The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, December 31, 2011


A good number of people ask me what we monks do in the monastery to celebrate Christmas. I usually tell them we spend a good part of the day in church ... and another good part of the day eating!

In many ways, we celebrate Christmas in similar fashion to other people, but not in all ways. In the weeks leading up to December 25th, while the rest of the world celebrates the "holiday season," we observe Advent, a holy period of anticipation and yearning for the coming of the Lord. The liturgies gradually build in intensity, especially the week before Christmas with the "O Antiphons." A large Advent wreath is suspended from the ceiling in the monastery refectory (dining room), where we listen to specially selected seasonal readings during dinner. On several occasions after Compline, we go to the Chapter Room to listen to Advent conferences given by the abbot or various monks.

Four or five days before Christmas, a tree is erected in the monastery calefactory (our large living room), and another is placed in the refectory, along with other decorations. There are no gifts under the trees, however. Just before Christmas, the church is adorned for the Eve festivities.

Then, on the 26th, when many Christmas trees are tossed to the curb and the "holiday season" fades into preparations and resolutions for the New Year, we continue to celebrate Christmas! The 25th was just the beginning. Christmastide, after all, runs through the Solemnity of the Epiphany (January 8) and (for all intents and purposes) the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 9). During this time, in church we chant special antiphons and hymns praising the graces of the Incarnation, and a festive atmosphere continues to permeate the monastery.

Contributing to this are a good number of guests--including several young men visiting to observe and discern our way of life, and family members and friends of a few monks. Social time is extended. In addition, we have a table in the refectory laden with goodies provided by various benefactors which everyone is free to share.

Specifically, this is the schedule we observed in the monastery for Christmas Eve/Day:

December 24

5 p.m. -- First Vespers of the Nativity
6 p.m. -- Dinner
7 p.m. -- Christmas Vigils
10 p.m. -- Christmas Mass in nocte

After Mass (close to midnight), monks enjoyed refreshments and socialized in the refectory. Guests gathered with several monks to share refreshments in a public gathering area within the school.

December 25

7 a.m. -- Breakfast (Not just cereal and bread. On this day, breakfast is hot, with eggs, pancakes, and also fruit.)
8 a.m. -- Christmas Lauds
9:30 a.m. -- Christmas Mass in die
11:45 a.m. -- Midday Office
Noon -- Christmas Cheer (A social period in the calefactory with food and drink, ending with the singing of the Resonet, a traditional hymn stemming from our ties with Einsiedeln.)
12:30 p.m. -- Dinner (with talking; no table reading; prime rib!)
5 p.m. -- Second Vespers of Christmas
6 p.m. -- Casual supper with more socializing
7 p.m. -- Compline

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