Monday, May 04, 2009

Vocations and the liturgy

I have always had a thing about contemplative religious life, I find it incredibly attractive and yet monastic life in the UK, for both men and women, with some notable exceptions, seems to be on the wane. Of the ten or so male Benedictine monasteries how many will still be functioning in 5 or 10 years, several have numbers in single figures? Without help from abroad how many of the mendicant houses will still be open? Of the active religious communities, old age and increased infirmity of the members have curtailed their work drastically.

One can make many suggestions as to why religious life is unattractive to the young; a contemporary apathy to chastity, obedience and lifelong committment are obvious suggestions. Someone suggested to me recently that one of the problems could actually be the liturgy. Liturgy is the outward sign of the Church.
I think it is fair to see religious life as a bit like the canary in the coal mine.

At the heart of contemplative life is silence, and an appreciation of the action of God in the hidden and secret place. Is it possible to say in this context, the older form of liturgy was more conducive to creating an environment in which vocations grew and were sustained?


Catholic Student said...

I have been in contact with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, I must say it is their strict adherence to the Magisterium that i find most attractive!

They offer both forms of the Roman Rite, it is most attractive! Maybe others could learn from their example?

Anonymous said...


I think you quite rightly hit the nail on the head. The issue is not the Holy sacrifices, the promises, the commitment. Young men are ready to do that. Rather, the issue is the very core of our Holy religion being denigrated by a poor excuse for Liturgy.

Nowhere is this more important than in the contemplative life. There, man approaches God in a liminal plane, where two worlds collide. Why should the Liturgy be a semblance of a sociological exercise; why shouldn't it instead be a foreshadowing of the worship and glory due to God, and faciliate that contemplative life that is the human's souls by right.

Equally, as Chautard and others assert that the active life is hinged on the contemplative life, whether in the religious state or otherwise, then the very success of any Apostolate, especially the monastic, depends on the success of the contemplative, truly transcendent experience.

Or, at least that's my tuppence-worth.

Catherine said...

I dont know the answer to your last question but I do know that when I am present at the Latin Mass I have a sense of the sacred, an awareness of the reality of God's presence. The silence is such a blessing and a healing. You may very well be right that it produces an atmosphere which can lead to vocations and to commitment. AS there are usually several young men at your Friday evening Mass, we should pray that this is so.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Well, in a word yes. (Without NO bashing)...The lex credendi is better expressed in the TLM and is conducive to vocations (speaking from personal experiences), Liturgical Abuse, lack of Church identity, architecture, all deterrents in vocations.

Arnaud said...

Well said Father and Mark.

It is so clear from history too; those houses that abandoned their customs and observances always failed and in time were dissolved or had to be reformed. The Liturgy becomes the outward sign of this ‘illness’.

In the introduction to the Monastic Diurnal (republished by St. Michaels Abbey) Alcuin Reid quotes from Sacrificium Laudis of Paul VI (1966), which he correctly says was ‘too widely ignored and contained a ‘somewhat prophetic warning.’ In this Pontifical Letter to Benedictine Abbots the Pope warned of the danger abandoning the latin language and Gregorian chant that without it ‘the choral office will be like a snuffed candle; it will no longer shed light, no longer draw the eyes and minds of people.’

It seems those communities that have heeded the mandate given them to preserve and safeguard the traditional practices and Liturgy are not failing for want of vocations.

Anonymous said...

I think this may be part of the reason. Perhaps for some young men, they like the idea of some sort of commitment to God, but jump into the diocesan priesthood or a glitzy order before exploring their full potential in the depths of their heart?

As many people have said before, young people do not want to give themselves over to watered-down religion, but something concrete, which feels genuine, and not likely to collapse under a stiff wind. I think there is a danger, though, in saying something like: "bring back the traditional habit" or "the classical liturgy or at least a more reverential less egoistic liturgy will solve all our vocation problems". These things do really help, but must be backed up with orthodoxy, brotherly support, and most importantly, love for God and for every individual.

It is interesting to see who attracts vocations and who doesn't. I suppose most comtemplative houses do not have big flashy neon signs pointing them out, and I can understand how they can get lost in the bright lights of the secular world.

