Swiss American Congregation

 

COMMENTARY ON THE
RITUAL OF MONASTIC PROFESSION

1984

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Foreword i

Introduction 1

CHAPTER I. RITE OF ADMITTANCE TO THE NOVITIATE 7

CHAPTER II. RITE OF TEMPORARY PROFESSION 12

CHAPTER III. RITE OF PERPETUAL PROFESSION 17

Footnotes 40

 

 

FOREWORD


The Swiss-American Federation has never possessed a ritual of its own. Lacking such a book, profession materials were usually borrowed from the Rituale Monasticum of the Beuronese Congregation. This ritual was first published in 1894, then revised in 1931 in order to conform to the Code of Canon Law which appeared in 1917.

On 2 February 1970 the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, responding to the wishes of the Second Vatican Council, issued a new Ordo professionis religiosae or, Rite of Religious Profession,1 for the Roman Church. The Introduction stated:

Religious families should adapt the rite so that it more clearly reflects and manifests the character and spirit of each institute. For this purpose the faculty of adapting the rite is given to each institute, the adaptation to be submitted to the Apostolic See (RRP, Intro., 14).


The Decree accompanying its promulgation likewise declared:

Since the rite of profession should express the spirit of the religious family, each institute should adapt the rite so as to bring out its own character. These adaptations should be presented as soon as possible for confirmation by this Congregation (RRP, p. 2).

In accordance with these requirements the General Chapter which met at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in 1975 stipulated that a ritual of monastic profession should be compiled for the Federation and presented for  approval at the General Chapter held at Saint Benedict's Abbey, Benet Lake, in August 1978.

Abbot David Melancon of Saint Joseph Abbey, President of the Federation, entrusted the drafting of the ritual to a committee comprised of Father Nathan Mitchell of Saint Meinrad Archabbey , Father Patrick Regan of Saint Joseph Abbey, and Father Nicholas Nittler of Mount Michael Abbey. Father Nathan was chairman of the committee until 4 February 1977, when other responsibilities prevented him from continuing in that capacity and Father Patrick succeeded him.

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After extensive study and consultation with the various abbeys of the Federation the committee issued a Ritual and Commentary. The Ritual contained rites for admittance to the novitiate; temporary profession, called first profession; perpetual profession, called final profession; and commitment. The option of making commitment instead of temporary profession at the end of novitiate had been offered by the Instruction Renovationis Causam on 6 January 1969. The General Chapter of 1978 approved the Ritual for three years of trial  use. Approval for another three years of trial use was given at the last General Chapter which met at Mount Angel in 1981. At the same Chapter Abbot Raphael DeSalvo of New Subiaco Abbey, who became President of the Federation in 1978, appointed a committee consisting of Father Patrick Regan, chairman, Father Nathan Mitchell, and Father Marcel Rooney of Conception Abbey, to review the Ritual prior to its being presented for final approval at the next General Chapter. Father Patrick was elected Abbot of Saint Joseph in June of 1982.

At the suggestion of the Abbot President and his Council, Abbot Patrick on 3 January 1983 wrote the two other members of the committee and the abbots of the Federation asking if they desired any modifications in the Ritual. In the replies received no changes were requested. When the new Code of Canon Law went into effect on 27 November 1983, however, the possibility of commitment at the end of novitiate was discontinued. Hence the Rite of Commitment has been removed from the Ritual.

Except for some minor adjustments the Rites of Admittance to the Novitiate, Temporary Profession and Perpetual Profession remain as they were when they were first approved in 1978. The Commentary accompanying the Ritual has been brought up to date and reorganized, but its content remains substantially unaltered. What is being sought, then, at the next General Chapter which will meet at Benet Lake on 19-25 July 1984 is final approval of the Ritual already accepted in 1978 and used on a trial basis throughout the Federation for the past six years. If approval is forthcoming, the Ritual will be forwarded to the appropriate Roman Congregation for confirmation.

