Tag Archives: Benedictines

The changing face of the monastic life

OSB monk.jpgA Spiegel Online article of January 25, 2007 looks into the monastic life from the German perspective: fewer monks and nuns professing vows and more lay people for a way to make sesne of their lives. The experience of the monks and nuns in Europe, in this case Germany, is not unlike the experience one can have in monasteries in the USA when it comes to diminishing numbers, lack of vision and hope for the future, and with plentiful  examples of liturgical & theological dissent. One can’t forget that so many of the ’68ers are still in charge.

But not all is bunk as there are a number of indicators pointing out that people are considering the monastic life anew. In fact, there are bright, generous and fun men and women entering the monasteries: they are on fire with the reality of serving and loving the Lord and His Church; they are ready to spend themselves for the eternal good of others and they are willing to preach Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior for humanity. That doesn’t mean that thousands of men and women are running to cloister but those are very willing to take up the sacrifice of the cloister seriously. In accepting Christ one is never disappointed or easily thrown under the bus.

BUT there are equally bright, generous and loving people whose vocation is not to enter the monastery but it is to follow Christ  more deeply in following a rule of life –like the Rule of Saint Benedict– while living in the world. The oblate life (also referred to as a third order or even in a secular institute) is beautiful and flourishing today.

I’ve had this article in my file for a while but some interesting points are worth considering even now. Monastic life in the 3rd millennium.

Boniface Wimmer at 200

BWimmer.JPGToday marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, the father of American monasticism. Providence has seen to it that Wimmer’s anniversary coincides with the Year of Saint Paul in that both men proclaimed Christ and both were great missionaries; both were contemplative and active for the sake of the Gospel and the Church–there is no dichotomy; and both had communion with Christ.

In 1846, Wimmer left Bavaria to come to the US to establish the monastic life and to evangelize the German peoples, to win all for the Church under the banner of the cross. Wimmer had a burning desire to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He, with 18 novices, founded what is today called the Archabbey of Saint Vincent in Latrobe, PA; the largest Benedictine abbey in the world. In 1855, the American-Cassinese Congregation was founded – a grouping now of more than 28 abbeys and priories which assisted Wimmer in his mission.

Archabbot Boniface once said: “The life of man is a struggle on earth. But without a cross, without a struggle, we get nowhere. The victory will be ours if we continue our efforts courageously, even when at times they appear futile.”

The Anniversary website on Boniface Wimmer

The Revised Grail Psalter & Conception Abbey


psalms.jpgThe Revised Grail Psalter


The life of a Benedictine monk hinges upon the motto ora et labora, which is Latin for “pray and work”. Specifically, St. Benedict intended his followers to be deeply rooted in the psalms, drawing upon their richness in writing his holy Rule and expounding at length upon how they should be prayed. For nearly 1,500 years now, Benedictines have carried on the tradition of their founder, and the Order is well known for its dedication to the liturgy. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy wanted a new translation of the psalms for use in the liturgy, they approached Conception Abbey‘s own Abbot Gregory Polan to undertake a revision of the 1963 Grail Psalter.


What are the Grail Psalms?


In the years leading up to Vatican II, when the liturgy was still in Latin but moving toward
Joseph Gelineau.jpggreater lay participation, the psalm responses of the Mass were permitted to be sung in the vernacular. A French Jesuit by the name of Joseph Gelineau prepared a French translation of the psalms which was very rhythmic and worked well with a particular set of psalm tones. In response to his work, a community of lay women formed a secular institute called The Grail (of England) and undertook an English translation of Fr. Gelineau’s work. They employed scholars and musicians to work on the project and they began to release the fruits of their work in a series of books, each containing a few psalms, throughout the 1950s. The full version with all 150 psalms was released in 1963.


Just like the French Gelineau psalm tones, the 1963 Grail Psalter proved to be very well-suited for choral recitation, singing and chanting. It was soon incorporated into the Liturgy of the Hours.  While the lectionary in the United States used the psalms of the New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version, the 1963 Grail Psalms were also permitted for use as the Responsorial Psalm at Mass.  GIA Publications of Chicago featured these Responsorial Psalms in their Worship III Hymnal.


Why was a new translation needed?


The 1963 Grail Psalms made a wonderful transition from Latin into English because they were so easily understood, they had a clear poetic rhythm and they could be recited and sung with ease. All of these things were important objectives when the Ladies of the Grail set about their work. And while the 1963 Grail Psalter was very successful in this regard, there are places where the adherence to a set rhythm necessitated a paraphrase of the original Hebrew as opposed to a more authentic translation, taking into consideration the sometimes irregular rhythm of the Hebrew Psalms. Since Vatican II, however, we have seen a move to preserve sacred texts’ fidelity to their original sources.


