Monks & Holidays


I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading about monastic communities and surfing monastery websites. I was a bit surprised to find out that in some communities monks get days off and even leave the monastery and go on holiday. Should I have been surprised by this? I thought monks made a commitment to live the monastic life and not to take time off. I know I’m not expressing this too well but am quite surprised at this. It wasn’t all monasteries by the way just some.


I was of the same thought. I guess I was thinking strictly about cloistered communities. There are monks who get out and about in the general public.


Maybe they go on holiday to a different monastery?


I know priests in religious orders who go to visit their parents and fill in for the parish priest who can then go on a holiday or retreat. At the same time the priest baptises his nieces and nephews and witness the marriage of his cousin or other relative. Mum´s food must be pretty good to keep the priest going, even when he is on holiday. :joy:

In some countries, X days of holidays are regulated by law and need to be followed. Sisters and brothers in some communities might go on a holiday every third/fourth year if parents and other relatives live in another country that is expensive to travel to and stay for a month instead of a week. Holidays are mostly to visit family and relatives. When their parents have passed away, they might instead go to the motherhouse or a different monastery or spend time researching somewhere or something else altogether. It really depends upon the monastery and the brother/sister what is possible.

All religious pray the LotH every day and priests celebrate Mass every day when on holiday. An older priest showed me his Mass travel kit and said that during the 50 years he had been a priest, there were only two days when he didn’t celebrate Mass. Those two days he was in a hospital and not allowed to eat or drink.


Many visit their families when on holiday. Same as with religious women. In fact, that is a frequent question of those considering (non-cloistered) religious life.


The holidays can be everywhere from a week a year to a week every 10 years. Somtimes the monks are required to use this only in case of deaths in the family and other times it is just for relaxation and allowance is additionally made for family crises.


Technically “monks” refers to cloistered brothers or priests. “Brothers” and “fathers/priests” are active (not cloistered). In the same way, “nuns” are cloistered, while “sisters” are active.


As a layman and observing monks for a long time, I would think the answer to your question depends on the order. For instance, many cloistered orders are strict as to remaining within the cloister. The Benedictines, for instance, on the other hand, allow monks family leave time, personal leave time, sabbaticals, do outreach programs, staff parishes, and do missionary work. Monks, at least the ones I am familiar with, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And a fourth vow, a vow of stability. They are obedient to and answerable to the monastery to which they profess their final solemn vows.
The Benedictine monastery at St. Vincent in western PA was the first Benedictine monastery in the US. They staff any number of parishes, staff a high school in Georgia, and staff the recognized Catholic community at Penn State University. In addition to a University in China, and various functions in Brazil. When their term of service is over, they return to the monastery at St. Vincent. This is the living out of the Benedictine creed of “to work is to pray”. Their work is primarily education. Other communities have other protocols. As I said, depends on the monastery.


I confess to a wry smile when I noticed that our nearby Franciscan Friars seem to do more globe trotting in a year than I’ve ever done…but I also don’t feed the hungry or clothe the poor with anywhere near their level of dedication so fair’s fair!


I think monks are in cloistered communities. Friars, brothers and others like the Jesuits work outside their houses. That is why it surprised me about monks.


Benedictines, I do know, take three vows. One is obedience. Another is stability, which is to stay within the same community for life. The third is conversion of life (the Latin term is often used, I’ve noticed) and that is to constantly strive to live the monastic life and it includes the poverty and chastity, which Benedictines don’t take as separate vows. Of course, most religious do take religious vows based on the evangelical (gospel) counsels.


I lived as a postulant and novice in a Benedictine monastery for just over two years (a few decades ago now).

We had “days off” as in solemnities were always a day off, as well as the Octaves of Easter and Christmas. But having a day off didn’t mean we could grab the keys to one of the two vehicles we owned and go into town to see a movie or grab a latte while window shopping.

Our days off were days with as few chores as possible and extra recreation – the younger nuns use to play softball or basketball, or go for walks through the pastures or cornfields. In the winter we’d have snowball fights, or spend an afternoon building snow creatures.

Our monastery was contemplative, but except for our large back garden and the nuns’ enclosure in the main building, guests had access to everywhere we could go – the barnyard, the pastures, the chapel, etc.

Each sister got one week of “vacation” at a cabin in the mountains that a benefactor gave us. It was a tiny little place, and three sisters were sent up at a time in the summer. Two of us had to sleep on the floor! A small enclosed porch acted as our little chapel for praying the Divine Office.

While at the cabin, we were allowed to go for hikes, sometimes even driving to nearby trailheads that led up to the Continental Divide. We could also drive to mass on the days mass was offered some ten miles away. But we were always home for Sunday mass with the community.

Each sister, after she made her solemn profession (lifelong vows) was sent to Germany for three months, to the abbey in Eichstatt that founded our community in the 1930s. While there, each nun was taught one of the crafts that had been practiced in that abbey for centuries. One sister learned to weave tapestries, another to make rather ornate vestments.

I’m sure it is different for the men’s communities that are involved in active ministries outside the monastery. But even as contemplatives, we still had our “vacation” times. :smiley:


Tell me about it, I can never get in touch with my Friar brothers when I ring them, they are either running soup kitchens, clothing the poor or like you said globetrotting or most importantly praying.


This is actually the colloquial usage, not necessarily the technical usage. The technical usage of ‘monk’ has broadened slightly in the past hundred years or so. A monk is any religious who belongs to a monastery. In modern times, not all monasteries are fully cloistered. I know of Augustinian Recollects who are considered monks even though they are able to travel outside of their monastery. They live and work in the monastery, but are free to leave the monastery if something is needed. "Brother’ is a catch-all term for any male religious just as ‘sister’ is a catch-all term for any female religious. All male monks are brothers but not all brothers are monks. So too with priests. There are both active and contemplative priests. Thomas Merton was a brother, monk, and a priest. ‘Nun’ is a little different. Nuns are technically differentiated by the types of vows they take. The vows of Nuns are solemn, that is, they can only be dispensed by the pope. Mother Theresa was a nun before she received her papal dispensation and left her monastery to work with the poor. Some female religious orders allow their sisters to decide if they wish to be nuns or just sisters. Other orders have their sisters become nuns at their final, solemn profession.

There can also be female monks, although this usage is not as popular. It has to do with where they live and work. A monastery is the focus of the life and work of a religious order. Their lives are encapsulated within the monastery. Thus, all fully cloistered sisters are, in fact, also monks. Convents are houses of religious orders where the Order lives, but works outside of it’s walls. Both male and female orders have convents. My own order does, and I know that there is even an order of Franciscans that are called Conventual Franciscans, named as such because they live in a convent and work out with the people.


Someone may be able to take a vacation from the monastery but no one takes a vacation from their vocation.


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