Thursday, September 9, 2010


ABBEY: traditional term for a monastery of men or women headed by an abbot or abbess.

ABBOT/ABBESS: the leader of an abbey elected by members of the community either for a term or for life. At St. John’s Abbey, the abbot may serve until age 75 or for eight years, whichever is longer.

ANCHORITE: from the Greek anachörësis, meaning “withdrawal” or “retirement;” refers to a monk or nun who, for religious reasons. lives apart from society as a hermit rather than in community as a cenobite.

BENEDICT OF NURSIA: (ca. 480-545) author of the most widely used Western monastic rule; founder of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. His life was written by Gregory the Great, who recounts the story of the young St. Benedict fleeing the corruption of Rome to become a hermit. In time others who heard of his holiness came to join St. Benedict, and he became the founder of monasteries. Gregory reports several miracles worked by St. Benedict, many of which parallel the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings).

BENEDICTA RIEPP: (1825-1862) nun of St. Walburga’s Abbey. Eichstätt, Bavaria, who volunteered to be among the first Benedictine women bound for America and was appointed their first superior. She is revered as the foundress of those American Benedictine monasteries of women whose origins can be traced back to St. Walburga Abbey. She is buried in the cemetery of Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

BENEDICTINE: n. a person who has made monastic profession according to The Rule of St. Benedict; adj. a person, institution, or spirituality inspired by The Rule of St. Benedict.

BONIFACE WIMMER: (1809-1887) a monk from the abbey of Metten who led a group of Benedictine men to the United States to found the first American Benedictine abbey, St. Vincent, in Latrobe,Pennsylvania. As the abbot of St. Vincent, he became the first Abbot President of the American Cassinese Congregation.

BROTHER: the term St. Benedict uses for a community member; today used for a non-ordained member of monastic communities of men.

CENOBITE: from the Latin coenobita, which in turn derives from the Greek koinos bios, meaning “common life.” A cenobite is a monk or nun who lives in community.

CHAPTER: gathering of the finally professed members of a monastic community to conduct monastic business (e.g., elect a prioress or abbot, admit new members for novitiate or profession, consider financial matters); used informally to refer to any monastic meeting.

CHAPTER HOUSE: place reserved for meetings of the chapter; at St. John’s Abbey the chapter house is located just to the east of the Abbey Church.

COMMUNITY: a monastic community. The gathering of those who belong to a particular monastery and who live according to the customs and interpretation of The Rule of St. Benedict proper to that monastery.

CONGREGATION: a network of autonomous monasteries who are associated with each other for support, sharing of expertise, and the visitation process. Saint John’s Abbey belongs to the American Cassinese Congregation.

CONVERSATIO MORUM: a Latin expression for living the monastic way of life, as expressed and understood in a particular monastery. Conversatio is part of the three-fold promise made by a novice in monastic profession. Conversatio encompasses celibacy and sharing of material goods and implies a willingness to undergo change and the challenges of growing in the spiritual life.

COUNCIL, SENIOR OR MONASTIC: a small consultative and deliberative body that assists the abbot/prioress with matters that do not require the attention of the whole chapter.

DIVINE OFFICE: (See Liturgy of the Hours.)

EICHSTÄTT: city in Germany where St. Walburga’s Abbey is located. St. Walburga engaged in missionary work in Germany. She was abbess of both a female and a male monastery. After her death in 779, her remains were taken to Eichstätt in 896. This is the founding monastery of Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

FATHER: term used for ordained members of monastic communities of men.

FEDERATION: a network of autonomous monasteries, who are associated with each other for support, sharing of expertise, and the visitation process. Saint Benedict’s Monastery belongs to the Federation of Saint Benedict.

FINAL PROFESSION: term used by Benedictine women for lifetime monastic profession.

FORMATION, MONASTIC: the process of instruction and initiation into the monastic way of life. Initial formation prepares the newcomer for monastic profession, and ongoing or lifelong formation deepens monastic life.

GREGORY THE GREAT: (ca. 540-604) pope, saint, and author of the Dialogues, a collection of stories about Italian saints; the whole of Book II of the Dialogues is devoted to the life of St. Benedict.

HABIT: distinctive clothing, derived from medieval dress, worn by a monk or nun as an outward sign of monastic life. For monks the habit consists of a tunic, belt, scapular, and hood. For nuns the habit consists of the veil, dress, belt, scapular, and coif.

HORARIUM: from the Latin hora meaning “hour,” refers to the daily schedule of regular activities: liturgical celebrations, meals, work, recreation, times of silence, lectio divina, and chapter meetings.

