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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
Arms and the Monk!
The Trappist Saga in Mid‑America

M. M. Hoffman

published by
Wm. C. Brown Company
Dubuque, Iowa, 1952

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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 p226  Suffix


Postulants: Those who apply for admission to the Cistercian order. They are usually received into the Guest-House and then into the community for an initial period of trial, before the novitiate begins.

Novices: Aspirants to vows in the Cistercian order who have been canonically admitted to the prescribed course of training in the novitiate, that is, in that part of the monastery assigned to the aspirants as their place of residence and training.

Oblates: Lay‑persons who desire to share, to some extent, in the life of prayer and the spiritual benefits of the Cistercian order. Oblates live in the monastery and lead the life of the monks but take no vows or other formal religious obligations.

Lay Brothers: Members of the Cistercian order who, though they make simple or solemn vows, remain technically laymen in the sense that they are not destined to the clerical state, or Holy Orders, or at least to the public celebration of the Divine Office. Lay brothers devote to labor the time that choir brothers or priests spend in prayer or study. — Merton's Glossary.

Choir Brothers: Members of the Cistercian order who are obliged to recite the Divine Office in common; or at least in private, even though not bound by Holy Orders.

Priests: Those members of the choir religious (choir brothers) who have received Holy Orders, that is, who have been ordained to the sacerdotal state.


Solemn and perpetual religious vows are made publicly in the presence of representatives of the Church.

The Trappist monk makes five monastic vows:

 p227  Poverty, by which he relinquishes all right to exercise ownership over property;

Obedience, by which he transfers his will into the hands of a superior, his Abbot, who governs his life according to the Rule;

Chastity, by which he gives up even legitimate satisfactions of the flesh;

Stability, binding the monk to live and die in the monastery of his profession; and

Conversion of Manners, which imposes a special obligation upon him to strive always for Christian perfection.

The Cistercian Regular Habit

127. The exterior habit of the Monks of our Order consists of a robe and scapular confined by a leather girdle, and a cowl with a hood attached to it.

128 All the garments shall be a white woolen material, except the scapular, which shall be black . . .

129. We wear shoes such as are commonly worn in the country where we live.

130. All the Monks shall have their heads shaved every month, leaving only the circle of hair which is called the monastic crown.

177. The habit of the Lay Brethren consists of a robe, a scapular, a leathern girdle, and a cloak. All the garments shall be of brown woolen material. The novices shall not wear the cloak, but instead, a hooded cape covering only the shoulders and breast.

(From the Constitution of the Order of Cistercian of the Strict Observance.)

The Hours of a Choir Religious at New Melleray

2:00 A.M. Rise, little office of Blessed Virgin
2:30 A.M. Mental Prayer
3:00 A.M. The canonical hours of matins and lauds,1 Angelus, private masses, interval
5:30 A.M. Prime, chapter, frustulum (2 ounces of bread), interval
7:45 A.M. Tierce, high mass, sext, work
 p228  10:45 A.M. End of work, interval
11:07 A.M. None, particular examen, Angelus
11:30 A.M. Dinner, interval
1:30 P.M. Work
3:30 P.M. End of work, interval
4:30 P.M. Vespers, mental prayer
5:30 P.M. Collation, interval
6:10 P.M. Lecture, compline, Salve, Angelus, examen
7:00 P.M. Repose


There is no Trappist "vow of silence." Silence is a matter of strict rule in the Cistercian order, but it is not the object of a vow. The monks simply renounce pleasure of human conversation the better to dedicate their powers of speech entirely to the praises of God.

But the monks do not, as some are said to be foolish enough to believe, forget how to speak. If they did the recitation of the Office would soon have to be given up. In fact, besides reciting the Divine Office, they have occasion once or twice a day to speak to a superior, master-of‑novices, or some other person, to whom they through necessity obtain permission to talk. Still, knowing by experience, that the more silent they are exteriorly, the more active they are in being interiorly raised to God, they avoid conversation except when absolutely necessary.

In most Trappist monasteries, the monks receive and write letters, ordinarily, several times a year, usually once in each quarter.

