The Lay Cistercians of Holy Cross Abbey are observing their annual retreat at the Abbey this weekend. On Saturday, after Midday Prayer, the professed members of the group gathered in the monastic choir to re-affirm their original promises. This is not a ceremony like the renewal of vows–the promise that each had made at profession is good for life. This is a public re-affirmation of their commitment, an encouragement both to the Abbey, mutual support to one another as individuals and as a group. Apart from their generous help to the Abbey on special occasions or with specific projects (one member contributes, for example, the monthly Word From The Cistercian Fathers, posted here), in the course of a month, one day is set aside to pray for each member of the monastic community, as well as for other intentions. Of course they exist to deepen their relationship to God as illuminated by the Cistercian tradition and to live that charism as active members of our society.
In his brief exhortation to the group, Abbot Robert cited one of St. Bernard’s Sermons for the Ascension, which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks. Bernard of Clairvaux, for whom this was a favorite feast, noted that it was the pattern of our vocation. Christ met us in our human existence but didn’t sink into the contingencies of our life but raised that life to the heavens. The human and the divine can be at one, can be one and can harmonize, through God’s initiative, in eternity.
The Lay Cistercians join the monks of Holy Cross Abbey once a year during their annual retreat for the First Vespers of Sunday. They set up seating for themselves between the Guest Chapel and the choir and invest time, an hour before Vespers in their annual choir practice. They’ve become real troopers over the years and bring as much humor as attention and devotion to the exercise.
The Lay Cistercian movement spontaneously, and independently, grew up around our monasteries all around the world. That is to say, it was not initiated by our monks or nuns. Rather, people devoted to our way of life and feeling supported in their own lives by our vocation, asked to have a closer association with a particular community. Each group of Lay Cistercians is attached to a particular monastery and have developed their own procedures and constitutions or customs. The Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance recognizes them and their spiritual bond to particular communities but also respects the uniqueness and autonomy of each group. In a very real way our Order is respecting the diversity of gifts engendered by the Holy Spirit. This is “bio-diversity” on a very exalted scale! No common legislation or customs have been imposed on Lay Cistercian movement. But they do meet as an international body every three years–not unlike our Abbots and Abbesses meeting every three as the General Chapter, the governing body of our Order. In the coming month representatives of each Lay Cistercian group (over eighty of them) will meet together at Lourdes.
On this website you’ll find a tab explaining more of the Lay Cistercian Vocation and even a copy of their Constitutions. Please remember them in your prayers and may they flourish.