Dom Prosper Guéranger restored monastic life at Solesmes in 1833. He was born in Sablé on 4 April 1805 and hence knew Solesmes well.
He went to seminary in Le Mans, was ordained to the priesthood in 1827 and was fascinated by Church history. Guéranger’s desire to lead monastic life was first sparked by discovering a historical period when monasticism had flourished and by coming into contact with the great works published by the Maurists. When in 1831 he heard that the priory of Solesmes was about to be demolished, he thought of buying it himself to live Benedictine life there. Helped by some friends and encouraged by his bishop, he scraped together enough money to rent the monastery and moved in with three companions on 11 July 1833. The small community was penniless, lacked prestige to attract vocations and, above all, had no experience of monastic life. Guéranger was its superior for twenty-eight years even though he had never received a monastic formation. Had the undertaking not been an act of faith, it would have been utter madness. But the young Prior Guéranger had a very sound sense for all things Benedictine, for the liturgy, and for the spiritual life. He was therefore a living example for his monks.
The Holy See recognized the authentic Benedictine nature of the Solesmes community in 1837, erecting the small priory as an abbey and appointing Guéranger as head of the French Congregation of the Order of St Benedict, which was established by the same decree. A few days later, Dom Guéranger made his solemn profession between the hands of the abbot of St Paul-outside-the Walls in Rome on 26 July.
Helped by Cécile Bruyère, Dom Guéranger founded the Abbey of Sainte-Cécile, near the Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, in 1866. This monastery went on to make foundations, thus resulting in the female branch of the Solesmes Congregation.
Guéranger's daily teaching and many publications were inspired by contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation. The liturgy was a special focus for his attention. He explained liturgical spirituality to the Christian people in The Liturgical Year, which is his most famous book. He also published Institutions Liturgiques, setting out the relationship between the liturgy and the Church's faith and unity. With this book, Dom Guéranger helped France’s dioceses return to the Roman liturgy.
Dom Guéranger had a special love for the papacy. His Mémoire sur l'Immaculée Conception (On the Immaculate Conception) drew the attention of Pope Pius IX, who asked him to help prepare this Marian dogma, which was proclaimed on 8 December 1854. At the First Vatican Council in 1870, Guéranger set out the Patristic witness in support of the Roman Pontiff’s infallibility.
Guéranger also had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart, which he regarded as the best remedy against Jansenism and was one of the reasons for his interest in St Gertrude and other mystical authors.
At Dom Guéranger’s initiative from 1862 onwards, some of his disciples were sent out to look for the sources of the Church's liturgical chant, thus setting Solesmes on a path that would lead to the restoration of Gregorian chant and the publication of its repertoire.
He died on 30 January 1875 at the age of 69. His body is buried in the crypt of our abbey church and his heart lies in the sanctuary of the church at Sainte-Cécile de Solesmes.
Several biographies of Dom Guéranger have been written: by Dom Delatte, by Dom Louis Soltner, and finally by Dom Guy Oury.
Prayer for the Beatification of Dom Prosper Guéranger:
God our Father, your servant Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes, guided by the Holy Spirit, helped a multitude of your faithful people rediscover the meaning of the liturgy as the source of true Christian life. May his devotion to your Holy Church
and his filial love for the Immaculate Virgin, inspired by the mystery of the Incarnate Word, be a light for Christians of our own day. Deign, O Lord, to grant the favour we ask you by his intercession, so that his sanctity may be recognized by all and that the Church may soon allow us to invoke him as the one of your blessed and one of your saints. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.