“Run while you have the light of life.” RSB
A Customary for the New Benedictine Community
A monastic customary is a directory of customs regulating the daily organization of the monastery and liturgical practice. In our case as a dispersed community, it is our own adaptation of the Rule of St Benedict to our own situation and circumstances. (A communal rule). The purpose of this customary is to give guidance to individuals in the community as they form their own personal “rule of life” within the community taking into account, likes, interests, state of life, and personal circumstances. We hope that it will not be a document that restricts but frees up each individual to live fully into the monastic vocation as we are called both individually and collectively.
Our constitution speaks of three legs of our community life being: prayer, service and community. These are the essentials of our identity as a dispersed benedictine community. So our daily expression in some way is lived out in these three monastic and Christian principles.
We are called all as Christians to be people of prayer. As Monastics Prayer is at the heart of our vocation. This is our means of seeking a pure heart and an uplifting soul always in the presence of God.
The Oratory/Cell: Each member of the Community is called to create a space that is adequate for this life of prayer. Since we do not live in community we do not have the luxury to have a communal chapel or church. Thus, our monastic space for prayer is our own home setting, such as an Oratory or Sacred Corner created in our own living space. Each member is invited to create a sacred space for daily prayer and meditation. This should be according to circumstances and availability.
Some of us are blessed to also have a Monastic Community by which we are affiliated for regular retreats and or prayer. While not being a requirement for participation in our community, it is highly recommended. This is for ongoing guidance and support of a physical community where we can gather with other like minded monastics or religious.
Monastic spaces tend to be very simple and sparse. Especially in some communities (Cistercians for example).
Our Community Icon is some form of Rublev’s The Holy Trinity of which we each should own a copy for our own personal devotions and Sacred Space.
The Opus Dei: The Opus Dei is the Monastic Office of Vigils, Laudes, Diurnum, Vespers and Compline. These are the sacred hours kept by all monastic communities around the world by the recitation of psalms, canticles, and readings from sacred scriptures, and in some hours followed by intercessory prayer. They are prayed daily without exception at morning, midday, evening, and night. As a Benedictine monastic community we are all expected to keep some form of this Monastic Office. Normally this would include at least one longer office and one shorter office daily. (Laudes, Vespers are the longer offices) and (Vigils, Diurnum or Compline are the shorter offices). For those who are able, it is highly recommended to keep as many hours as possible, especially on Feast Days, Sundays, and Sacred Seasons.
Our community has two official guides for Communal Prayer, the Benedictine Short Breviary, and The Order of St Helena online Monastic Office. Other forms such as The Book of Common Prayer, Common Worship, The Northumbrian Community Celtic Prayer, or Glenstal Book of Prayer, or other popular or monastic Breviaries are acceptable for Private use.
The Eucharist: Historically, Benedictine Communities up in to the middle ages celebrated the Eucharist only on Sundays and Feast Days. When we are able, we should participate in the regular or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist in a local community, and if possible on Feast Days, or one day during the week.
Lectio Divina: Lectio, is the other traditional form of Monastic Prayer aside from the Opus Dei. It is the slow and deliberate reading of sacred or meaningful texts or themes that help us in our growth towards holiness and oneness with God. Every member of the community should have regular time set aside for “spiritual reading” or Lectio. This might be daily, weekly, or monthly. This is part of the Holy Leisure that Monastics practice regularly for nourishment, sustenance, and ongoing spiritual growth. Lectio, includes Sacred Scripture but is not exclusive. There are many forms and themes that make up Lectio. Even movies or videos or talks & lectures on the spiritual life make up Lectio.
Our Personal Prayer: Besides the traditional practices, modern monastic life includes all the other forms of spiritual practices that are practiced by those on a spiritual journey. This includes, meditation, walking exercises, sacred movement, contemplative prayer, movies, videos, talks, yoga, centering prayer, the rosary, litanies, and any other form that is enriching to the soul.