HOSPITALITY: the welcome accorded to strangers, guests. pilgrims. the poor, and visitors to the monastery because they represent Christ, based on The Rule of St Benedict (53.1) and the words of Christ: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). In ancient monasticism, hospitality meant breaking the fast to wait on the guest and share in a small meal, prayer, foot washing, and conversation on spiritual matters.

HUMILITY: from the Latin humus, meaning “ground.” A primary Christian virtue described in chapter 7 of The Rule of St Benedict. It is a way of transformation imaged as twelve steps of a ladder.

I.H.S.: a monogram for the name of Jesus, likely from the Greek, lesous, Jesus Christ, Savior; also understood to be from the Latin, Jesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus, Savior of All. This monogram is found on the ring worn by many Benedictine women as a sign of monastic profession.

I.O.G.D.: abbreviation of the Latin Ut in omnibus glorficetur Deus, meaning “that in all things God may be glorified,” a quotation from 1 Peter 4:11 used by St. Benedict when writing about the artisans of the monastery (RB 57.9). It has become a common Benedictine motto.

JUNIOR: term used for monastic women and men in temporary profession.

JUNIORATE: the stage of initial monastic formation between temporary and final or solemn monastic profession.

LECTIO DIVINA: prayerful reading of scripture from the Latin. meaning “sacred reading.” It is a distinctive aspect of Benedictine spirituality in which both the process of reading and the text read are sacred.

LITURGY OF THE HOURS: the times when Benedictines gather for recitation of the Psalms, singing of canticles and hymns, listening to readings from the scriptures or based on scripture, and prayers as a means of practicing the ancient Christian directive “to pray always” (I Thess. 5:17). St. Benedict set up eight times of prayer, known as “hours.” The day hours are Matins, Prime, Terce. Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. The night hour is Vigils. Since Vatican II the hours have changed in many monasteries. The Liturgy of the Hours is also known as the Divine Office and opus Dei, or the “work of God.” At St. John’s Abbey the hours are morning prayer, midday prayer, and evening prayer. At St. Benedict’s Monastery the hours are morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer, and vigils.

MAUR: a disciple of St. Benedict at Monte Cassino who is mentioned in Book II of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great. The story says that after a young monk, Placid, fell into the lake, St. Benedict sent Maur to rescue him. Maur, eager to obey, walked on water to where Placid was drowning and pulled him safely to shore.

MEDITATION: from the Latin meditatio. For Benedictines, meditation is an aspect of lectio divina that includes reflection on the Word of God in scripture, awareness of God’s loving activity in one’s life, pondering the beauties of creation and/or the expression of care and concern for others that moves one to deeper awareness of God’s presence. Meditation for early monastic men and women often manifested itself as continual repetition of a biblical phrase until it could be recited by heart and allowed one to be led by the spirit to contemplation. After the sixteenth century, the notion of meditation became a form of mental prayer focused on religious ideas and reflection on God.

METTEN: abbey in Bavaria that founded St. Vincent Archabbey, the founding monastery of St. John’s Abbey.

MISSION: the community living environment away from the monastery where monastic women live together and carry out their ministry. For monks a “mission” is a dependent house, usually in a foreign country.

MONASTERY: main house of a community of monastic men or women. Sometimes “monastery” is used to designate the community who live together in such a building.

MONK: from the Greek monachos,meaning “alone” or “single.” A man who belongs to a monastery.

MONTE CASSINO: the mountain in central Italy where Benedict founded a monastery in the sixth century; the monastery located there which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the course of history.

NOVICE: a member of a religious community who is in a probationary period prior to making profession. The period of the novitiate must be at least one year.

NOVITIATE: describes both the probationary time of discerning a call to community life, and the space set aside for the novices to study, engage in recreation and interact with the novice director and other novices.

NUN: from the Greek and Latin nonna. originally a title of respect for a female elder, it later came to designate a female monk. Nun is also a translation of the Latin word sanctimonialis, or monialis for short, which in early Christian literature referred to women who were consecrated to a religious life. In the nineteenth century, Church policy distinguished nuns from sisters. Nuns lived a cloistered life in an abbey, made solemn profession, and elected a superior for life. Sisters, though living in a monastery, were not cloistered; they engaged in ministry, made profession, and elected a superior for a term. Currently, “nun” and “sister” are interchangeable terms.

OBEDIENCE: from the Latin words ob, meaning “to” or “intentionally,” and audiens, meaning “listening” Obedience is the virtue of listening to God so as to carry out God’s loving will, which can be sought in reflection on the scriptures, in the directives of the monastic leader, in mutual exchanges with community members, in the teachings of the Church, in the demands of ministry, and in all one’s relationships. Obedience is one aspect of the three-fold promise of profession.