The peril of much talking has been the burden of advice of the sages of all races and all centuries. Fred L. Holmes found two hundred and four proverbs advising against too much talk, proverbs distilled from the experience of some twenty centuries, such as, among the Hebrews, "A fool's voice is known by a multitude of words," and among the Germans, "The more understanding, the fewer words."


There is perhaps no other matter of our Holy Religion that has been so beclouded with misinformation even among good and sincere Catholics as that of a vocation to the religious life. This applies to vocations to the Trappist as well as to other orders.

 p229  What is a vocation? Who has a vocation? How can one be sure? These are the questions that daily are troubling the soul who would join itself more closely to the gentle Christ. As in other matters of salvation we must look for the answer in the acts and words of our Savior. When He was on earth showing us the way to live, from the very beginning of His public life He chose close friends and faithful followers who were to live holy lives and help others to reach the kingdom of Heaven.

In this lies the essence of a religious vocation, to secure our own salvation, which of course is the life work of every Christian; it includes also a desire to aid in spreading the kingdom of God among our fellow men — a desire to live and work for God, to make others love and know Him, to share with other souls the joys, the peace, the blessings, that are ours. In a word, it is that a generous spirit, and a sincere desire to share our blessings, is a mark of the first seeds of a vocation.

This generosity of soul convinces one that more should be done for our Lord than the keeping of a law binding on all. To such Christ, our Lord, speaks as He did to the rich young man in the Gospel, "If thou wilt be perfect go sell what thou hast and give to the poor and come follow me."

The Trappist Day

A day at New Melleray and at any Trappist monastery would find itself divided about as follows:

4 Hours for Divine Office and Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
2 Hours for Masses (though only one is of obligation by rule).
2 Hours for study and spiritual reading.
4 Hours for manual labor. Often the limits are from three to six hours but manual labor does not consist of heavy, prolonged field labor. The lay brothers have longer hours than the choir religious, and if by chance through some grave necessity the work is harder than usual, the rule prescribes that a greater allowance of food be given; but such extraordinary work is seldom necessary.
4 Hours for private devotions, reading and minor duties in the monastery.
1 Hour for meals.
7 Hours for sleep.

 p230  What is there in this to lure kings from their thrones, or young Americans from the world?

Good Will, a Vocation
The Grace of God.

The Trappist Institution is a Democratic One

The Cistercian vow of obedience whereby the monk transfers his Will into the hands of a superior, his Abbot, who governs his life according to the Rule, might mislead the reader into believing that the order is entirely autocratic, or that its government in the ideology of today is purely "totalitarian." This is not true, for the monks, surprisingly to those who are unfamiliar with their organization, have a voice in many important matters.

1. Not only do the superiors of the various houses submit questions of importance to the votes and suggestions of the members of the communities, but certain matters of voting are absolutely de rigueur for the members. From the authoritative "Directoire Spirituel à l'usage des Cisterciens de la S. O." we take the following in regard to the important subject of admission of candidates to the order:

"Those who have a voice in Chapter are under the obligation of voting. Two questions are to be decided by them: Has the candidate a true vocation; has his past conduct been such as to offer hopes of his fidelity?

2. At the election of an abbot all the monks of the monastery who are solemnly professed and are under stability in the community have the right to vote. An absolute majority of the votes is required. Titular priors are chosen in the same manner as abbots.

3. The supreme authority of the Cistercian resides in the General Chapter which is composed of all the abbots, titular priors and provisional superiors of houses, who assemble every year at Citeaux on the 12th of September for deliberation, and when necessary, for elections. The Abbot General and the definitors must be elected by absolute majorities. For the deposition of an abbot or a titular prior two‑thirds of the votes are required.

Further, at elections all votes are taken in secret.

Vox monachorum vox Dei!

The Author's Note:

1 Canonical hours — any certain stated times of the day (now seven, viz., matins with lauds, prime, tierce, sext, nones, vespers and compline), appointed for the offices of prayer and devotion. The above is the winter schedule; there is a slight change in the summer hours. There are also some changes in the hourly duties assigned to the lay brothers.

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Page updated: 15 May 13