unfolds it.

It is of immense satisfaction to those who have long appreciated Abbot Hugh’s work that he has so generously agreed to share his insights with a wider public.

“Thanks to the Holy Spirit,” writes Abbot Hugh, “the paschal mystery remains a present, operative reality in human history, a spring of living water, flowing out of the ‘paradise’ of the liturgy and watering the desert of the human heart and human life. It is this which gives our liturgies, so often humanly poor (what else can they be?), their divine value …”

It is this unfolding of the mystery of Christ that the following conferences and homilies hope to serve in some small way.

Extracts from reviews of this book:

“Religious communities are also families. Here the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey addresses his brethren in a series of informal talks that highlight aspects of the Christian calendar. It is good for lay people to be reminded that they do not live for work, for weekends or for holidays, but according to the great feasts that give meaning to our sometimes frenetic lives. Dom Hugh suggest that modern culture “restricts the public expression of religion to definite times and places – this is unnatural.” Indeed so; but prayer is always the link between the two. As the author states: “Lack of prayer is the single great cause of the world’s unhappiness. Now that our mandarins have decreed that “happiness” should be taught in schools, I would suggest this book as an essential text.”

Francis Phillips, Theotokos Books

 “A theme which soon emerges and is maintained throughout is that “our whole time becomes sanctified time” (p. 38). Prayer is not something we do for specific times and then switch off as if we could return to secular life – no, the set times of prayer serve to leaven the whole day so that we are never out of the presence of God. In the same way the various moments of our Redemption, celebrated in the various seasons, suffuse and interpenetrate the entire year. Thus “it is always Epiphany” (p. 49) “always Lent, always Easter” (p. 107), “Pentecost is now, too” (p. 106-7), “the Parousia is among us, in the Eucharist” (p. 142). The Eucharist is indeed the key to it all, for in the Mass we are brought into the presence of Our Lord’s birth, death and resurrection, His ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the final consummation of all things. All time is always sanctified: there is no such thing as ‘ordinary time’”.

Jerome Bertram C.O. Faith magazine

 “These conferences, delivered originally to Abbot Hugh’s monastic ‘family’, are of immense relevance to Christians looking for props to underpin their lives of faith in an alien society, to help quench their thirst, and, above all, to give the beleaguered Christian, surrounded by the values of a hostile, secular world, a spiritual shot in the arm of hope, consolation and reawakened joy in his/her faith. Gleaned from Abbot Hugh’s wide experience as monk, novice-master, abbot and lover of the liturgy, they are accessible to any seeker after enlightenment.”

Newman Association Magazine

“This is wisdom.” – Dom Aldhelm Cameron-Brown, Pax

“Dom Hugh’s book reaches some high moments of reflection” – Downside Review

“This is meat, at last!” – Sisters of the Gospel of Life

“An outstanding set of spiritual meditations on the liturgical year which has recently been published is … … his work draws on the riches of the monastic tradition and its spirituality in order to provide us with a deeply insightful set of reflections.” – The Sower

 “As an old lady of 79, I can truthfully say that no spiritual book has affected me so much since I read Fr Martindale, SJ, when I was in my teens” (Anon).

 Living the Mystery

GRACEWING PUBLISHING | ISBN 978 085244 692 8 | £9.99

In this book, Abbot Hugh reflects before his monastic brethren on some of the elements common to the life of all Christians – from baptism to the hope of eternal life. Here it is a question of Living the Mystery, of allowing the revelation of Christ in us, present in the Church, to take possession of our whole life, personal and social. These reflections “are no more than ‘markers’ on the Christian way, attempts to say something, while we wait, about ‘the gifts that lie within our comprehension’.”

As Abbot Hugh states, these reflections ‘are no more than “markers” on the Christian way, attempts to say something, while we wait, about “the gifts that lie within our comprehension”.’  But if they help stir a fresh sense of the goodness, truth and beauty of these gifts, if they help any to live with understanding and joy the mystery “which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed” (Rom 16:25-6), ‘this mystery, in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27), their author will feel blessed himself.


 “This second publication encourages greater awareness in our daily lives of the mysteries we already share, making explicit that which is so often obscured by sheer day-to-day existence. These conferences and homilies they give a unique insight into the workings of monastic life while still very much retaining their relevance for those of us who live in the world in whatever capacity. Since they were intended for oral delivery, they are refreshingly direct and accessible.

“His reflections begin and end with homilies on Our Lady; the prologue is on the Immaculate Conception and the epilogue on the Assumption, thus the start of the great mystery of our salvation and the end, the fulfilment, in which we all hope to share. Comparing God to a gardener, Abbot Hugh likens Mary to rich soil and Christ the Tree of Life that is to be planted. And that which the Holy Spirit did for Mary, He also does for us, through baptism: the rock of Original Sin is removed and the seed of grace is planted within us so that we “become a soil where the Tree of Life can take root”. This book is all about enriching the soil, and its three sections are conceived in terms of being Rooted, Growing and Bearing Fruit.

“Part I: Rooted begins by inviting the reader to explore what we mean by Christianity and concludes that it is essentially a knowledge of and relationship with the person of Christ.

“In Part II: Growing, the painfully real experience of those small faults and failings that plague us and wear us down are also explored with originality, compassion, realism and humour-these faults ‘are left to humble us. They’re left to prevent other people confusing us with Christ and therefore ceasing to live by faith’.
“Part III: Bearing Fruit examines how this deepening awareness of the spiritual life bears fruit in prayer and, indeed, how necessary lectio and the liturgy are in order for us to remain rooted as Christians, especially in these days when free expression of faith is becoming less acceptable in the public forum. In short, this compact volume comes highly recommended. Drawing from Hopkins to Waugh, Mackay Brown to Kierkegaard, as well as the Fathers of the Church, faith is strengthened, understanding deepened and a real, living relationship with Christ becomes a truly achievable ambition.”

Sr Andrea Fraile, Faith magazine  

To order copies of Unfolding the Mystery (on The Tablet Books of the Year list) and Living the Mystery (£12 each, incl. P&P) please contact Br Matthew at Pluscarden Abbey, ELGIN, Moray IV30 8UA.