Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas in a monastery...

New Melleray Abbey, sanctuary.
(sorry it is so pix-elated!)
A reader of this blog thought I should post more about monastic things, and I don't want to get yelled at for my silly posts - but there is not much to say - Trappists don't talk much.
Anyway, I remember several of Dom David's homilies during Advent, focusing upon the liturgy and Our Lady. (He was very much like Jane Hathaway's brother - she was the bank secretary in the "Beverly Hillbillies" - Fr. David was rather dry and a bit formal, although very friendly, and he really did have a sense of humor.) He is a hermit now I believe.
Nevertheless, after so many years, I can only recall there were no decorations in the Church - Trappists don't do that. Midnight Mass was solemn and very simple, in keeping with Cistercian tradition. After Mass we could go to the refectory for cookies and treats in silence. There was a sort of Charlie Brown tree in there, with lights. Nothing lavish. It was very quiet and nice. (No booze. For most - I do believe we had a couple of closet tipplers however.)
I quickly went to my cell to pray and go back to sleep.
Christmas day there may have been music in the refectory - for sure there was no work. I think the novices got together. I seem to remember Br. DJ got a butt-load of goodies from his parents - and we ate most of it. (He stashed more in his cell. Correction - DJ contacted me and told me he had long left the monastery at that point - so I guess someone else got the care package from mums and dadums - but DJ did have a stash of stuff in his cell - I know because I moved into it after he left! :) I was like Harry Potter at Hogwarts - I got nothing - and I wouldn't have wanted it otherwise.
I really liked it that way. I wanted to be so poor like the Infant Jesus, and I felt He granted my prayer. It was a special first Christmas in the monastery. It was there where I learned to love the silence and solitude of that Holy Night with all of it's simplicity. Later, as a pilgrim, poor and alone on Beacon Hill, passing the lighted and decorated houses of the gentry on my way to St. Anthony's on Arch Street for midnight Mass, I rejoiced in the same poverty and loneliness - so filled with the joy of the Nativity of Our Lord. I still prefer a quiet, contemplative Christmas.
It's a good thing.


  1. Lovely post. So Terry. Cistercians of the O.Cist. are, I am afraid, quite different from their Trappist cousins. There are always great banks of flowers and greens and candles. Special incense. Special vestments. The Night Office goes on and on and on and on. Of course, where wine is a matter of course at everyday meals, an outstandingly wonderful wine is brought out for Christmas.

  2. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, I have always found our dear strictioris observantiae brethren a little jansenistic. In a wildly baroque abbey church — I am thinking of some of our O.Cist churches in Austria and Bavaria and of some of the Cistercian churches in Spain too! Oh! catch your breath — one can hardly be jansenistic. It just doesn't fit the decor. All that exuberant optimism, all those musician angels, all those golden rays of light! My religion.

  3. I would say more protestant as opposed to jansenistic - the contemporary monasteries, that is.

  4. Michael7:50 PM

    Lovely post, indeed. Thank you. The icon, which we can barely make out in the photo, is exquisite.

  5. Did you know someone I know painted it?

  6. Michael8:16 PM

    Yes, I did know that someone you know painted it.

  7. Yes, the icon, dear Terry, is THE SAVING GRACE of that church . . . together with the adorable presence of Our Lord behind the wall, I mean. The icon of the Mother of God painted by her very dear child and beloved servant brings a redeeming note of tenderness and warmth into the church. Someone who knows the someone you know who painted the icon waited all afternoon for someone to call but no one did and somebody was sad.


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