Saturday, August 10, 2013

I took the opportunity last Saturday and Sunday during a family-business trip to Western New York State to visit a Trappist monastery for some "hours" of prayer.

It had been 25 years since I visited this monastery, but the thing about monasteries is that they don't change much. For the record, my six year old daughter who accompanied me agreed that not much had changed in that span of time!

As if she would know!

Large, wooden doors can't keep out the world!

Saturday morning we arrived about an hour too early for Sext, or sixth hour prayer, which the monks observe at 11:15. We killed time visiting the gift shop and walking the grounds. The woman in the gift shop gave my daughter a couple of items for free.

She said it was in honor of "Our Lady." I thought she was probably a little too generous. Maybe they don't receive many youngsters. Of the archangel images, my daughter picked St. Gabriel and the only way I could tell them apart was from the first letter down the side, "Γ," gamma. I bought some cookies to bring to the family party later that afternoon.

Walking the grounds, we found many sections marked off as private, as you might expect. But we were free to walk along a path that connected the abbey with the retreat houses about a half-mile off. We went against the current initially, as several retreatants passed us on their way to prayer. Then as the hour of prayer approached, we turned back.

Of course, in the abbey's receiving room, one can wait by the hour without any sense of wearing out one's welcome. There's no need to make oneself "scarce."

Rustic hall to sanctuary

Windows from glass bottles, maybe of Genny Light1

Years ago, I'd bought the psalter that the abbey uses. I'm not sure how I came across it, maybe from the Paulist Press catalog. I liked the print type used2. And sure enough, when we entered the sanctuary for Sext, each place had a copy of that psalter available for use.

These days there are about 30 monks at the abbey. Mostly, they bake bread. Most are old, but some are young. They were founded from the Merton-famous Gethsemani in KY. I don't recall whether Merton ever visited, but Henri Nouwen wrote his Genesee diaries there.

Sext is brief and there were plenty of aids so I didn't have to work to hard to participate. A monk sang two lines and then the rest sang two lines, alternating that way. The melody was simple, the voices soft and gentle. This was not a performance in any way. One sensed that, of course, the monks would pray thus with or without non-Trappists present. They certainly didn't resent the public's presence. There wasn't even a sense of encouraging our participation beyond making sure everything was done properly. Crib notes at all the places with tips for participating.

The following morning, Sunday, we arrived in time for Terce, or third hour prayer, which segued gracefully into mass with the Gloria, Creed, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin. Although many knew those Latin prayers, only the monks sang them. About a dozen monks presided as ordained priests. The readings were the same as elsewhere (Luke 12:13-21), but the sermon was made more powerful when preached by someone who lived so authentically meekness and simplicity. Here, my cynicism was met with integrity, at least 30 times over. If that weren't enough, they sang the Lord's Prayer in a way that didn't make me sick to my stomach. I can no longer say that I've never heard it sung well.

Geneseo and environs

The monks' website

1 My brother works for Genesee Beer
2 There's a sample on the cover, or Amazon allows a peek inside.


RAnn said...

Thanks for sharing with us

Carol@simple_catholic said...

Beautiful pictures. I would love to spend some time in the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of a monastery. :}