But then again, I think the same goes for diocesan vocations too. To some extent, can one measure diocesan 'wishy-washyness' by their ability to point out to people their priestly/religious vocations?

My great fear is that so many young people have genuine vocations to the priesthood (well, just men in this case!) and religious life, but the Church doesn't really know how to show them what to do with this in a modern context. Sometimes, vocations are turned down because the person doesn't fit the mould of the appropriate ecclesial authority who is helping them discern. I think, though, on the whole us lay-peope are particularly guilty of this, and are perhaps too afraid to broach the subject with people. Maybe if we do know a nice single young woman in the parish well, instead of asking her out, ask if she has ever considered a contemplative life (though having said that, I'm sure St Teresa of Avila didn't fit that model as a young girl!). You never know; casually mentioning things from time to time may show her a voice she has not heard very well before. That or a slap!

Anonymous said...

An important point has been made by both Arnaud and Joe:

Whilst we do not want to engage in 'Novus Ordo bashing', it must be clearly pointed out that the injunctions of the Sovereign Pontiffs and of Holy Mother Church have been oft ignored when it comes to the Liturgy. The form is irrelevant. Obedience and love are relevant.

Annie said...

In France isn't it the traditional orders that are on the up?

The thing I get from a traditional Mass is exactly what I do not get from the ordinary form: peace and a sense that it's ok to just 'be' rather than have to 'do'. There's a definite sense for me as a lay person of having my spiritual batteries recharged rather than further drained because of the 'otherness' of the liturgy. Were I thinking of a vocation now, I know where I would try and head, and it'd be towards the far south west.

Paul, Bedfordshire said...

out of interest - how are the Carthusians at Parkminster faring. Their liturgy (although a little reformed since V2) is still their own liturgy (and even their own rite of Mass) and from what I can make out, compared with the Carthusian liturgy, the EF and the 1962 breviary are rather modern and trendy.... :-)

Richard said...

I've said it before, but don't underestimate the effect of smaller families.

If I had three sons, I would be delighted if one of them were to become a priest or monk. Since I have only one (so far), I would (I think) be unable to avoid feeling disappointed.

George said...

Q: Is it possible to say in this context, the older form of liturgy was more conducive to creating an environment in which vocations grew and were sustained?


gemoftheocean said...

I think Richard is being very honest here. One of the priests I know was an only, and his parents actively discouraged him, because when he was a youth, in Ireland, they did not particularly care for the clergy in the area. When he was a young man, he had fallen in love, but his fiancee died, so he took that as a sign that it was his calling to be a priest after all, and he ignored futher entreaties from his parents.

Where there are few childfen in the family, parents often want grandchildren. And even if they don't actively discourage it, they will constantly talk about "when you get married and give me grandchildren" yada-yada... or "We want you to take over the family firm" that sort of thing.

[And I'm sure it's going on in places where "campiness", to put it politely, is going on in seminaries with a blind eye turned by some equally "campy" "formation" people. It is going to take a strong stomach and a will of iron to "take back" the priesthood for real mean in such situations. Nevermind evading "sister Rainbow" who will ding any male who doesn't agree that "women should be priests too." Minefield.]

Not to mention there are probably more than a few in it who see it as glorified "social work." And there's no point in that, really, if your confreres to be "don't get it."

It's a LIFE. Not a "lifestyle."

Physiocrat said...

I get the impression that the introduction of the EF liturgy at SMM, combined with regular confession, has moved quite a few of us on in a beneficial direction even after just a few months.

USLawStudent said...

This is what prohibits many young people from entering the contemplative religious life: you are no longer your own. Our world, especially in today's age (but I suppose it has been this way in every age), the idea of self-sacrifice is absent. Everybody seeks to be somebody, especially to be somebody they were not created to be. Thus, one is afraid to enter the cloister because, at that point, they put all their own desires behind which is contrary to the way in which we have been raised, nurtured, and taught.

Adulio said...

The form is irrelevant. Obedience and love are relevant.I think the form that is used is quite important and can't be written off as secondary - with the form comes the way of life (i.e it would be no point in wanting tonsured monks who live according to the most ancient and strict observance of a rule but then saying that they can't celebrate the old rite or even the unreformed rites that were in use).

