Any Monasteries still have Lay Brothers?

Lately, I’ve been feeling a call to some kind of lay brotherhood, a calling involving poverty, chastity, obedience, manual labour, and not involving the priesthood.

Are there any monasteries which still have a distinctive group of lay brothers who live under a specific rule? I think historically the Cluniac and Carthusian monks had this distinction, having lay brothers who cooked, cleaned and dealt with the running of the place so that the choir monks could dedicate themselves totally to prayer and contemplation. I know the Carthusian brothers in England do manual labour though, which I guess is because they don’t have any lay brothers any more to do this for them. It does seem like a radically counter-cultural thing to do in our democratic, egalitarian society.

I’ve felt that a real temptation in my life is intellectual pride. I’m studying for my PhD, and the secular course of my life would be to go into lecturing or policy consultancy. At the same time, I know everything I’ve ever written has been intellectually dishonest. I have a real passion for physical work in the service of God. I’ve never been happier than when cooking at the nightshelter or cleaning the Church. The idea of really quashing this under a discipline which was traditionally reserved for men referred to as illiterati or even idioti, in order to support the most holy work of priests religious would be wonderful.

Anybody know of any monasteries that still have lay brothers? I don’t mean lay brothers who are waiting to begin their training as priests, but a permanent division of lay monks and choir monks.

Benedictine monks in Collegeville, MN (near St Cloud) at St John’s University.

They are big on education, so your PhD will fit in with their lifestyle, you could be asked to teach at St John’s University, nearby College of St Benedict (women’s school) or the St John’s Prep school.

Many monasteries have lay people that support them. Whether they be associates, oblates, or something else varies monastery to monastery. You best bet would to be to figure out which monastery you would like to support and contact someone at that monastery. They would be able to tell you which organization is best to join for them.

Thanks Marauder. I’m really looking for somewhere that still has full-time lay brothers who live under a rule of poverty, chastity and obedience though. Know of anywhere like that?

It all depends on exactly what you want. As an example, there is a Franciscan monastary near me. Lay people support it on multiple levels. The KoC provides support in various ways. There is a SFO fraternity that meets there that provides additional support in many ways (all of which are dedicated to a life of poverty, chastity and obediance). Lay people just show up and help in multiple ways. There are also non-priest brothers that are also members of the order that actually live in the monestary.

There is another Franciscan monastery near me that has an official group called the Knights of Mount St. Sepulchre that support them. They also have a garden guild that is responsable for the gardens.

If you are specifically looking to assist at a Monestary and be affiliated with it officially in some way, it is best to contact your local Monestary. They can tell you what is best for them.

Of course this is assuming you are wanting to help at a monestary and still live at home. If you want to live at the monestary itself and not become a brother/monk/friar then I am not sure about that.

The Carmelite monastery close to my home, in my parish, is a place that has 11 priests, 4 students and 4 lay brothers. The lay Carmelites that live there are wonderful, every day before Mass they clean up, bring everything the priest would need, they are present at two, three, four masses a day (Sunday or holidays), since the church is open all day long, they sometimes talk and pray with the people that come there…They are true servants.

I think that such a vocation is an excellent road to sainthood.

The Benedictine Monastery I am doing my Oblation through is setting up a lay associate program that involves living at the Monastery. I can’t remember if the lay associates would cook, clean, garden, etc but I think they do. The Oblate Director would know exactly what the lay associates would do - I can check with him if you would like.

Marauder - a lay brother is a very different thing to a secular member of a religious order.

In essence lay brothers are the male version of nuns - monks, brothers and nuns are all rightly called ‘lay’ in the sense that they’re not ordained clergy (not priests or deacons), which is what the word ‘lay’ means.

Lay brothers usually live in community, wear the habit of whichever order (different from a nun’s habit of course!), and take vows of poverty chastity (meaning celibacy in their case - they cannot marry) and obedience. None of which applies to secular members of a religious order.

Having said that, I’m sure plenty of monasteries would have lay brothers - I know of at least one or two in this diocese that do. Good luck in your search, DL.

In *Voices of Silence: Lives of the Trappists Today *, a couple monks lament the loss of their lay brother status, which had apparently been abolished with Vatican II. They felt that their vocation had been stolen from them.

DL82 mentioned the Carthusians, and I found a page discussing the changes which Vatican II brought to the order:

  1. The Status of the Professed Laybrothers Vows was juridically unified with that of the Professed Fathers. For coenobitic orders like the Benedictines and Trappists, this meant that the Brothers were now considered “full” monks and their was not distinction of Choir Monk and Lay Brother. All, technically are exactly the same, some attend more Divine Office and work less and have more study time, others attend less Office work more and have less study time. This is regulated by the Abbot for the spiritual wellbeing of the individual monk. Most importantly, the Brothers were given the right to vote in any matter before the conventual chapter requiring a vote. Election of Abbots, Profession of Vows, Admission of Novices, and any communal business requiring the advice and consent of the community.