A Liturgical Calendar and cycle of prayer:
The community should keep a regular cycle of daily and seasonal celebrations according to local custom (one’s own Diocese or National Church or Polity), eg. The Book of Common Prayer of each Province where one lives, and besides its own Monastic Calendar celebrating the great Monastic Saints in History and other Benedictine Communities and Foundations around the world (found in The Anglican Benedictine Confederation, Cycle of Prayer), and a weekly cycle of prayer for communal and personal needs as prepared by one of the community members and dispersed regularly for individual and communal use.
The Rule of Saint Benedict
In nearly all Benedictine Communities, the Rule of St Benedict is read daily aloud usually in the Refectory. Members of our Community should be intimately familiar with the Rule. It should be read at all weekly gatherings, and daily by its members or at least once a year with deeper reflection. All members of our community should pattern their lives and conduct after the rule, seeking always its spirit not the letter of the law. There are many versions of the Rule with commentary. Our Community usually reads Sr Joan Chittister’s Book A Rule of Benedict, A Spirituality for the 21 Century.
All followers of Christ are servants and washers of each others feet. This is how Benedictines live out the monastic gifts of Humility and Hospitality. The rule is clear in the Tools for Good Works in Chapter 4 of the Rule. Benedict leaves no doubt:
“14 You must relieve the lot of the poor,
15 clothe the naked,
16 visit the sick (Matt 25:36),
17 and bury the dead,
18 Go to help the troubled,
19 and console the sorrowing.”
Every member of the community is called to seek some form of active service.
Service To Family: We are servants to our family circle. Just as cloistered monastics must serve each other in community, so we are called first and foremost to serve our family members in love, whatever that circle may look like (spouses, partners, pets, siblings, children and grand children, and Family of choice intimate circles.)
Service To Community: We are also servants in our communities especially to the poor, needy and marginalized. Each of us is called to some kind of outreach ministry in the name of our community. We are also stewards of creation and must be extremely careful of how we use our resources given to us both natural and financial. Each community member should in their own personal rule see how they carry out the responsibility of stewardship in their own specific situation.
Service To the Church: We are servants to and in the Church of God. As Baptized members and professed religious we do not act on our own but in relationship to the community of the church on local, national and international levels. Our members are expected to be active participants in their local ecclesiastical settings.
Finally, like all monastics we are responsible to each other creating and living out not in isolation but in community.
In Family: Our nuclear family or family of choice for dispersed monastics is the replacement of the family of a cloister. (Those whose immediate family is the monastic community itself). For New Benedictines we must be keenly aware that each time Benedict mentions the members living in the enclosure, and the life in the enclosure, he is speaking in our case to our immediate family and social surroundings.
In Monastic life: Our other community is of course each other (members and participants in TNBC). Those of us who have made vows, promise stability to each other in community, some of us for life (life professed). We are ongoing caretakers and stewards of each other. This is a significant commitment. It means being in ongoing communication and prayer with each other. We do this practically by bi-weekly celebration of the Opus Dei, and our monthly Chapter Meetings and our yearly retreat/gathering in full Chapter. We are all expected to have strong human bonds of love and affection amongst each other as a living and vibrant community.
Finally we never forget that we are part of the human community and condition. We are intimately connected to all human beings and all living beings plant and animal. As monastics we live with this dynamic tension between three communities, our immediate Family, our Monastic Family, and Our Human Family.
As Benedictines we have only one Rule of Life, The Rule of St Benedict. We adapt that rule communally by means of a Customary, and Individually by our own Personal Rules of Life. There are many who ask how can Dispersed Benedictines live out faithfully the Rule of Benedict that was made for cloistered monks and nuns? Even modern cloistered communities adapt the Rule according to their specific circumstances world wide, eg. (what they wear, how and when they pray, what kind of social ministry and labor be it education, or farming, or retreat work etc.) So we see that Benedictine Life has always been adaptable, fluid, and more faithful to the spirit of the law than the law itself. We as a dispersed community are no different in that sense. We are called in a special way to live into our Vocations as Dispersed or what others call “Secular Monastics”. (Regular Monastics are those who live in a Cloistered Community).
It is our Hope that this Customary will give guidance both to individuals and to the community as a whole to live out faithfully our vows of Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of life.
Approved at General Chapter September 24, 2020