10 February 2009

My Visit to Spring Bank Abbey

Last September I visited Spring Bank Abbey. I received a very warm welcome from everyone there, including Luxor and Ludwig. The abbey is set in a beautiful, largely undeveloped part of Wisconsin near LaCrosse, and I was there just as the fall colors were coming on to the trees.

Beside the initial hospitality, I was also impressed with the simplicity (or straightforwardness) of life. One of the postulants was installing a dishwasher, the monks do their own cooking, the rest were working somewhere on the abbey grounds. Everyone was doing their part. My previous experience of religious life did not seem as equitable.

I also like the liturgy. There was a formality to it, but there was no excess. Maybe it is good to describe it by saying: there was dignity without pomp. The Mass is the Novus Ordo and celebrated in Latin. The entire Liturgy of the Hours is prayed in common everyday (Deo Gracias)with the exception of Sext and None on Saturdays. Vigils is prayed in English, and the rest of the "Hours" are in Latin.

As I understand it, the core of Cistercian life,spirituality, even architecture is to strip away that is unnecessary and distracting. The oratory reflects this: the pews and choir stalls are plain light-stained wood. I do not recall any stained glass windows in the oratory, but there were prismatic crystals hanging in the window. The focus of the liturgy is the words -scripture and prayer- and not the building.

I will soon be going up to the Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey to get another glimpse of the life that they share. I am grateful to God that I have the time to do this and that the monks allow me this time to discern my vocation.

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