Secondly, since the 1950s when most of these psalms were composed, “Much has happened in the area of biblical scholarship to enable us to understand better both the structure of Hebrew poetry and some of the more problematic texts,” Abbot Gregory said. He continued, “This scholarship will make a more accurate translation possible.”


Additionally, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam insists that a consistent translation be used in all the texts of the liturgy, which is currently not the case as far as the psalms are concerned. The Revised Grail Psalter will be the official translation used in the Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the texts for all books of the Sacraments, etc.


Conception Abbey.jpgWhy Conception?


Obviously, a project of this scope is quite the undertaking. But why were monks of Conception chosen to bring this work to fruition? As mentioned above, the mere fact that Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery is already a tally mark under the “pros” column. However, it is the combination of the scholarly pursuits of Abbot Gregory Polan that made the initial request from the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy in June of 1998 the first and obvious choice.

Abbot Gregory would tell anyone (and he told the Bishop’s Committee) that he is first and foremost an abbot. Next on the list, though, you’ll find “Scripture Scholar” and “Musician”. After working on a translation of a section of the book of Isaiah in the Revised New American Bible, the staff at the Bishops’ Conference–knowing also his musical background–rightly assessed that his combination of abilities especially suited him to the task of revising the Grail Psalter which, like the 1963 Grail Psalter, needed to be suitable for choral recitation, singing and chanting. When Abbot Gregory agreed then, mentioning that he was first an abbot though, the bishops were happy to communicate that they just wanted it done right.


So, Abbot Gregory began the project, enlisting the help of other monks of Conception
Abbot Gregory Polan.jpgAbbey, and after four years an initial draft was completed. This draft was then brought before a November meeting of the Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship where it was approved to undergo the rigorous process to deem it an acceptable translation. And acceptable it was as the USCCB approved its widespread use in a 203-5 vote at their meeting of November 11, 2008. It is now awaiting approval from the Vatican.


What does this mean for the Church?


For the Faithful who attend any liturgy in English, the Revised Grail Psalter means consistency in what they’ll hear across the board. For musicians and those who use the psalms for choral recitation or chanting, it means a translation which is well suited to these uses without sacrificing the integrity of the translation. All in all, the consistency and fidelity to the ancient texts of the psalms means that the Revised Grail Psalter will help promote a more effective, unified catechesis.


For Conception Abbey, the Revised Grail Psalter is another way that they, in their 135 years since their founding, have been able to respond to the needs of the Church.


Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus



The copyright for The Revised Grail Psalms is held jointly by Conception Abbey and The Grail (England).  GIA Publications serves as the international literary agent for this new version of The Grail Psalms.


Copies of the Revised Grail Psalter will not be released until the recognitio is received from Rome. For more information you may contact:


Jarrod Thome
Director of Communications
Conception Abbey


Lukas Etlin: Benedictine monk, priest, artist, adorer of Christ…

Lukas Etlin.jpg

Dom Lukas Etlin

Monk of Conception Abbey

25 February 1864 – 16 December 1927

a cause for sainthood?

read more at Vultus Christi

Thomas Merton: 40 years after he died

Fr M Louis.jpgToday is the 40th anniversary of the death of Father Mary Louis, a monk and priest of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (aka the Trappists). In history he was known as Thomas Merton.

When I was in high school (more than 20 years ago now) I discovered Thomas Merton but I don’t remember who put his writings into my hands. I read his significant works; I marveled at him, with him, in him. Merton made it possible for me to understand God and being a Christian better. His writings gave voice to the interior life for which I am grateful. Now we are remembering him 40 years after his died. My how time flies.


O God, Thou did raise Thy servant, Father Mary Louis, to the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ, according to the Order of Melchisedech as a son of Saint Benedict, giving him the sublime power to offer the Eternal Sacrifice, to bring the Body and Blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ down upon the altar, and to absolve the sins of men in Thine own Holy Name. We beseech Thee to reward his faithfulness and to forget his faults, admitting him speedily into Thy Holy Presence, there to enjoy forever the recompense of his labors. This we ask through Jesus Christ Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

An appreciative report on Merton was done by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

If you are interested in reading some recent essays on Thomas Merton, order Cistercian Studies Quarterly 43.4

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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