Friday, October 06, 2006

Saint Bruno and the Carthusians

I once tested the waters regarding a Carthusian vocation. Obviously it wasn't for me, however I have a deep respect for the Order. I would have to say they live the most intense lives of any religious I have visited. The silence of being truly alone with God is quite deafening.

It is a beautiful life. Not many people know much about them. But to give a quick breakdown, they are an Order dedicated simply to prayer. The priests are basically hermits, and the lay brothers take care of the needs of the priests. Although Cathusians live in monasteries, the priests will remain in their cells for a majority of the day. They only leave their cells for Matins, Lauds, Mass, and Vespers. The rest of the time they are in their cell.

There is only one Carthusian monastery in the United States, which is located in Arlington Vermont
Charterhouse of the Transfiguration

It is a very austere structure, but the area is beautiful.

The Carthusian cell is a bit different from the "average" monastic cell. Normally a monastic cell is about the size to fit a bed, a desk, a small closet, and a chest'o'drawers. A Carthusian cell is quite large actually (although it does seem small after awhile). Doing a small pictoral circle, each cell will have a small chapel, where the monks will say the Hours of the Divine Office which they don't pray in common:
You'll also notice the wood burning stove, that is the only source of heat, no central heating and air.
Then looking left you have the bed, which is really just a foam pad, not really a mattress:
Then to the left of that is the door which opens to the stairway that goes down to their work area, and beside that is their desk:
To the left of that is a table in front of a window which looks down into their own garden:
Like I said, the priest monks never leave their cells, so the lay brothers will bring them their food and put it in a small passthrough and ring a bell to let the monk know the food is there:
So the only time the monk leaves his cell is to go to the chapel for Mass or for the Hours of the Divine Office I mentioned above.
Their Divine Office is very beautiful and is still done in Latin and sung in Gregorian Chant. Matins is a bit tough because they go to be around 8:00pm, then get up at Midnight for Matins, then follow that with Lauds, then go back to bed around 2:30am and then get up around 7:00am to being private prayers.

Their life is practically unchanged since Saint Bruno's time, just a few liturgical changes to conform with Vatican II. They have a motto which in English says "Never reformed because never deformed." LOL.

It is definitely a unique vocation only for those who can handle solitude. The priests do have a community walk once a week. The lay brothers only have a community walk once a month, because they have more contact with each other due to their duties around the monastery.

I am sure that their humble prayers alone before God help to support all of us out here in the world.

So pray for them, because I guarentee you that they are helping us with their prayers.

(There is a link over to the left-hand side of my blog that has a link for the U.S. Carthusians and for the Order in General.)

I am really looking forward to seeing "Into the Great Silence" having experience the life myself. I wonder if the director was able to capture the intensity of the solitude. The movie was extremely popular in Germany, and has gotten good reviews at film festivals. It was filmed at the Grande Chartreuse in France. Here is the movie's website: The Great Silence (just click on "English" in the lower right corner to see the English site). And here is the trailer here (sorry for the German text, couldn't find a trailer in English:

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chris, if the movie does NOT show in your city or mine, let's plan on meeting where it does show.

Stephanie D said...

I read about this a while back when Father mentioned it. I would really like to see the movie.

Roman Sacristan said...

Father Stephanos,
Sounds like a great plan to me.

+veritas+ said...

I had the great blessing of being able to see the movie myself while in Italy last year - it is an absolutely gorgeous film, a three-hour retreat really. I went with our Jesuit chaplain (I was on a year-abroad program at the Dominican's Angelicum... so we had a bit of ecumenism going on! ;) who also spends at least one retreat period a year with the Carthusians down on the "tip" of the Italian boot. He had also only a month or so prior to seeing the movie taken a group of us to Naples, where we visited the old Carthusian monastery high up on the hill (now a museum, but tastefully done - and that chapel! Wowza!). So I had had a taste of what the Carthusian life was like before seeing the film, from Fr.'s recounts and actually going through an old monastery. The film, therefore, was for me the way it all fit together, finally. It was marvelous to see their life in service to the Lord.

The two things that stand out for me in my memory is the constant flame of the sanctuary light (the movie tends to follow the rhythms of the liturgical celebrations, and it always closes them with everything going black and silent... execpt the perpetual flame before the Lord) and the wonderful interview with one of the older monks. That was astonishing to see, and I am still amazed the filmmaker was able to do that - I cannot wait to see that again, because when I saw it it was very hard to follow what was being said, since the monk was speaking French audibly, and the subtitles beneath were in Italian. I remember that he had some beautiful insights into having a vocation as a Carthusian.

If only we could at least get the DVD released over here!!

Roman Sacristan said...

Supposedly it is going to be released in Canada soon, which means we in the U.S. could watch it too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that info on the Carthusians