Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter at the Monastery

I wanted to find a special place to attend Easter Mass when my daughter Alison came to visit last week. I found a cathedral, a basilica, a university chapel, and a Trappist monastery. Alison chose the monastery, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience for us.

Atlanta is, of course, in the Southern Bible Belt, so there are hundreds of varieties of Protestant churches around, predominantly Baptist. In fact, on our way to the monastery, which was about forty-five minutes away, we passed many other churches, one with its own traffic cop and traffic jam. Eventually, though, we arrived at the entrance to the monastery, way out in the country by the town of Conyers, Georgia.

This particular monastery, called the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, was founded by Trappist monks in 1944. How it came to be in this place with very little Catholic presence can be found on their website. Today, forty-some monks live, work, and pray here.

I didn't know anything about Trappist monks, so I did a little research. They are an offshoot of the Cisterians, and they follow the Rule of St. Benedict. There are are only 170 Trappist monasteries in the whole world and only fifteen in the United States! So, they are pretty rare breed of monks (about 2,100) and nuns (about 1,800). Their job is to pray and work. They pray a lot, beginning at 4:00 in the morning with vigils and then another four times during the day. They also talk very little. Idle talk is "strongly discouraged," they do not talk during meals (but rather listen to readings), and the Grand Silence begins at 8:00 P.M. for all, even visitors.

Like other monks, they "live by the work of their hands." This particular monastery operates a thriving retreat business. Also, "The monks of Holy Spirit manufacture and sell bonsai supplies either online or at their monastery bonsai garden store. They also operate a green cemetery located in a secluded section of the vast monastery property. Stained glass windows and doors are created onsite and sold online and the monastery also operates a fruitcake and fudge business. Their fruitcakes are sold both through their own religious store and also through Honeybaked Ham stores." You can see their website

Okay, so back to the Easter Mass . . . the 11:00 service was full but not crowded. People have to drive quite a distance to get there, but there were families and people of all kinds. We were allowed to sit in the actual monks' benches since they had sung at the 4:30 sunrise service. That was very cool, because I had only ever seen them, never sat in them for a service before. All of their many binders of music and readings were neatly laid open at each place. In fact, it was very AVIDY with all those binders, which kept them organized! (See photo below.)

At least twenty of the monks attended this Mass and sat up on the altar. It was amazing to hear them sing parts of the Mass. I would really like to come again and hear the entire group together. Everything was slow, peaceful, smooth, and spiritual, with lots of incense, singing, and reverence. No cell phones, no talking, no distractions. To us, this was the perfect Easter Mass in the perfect setting. Outside, the sun was shining and everything was in bloom. We left with a promise to return again another day.

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