I have just confirmed a few days’ stay at my local Benedictine Monastery this September. I was wondering whether anyone on the forum has stayed at one before, and what did they learn from the experience? I am discerning the priesthood but feel it important to spend some time where I can devote myself fully to a life of prayer.
I don’t know how much help I will be but I have spent time in a few. My school is attatched to one as well so I attend the abbey church on sundays and for vespers services etc. They are peaceful places with much prayer as I am sure you know. Benedictine houses engage in a good deal of work during the daytime. unless you are there for a kind of immersion experience you will probably not have much to do during those long gaps. I would reccomend taking some spiritual reading and preparing to spend some large periods of quiet time. I doubt I need to tell you this but, go to all of the prayers of the day and mass rather than spending all of your time taking walks and sitting around like it is a resort hotel. nobody will force you, but prayer is the reason to be there. sorry if this is not helpful, just some suggestions.
Thank you for your advice. I will be going to all the prayers and Mass and also for quiet reflection and prayer. I am very much looking forward to my stay and hope to learn a lot from it.
I spent a few days at one doing an ethnographic study for an anthropology class. It was a really neat experience. Since my interests were more academic than spiritual, I’m not sure what advice I’d give except to do what they do as much as you’re able, and try to learn how to use a breviary before you go.
I’m not sure what I can say I’ve learned from staying at the monastery. It’s more the experience of being in a peaceful, prayerful place with peaceful, prayerful people. At my monastery it’s open as far as how much or how little you want to participate in prayers. Everyone is welcome but no one is pressured to participate. So you can attend all, some, or none of the prayer times or Mass times. For me, getting into the prayerful rhythm of the day is a huge benefit.
Firstly, you’re right to be excited, it’ll be a fantastic experience, especially if this is your first time at a monastery.
Benedictine houses are independent, they aren’t an Order in the sense that the Jesuits or the Dominicans are an Order, with a centralised leadership and common life. A Benedictine is simply defined as such due to following the Rule of St. Benedict, and having vowed Obedience, Chastity and Stability to a community. Therefore, Benedictine houses are all over the spectrum as to how they approach and interpret the Rule, ranging from very strict and literal (the Cistercians and Trappists come to mind), highly traditional (Barroux Abbey and Clear Creek are two examples) or somewhat on the “relaxed” side (the English Benedictine Congregation - EBC, often joked to stand for “Every Bodily Comfort”).
A long retreat will do wonders for your discernment (it did for mine!).
Spiritual reading and the Sacred Scriptures will be made available in your cell/room, and more will be provided on demand, though you may wish to bring your own as well (I have found this to be consistent in all the houses I have visited).
As for the breviary, it all depends as to how these monks go about their Office, some houses use the LOTH, others use the traditional psalm ordering as set out in the Rule, others even have put together their own mish-mash Office - best if you ask in advance. If the priesthood you are considering is the diocesan one, it might be worth getting your hands and LOTH breviary or a Breviarium Romanum (whichever you prefer) and learn to use it - there may well be some Offices that the community prefer to pray privately or away from guests, and you’ll need the LOTH for seminary / normal Catholic life anyway. For the monastery specifically, the monks will provide you with all the materials to follow their Office.
Usual practice in Benedictine houses is that guests are left alone - in fact, the Rule specifies that only the Guest Master or the Abbot may speak with them. If you need anything, go through the Guest Master and only speak to the Abbot if spoken to - though this again depends on the house’s practice. I’d highly reccomend asking for manual labour duties as soon as you arrive - it may take a few days to sort out and you’ll be grateful for the duties to focus your mind in the middle of so much quiet space in the day.
Learn Lectio Divina! This is a typically Benedictine practice and will fill up your days, especially your manual labour. If you get some idea of it before going, you’ll really get a lot out of the long stretches of space. Related to this, is the fact that the monks are usually engaging in their second or third period of Lectio during their work time. Therefore, if your have duties, do not speak to a monk unless spoken to if you can avoid it (as they will be busy praying and meditating while working - as should you!)
But really, ignore all that I said, and just show up. The Guest Master will be certain to brief you and you’ll learn fast.
What monastery are you heading to?
Oremus pro invicem!
I am staying at the Benedictine Friary in Chilworth, Surrey. Fr John Seddon OSB has been very helpful, though I do have a question. Is thete a dress code to adhere to?
Eyy! Chilworth are part of the Subiaco-Cassinese congregation, the same as Farnborough Abbey, where I spend more time than is healthy! They are good lads, they follow the Rule and they’ll take good care of you.
Are you discerning for a diocese? I was an A&B seminarian until January.
Also, Chilworth Abbey is the home of the benedictines (as they are run by an Abbot). Chilworth Friary is where the Franciscans live, as they are friars.
No particular dress code - bring tough clothes for manual labour, wellies, waterproofs, and smart-ish clothes for the rest of the time (especially for Holy Mass!). Consider brining a suit for Sundays.
If you’ve been accepted for a diocese by the time you get there (which means you can call yourself a seminarian), you might be able to persuade the Abbot that wearing a cassock is entirely proper!
There is a Trappist abbey outside of Atlanta, known for it’s bonsai trees. My favorite feature however is the Giant rose window in the abbey over the Choir. It is made out of chunks or rough blocks of glass. Really beautiful! I would like to start taking in a few retreats myself.
I have only recently rediscovered my faith in the Catholic Church, so my stay is for learning. I have not been accepted by a diocese yet. I have not asked to do any manual labour duties, but thank you for reminding me to do that.
How many times have you been there? Do guests have their own cells/room?
If you’re discerning a monastic vocation you should bear in mind that it’s as much about discerning a particular abbey as it is the order. Monastics take a of stability which basically means that you’re expected to stay in the same monastery basically for life… If you haven’t done so already I’d recommend checking out Compass Points group compass-points.org.uk/