The Trappist Monks in Mariawald, who recently switched to the older usage of their rite, said that one of the reasons for doing so was because the reforms in the liturgy had not generated the vocations they were accustomed to before the council. To identify with what the ancestors of the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc prayed is a powerful reminder of what the prayer life of a contemplative should be. Take this away (literally, with a whole new liturgical system that has many faults) and then whole thing falls apart.

Father Mark said...

"At the heart of contemplative life is silence, and an appreciation of the action of God in the hidden and secret place. Is it possible to say in this context, the older form of liturgy was more conducive to creating an environment in which vocations grew and were sustained?"

Dear Father, Allow a poor monk to say that what you wrote shows an extraordinary grasp of the exigencies of the monastic life. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My sons often talk about becoming priests mainly due to the wonderful example of the Oratorians. We often have priests visit & hope by their presence to inspire the boys if they have a vocation. The family is the seed bed of vocations. Walking back from Benediction with my oldest son who will be 12 on May 13th we were discussing spiritual matters & what a great honour it is for him to be thurifer & to serve. He was understandably nervous to talk to the other boys at school though his RE teacher helps him. Mind you he made me laugh..'mom my RE book has that Archbishop's picture on!' Don't get me started! lol

Jane Teresa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Teresa said...

Very interesting post - thank you Father. There have been some perspicacious points made in the combox, as well.

To return to the question of the traditional liturgy vis a vis the contemplative life, I agree that there is congruence between the traditional contemplative life, with its self-sacrifice and contemplation of the holy, and the older form.

Many potential vocations type something like "contemplative monastery Latin Mass" into Google and often do not consider the wonderful, faithful communities that have hitherto not adopted the older form.

If the community practises strict enclosure, one has to weigh up whether one could manage without ever hearing the Mass in the Extraordinary Form ever again with the fact that the community is so strong on other factors - faithfulness, an authentically lived charism.

My hope is that more communities which are attuned to traditional spirituality will come to embrace the older form, but change in a monastery takes many years! Those which are living a strict, traditional contemplative life, AND offer the traditional Mass really hit the spot for many discerning young people, and they are often not short of vocations, either.

That said, all of the other comments about the decline in the culture of vocations, and the pressures of modern society smaller families are also well-made.

Aidan Cook said...

As a young man currently trying to discern my vocation, this is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. One of the Bendictine vows is of stability, which is something that the Novus Ordo certainly does not offer. Too much of it depends on those planning the liturgy and therefore, in a monastery, on the superiors. With the NO, there is no guarantee that with a change in abbot etc. there would not be a significant change in the liturgy. In other words, the options of what is and is not included, even when the rubrics are strictly adhered to, go against the fundamental meaning of monastic life.

For me, the instability of the Novus Ordo, and thus of the whole of one’s prayer life and the heart of the monastic vocation, is a huge (and potentially insurmountable) obstacle to entering any monastery that uses it.

Adoro said...

I didn't grow up with the older form of the Mass, and actually attended my first (and still only, so far) EF in December. But what struck me was that God was first and foremost; one cannot attend without knowing who one is in relation to God.

It seems to me that a proper Mass fosters the foundational virtue of humility, which can ALSO be fostered in a reverent NO mass. No bashing here, either.

I have been discerning the contemplative life, and in this is the importance of silence. I don't think liturgy is the only thing, but also time spent in silent prayer, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Liturgy is part of it; but if one does not spend time with God, they'll never know that Call. If they're in and out of Mass, no matter what form, and don't give God another thought outside of it...they'll still never find Him.

I agree there are other factors, such as smaller families, a hedonistic, secularized culture, etc. But in many places, the liturgy has also been secularized, Jesus has been decentralized, and the worshippers...emphasized.

I might be willing to give my life for the guy across the catwalk at Mass (don't ask, long story about bad architecture), but that comes from a simple maybe human response to the need of another. It is love of God that makes people willing to lay down their lives for the ENTIRE CHURCH.

And therein is a huge difference.

Thanks for letting me express these thoughts. Thanks also to the other commenters. You don't know it, but all of you (inc. you, Father) have just helped me with something.

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