OBLATE: in the early Middle Ages referred to a child who had been given by his or her parents to be reared in a monastery. Later the term came to mean laity who lived either in or near a monastery in some kind of affiliated relationship, but who did not make profession to the life there. Currently the term refers to men and women who desire to live a monastic spirituality within the environment of their home and workplace.

ORA ET LABORA: from the Latin, meaning “pray and work;” a motto often seen across entranceways to Benedictine monasteries and attributed to St. Benedict. In fact, he never used the phrase; it originated in a book about Benedictine life written by the nineteenth century German abbot, Maurus Wolter.

ORATORY: a place for prayer (RB 52); at Saint Benedict’s Monastery, the space in the lower level of the Gathering Place reserved for celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, personal prayer, meditation, and retreat conferences.

ORDER OF SAINT BENEDICT (O.S.B.): describes the mainstream of the Benedictine monastic tradition. At Saint John’s Abbey, it is also used as the corporate name of the monastery.

PLACID: a young disciple of St. Benedict. (See Maur.)

PRIOR/PRIORESS: the leader of a priory; in monasteries led by an abbot/abbess. the one who ranks next to and assists the abbot/abbess.

PRIORESS: the leader of non-cloistered monastic communities of Benedictine women elected for a term. At Saint Benedict’s Monastery the prioress serves for a six year term with the possibility of reelection for four more years.

PRIORY: term used for a monastery that is not an abbey.

PROFESSION, MONASTIC: formal, public commitment to the monastic way of life through the promise of stability, conversatio morum, and obedience according The Rule of St. Benedict. After the novitiate, monastics make a temporary profession for at least three years, after which they may make final or solemn profession.

PSALMS: sacred songs of the Old Testament which form the basis of prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. These 150 songs, often sung and or accompanied by music, represent the whole range of human emotion and relationship with God. In the time of St. Benedict. all 150 Psalms were recited over the course of a week; today the Psalter is often divided over the course of three to five weeks.

PSALTER: the collection of 150 Psalms.

REFECTORY: from the Latin refectorium, the dining room in a monastery. In a monastic refectory, the eating of food is often in silence while listening to a reading from scripture or another text.

THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT: sixth century guide for the monastic way of life written by St. Benedict. It is still used by Benedictine men and women throughout the world.

SCHOLASTICA: (Ca. 480-545) the twin sister of St. Benedict. She is known to the Christian tradition through the story, told by Gregory the Great, of her meeting with St. Benedict shortly before her death. One evening when St. Benedict refused to stay longer to engage in conversation with St. Scholastica, she prayed to God to grant a longer time for conversation. God heard her prayer and sent a storm so fierce that St. Benedict and his monks were unable to return to their own monastery. St. Gregory states that her desire was honored because her love was greater.

SENIOR COUNCIL: (See Council, Senior or Monastic.)

SISTERS OF THE ORDER OF SAINT BENEDICT: the corporate title of Saint Benedict’s Monastery.

SOLEMN PROFESSION: term used by Benedictine men for lifetime monastic profession.

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION: personal guidance in the practice of sharing faith life, prayer experiences, and struggles to discern the will of God.

SPIRITUAL/SPIRITUALITY: living by the “Spirit of God” (Rom 7:14- 8:14). Christian spirituality means the human search for the holy in which the Christian is led to self-transcendence, deeper freedom, and greater capacity in the love of Christ.

STABILITY: commitment made to a particular monastic community, part of the three-fold promise of monastic profession.

STATIO: from the Latin, meaning “standing;” the ranked ordering of members of a monastic community according to date of entry or a procession, often reflecting that order.

SUBIACO: monastery in central Italy which was the first monastic home of St. Benedict.

SUBPRIOR/SUBPRIORESS: ranks next to prior/prioress.

VOWS: (See Profession, Monastic.)

WALBURGA OF HEIDENHEIM: (710-779) the daughter of the Anglo- Saxon King Richard of Wessex and Queen Wuna. When King Richard decided in 720 to accompany his sons Willibald and Wunibald on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he allowed Walburga to enter the abbey school of Wimbourne. After several years in the monastery there, at St. Boniface’s request, she left England to do missionary work in Germany. When Walburga’s brother Wunibald died in 761, she and her nuns went to Heidenheim where, until her death, she presided over a double monastery, one of monks and the other of nuns. In 1035, Count Leodegar of Lechsgmund and Graisbach established a Benedictine convent over the site of St. Walburga’s tomb in Eichstätt, Bavaria. It is from this monastery that S. Benedicta Riepp, OSB, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph, Minnesota would come. St. Walburga’s representation is found in a stained glass window in the Great Hall at Saint John’s.

WORK OF GOD: from the Latin opus Del, the term used by St. Benedict for the Liturgy of the Hours.