  2. With the Carthusians, this “unification” could not take that form, since from their beginnings, they have always had two distinctly complementary forms of eremetical vocation. That of the Cloister Monks was centered on a highly structured literary-oriented, clerical, solitary life with the obligation of the full Choir Office and sacred study as a primary focus, in a very fixed solitude of the enclosed self-contained “Cell” complex. The Lay Monk vocation was that of a more free-style mobile hermit, with less structure, greater freedom and variety, focused on contemplation through manual labor, like many of the Desert Fathers. From the beginning the Carthusians believed these were both true hermit charisms within the same Charterhouse, and were perfectly ordered to care for all the needs of their communities, with the spiritual and administrative aspects cared for by the Cloister Monks and the temporal and domestic aspects cared for by the Lay Monks.

Thanks, that’s what I’m looking for :thumbsup:

It seems like Vatican II has got rid of most of these distinctions, and this monastery is finding a way to restore what it sees as a lost vocation.

Indeed. The Oblate Director is on a trip at the moment, but he should be back soon. I will let you know the details once I hear back from him. :cool:

Yes; the Discalced Carmelite Friars include lay brothers who remain so. Here is a link to their vocation site for Great Britain:

I was not aware that the Trappists have no more Lay Brothers.
They are not all Priests, however, so do not the remaining men,
altough not called Lay Brothers anymore, still carry out the
work performed originally by those Lay Brothers? They have got
to do something! I do know they get to pray more, yes. But they
probably do continue some forms of manual labor. Obviously,
they dont have servants…
I am almost certain that the Carthusions & perhaps also the
Camoldolese still have some sort of Lay Brothers. Not all the
members are Hermits. Some live a common live in a monastery
and take care of their Brother Hermits & of building repairs,
farming, etc. However, the types of work they do, I think, depends
on the country they are in. If I think of any other Orders or
Communities, I will add them later.
And yes, I know what you mean about intellectual pride…
A good Superior in a good community will be able to help you
with that.

Depending on the population of professed members overal, when the need arises, and manual work is preventing choir monks from prayer, monks like the trappists,cathusians, and Benedictine Monastaries will vary the size of lay, working brothers.

Dennis, sfo

The Cistercian monastery I am discerning with is definitely open to the possibility of lay brothers (they have one discerner in contact in that vein), but at this point consists only of priests and candidates for the priesthood.

The TOR Franciscans as FUS have (had?, its been a while) two lay friars who opperated as lay brothers in the Friary (and were rarely seen outside it).

It is my understanding that since the Council, the distinctions between priest monks and non ordained monks, or laybrothers that made absolutely no sense were eliminated. Therefore, Brothers were trained to chant the liturgy of the hours, were allowed to do all tasks in the monastery not reserved to priestly ordination, were not simply consigned to the most menial tasks, were allowed to upgrade their educations, and, very importantly, were given votes in chapter, so that they could elect abbots.
There has also been, in most monasteries, more emphasis on the religious, monastic, vocation as complete in itself. Before, all choir monks were automatically destined for the priesthood. Lay brothers did not have to say the office, and usually did not.
Now, all monks are choir monks, bound to the liturgy of the hours.
In the case of the Carthusians, the distinction between ordained choir monks and non ordained laybrothers remains, but each charterhouse, or Carthusian monastery, cannot exist without the complementary vocation of the lay brothers. By the way, there is normally only one type of vocation in the case of women religious, but here too, the Carthusian nuns, for the same reason as the monks, are an exception.
In addition, many monasteries have had, and some still have, claustral oblates, who bind themselves to the monastery not by formal profession, but by some other means. They normally wear a modified version of the habit. I believe the Trappists at the Abbey of the Genesee have one monk in this category.
Good luck with your search.

We have retired Benedictine (lay, non-priest) Brother in our church. He is very involved but I’m not sure how much authority he has in the local church structure. He likes to be called Brother, but since he left his order, should he still have the title?

No, the man you are speaking about left his Benedictine order and as a result is no longer a Brother with the Benedictines. You can call the Diocese and see if he really is if you so desire.

Well, I don’t want to disrespect the old fellow!


1 Peter 5:5 - In the same way, younger people, be subject to the elders. Humility towards one another must be the garment you all wear constantly, because God opposes the proud but accords his favour to the humble.

Over educated why you posting so early in the morning. I still call him Brother even though I don’t like it, I’ll contact our old pastor and ask him the stance on Brother.

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