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INTRODUCTION

1. Factors to Consider

The task entrusted to this committee was to adapt the Roman rite of religious profession in such a way as to express the character and spirit of the Benedictine monastic tradition as it had been received and was currently practiced by the Federation.

In executing this responsibility several factors had to be considered. First of all, the Rule of Benedict, unlike the charters of most modern religious congregations, already contains a ritual of profession consisting of an oral promise, written document, suscipe, prostration, intercessory prayer of the brethren, and clothing in the vesture of the monastery. These elements, therefore, must be taken as the fundamental constituents of any profession rite claiming to be Benedictine. It would be incongruous to disregard the ordinances of the Rule at the very moment when one is publicly professing to live according to it.

Secondly, the rite of profession originally laid down by the Rule has been transmitted and interpreted for succeeding generations by centuries of tradition. The immediate link between the Rule and the Middle Ages, on the one hand, and our Federation, on the other, has been the ritual of Beuron, which is by no means an original composition but rather a compilation of materials selected from medieval rituals bequeathed to the nineteenth century restorationists mainly by the great Maurist scholars.2 In other words, the tradition of Beuron, which is our tradition, too, is basically the medieval tradition.

For the most part the medieval and Beuronese usages represent developments which are fully consistent with the spirit of the Rule, and so form a rich source of inspiration. They offer details which are lacking in the Rule -- such as the text of the profession document -- or else supply other rites which were not envisaged by the Rule but which had become desirable or necessary with the passage of time. Principal among these are the rites of admittance to the novitiate, temporary profession, and the consecratory section of perpetual profession.

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Despite their obvious importance for the work of the committee, these elaborations must nevertheless be subjected to evaluation in light of current studies of the Rule itself and contemporary perspectives on monastic life. The essay entitled "Documentation and Proposals concerning Rite of Profession," presented to the General Chapter in 1975 by Father Nathan Mitchell, admirably sets forth the elements on continuity and discontinuity in the historical growth of profession practice. Addresses delivered at the first Monastic Institute in 1973 likewise provide critical reflections which are pertinent to the topic at hand.3

A third factor to be considered is the Roman rite of religious profession:

The general principles which it enunciates as well as the simplicity and clarity which it strives to achieve are worthy of imitation. The wording of prayers and dialog, however, lacks a characteristically Benedictine flavor, and the sequence of parts in the rite of final profession seriously differs from the Rule of Benedict. For this very reason the rites are expected to be modified by particular religious institutes. To do so intelligently requires mastery of the Benedictine tradition.

A final factor calling for consideration is that during the years between the appearance of the Roman rite of religious profession in 1970, and the request of the General Chapter in 1975 to elaborate a ritual for the Federation, each monastery of the Federation, on its own initiative, introduced modifications into its existing rituals. The ritual of the Federation, therefore, besides adapting the Roman rite to the Benedictine tradition as expressed first in the Rule and then in the rituals of the Middle Ages, was required to respect as much as possible the diverse modifications already enacted by the individual abbeys. To this end the committee obtained copies of the profession rites of all monasteries of the Federation and examined them carefully.

Profession material from the various abbeys revealed the greatest variety in those areas which are not described in the Rule: admittance to novitiate and mystical burial. Aside from the question of the monastic habit, most elements which find express mention in the Rule were attested with near unanimity. Many abbeys, however, had rearranged them in accordance with the order of parts in the Roman rite, thus deviating significantly from monastic tradition.

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2. Structure of the Rites

Given the complex state of affairs created by these several factors, it was necessary to undertake a comparative analysis of the complete inventory of professions rituals, past and present. This involved isolating component parts, observing their sequence, and calculating the rationale or significance which lay beneath them. This provided a basis for judging the relative merit of particular configurations, and enabled a characteristic pattern, design or structure to emerge for each rite.

The structure of final profession, derived from the Rule itself and best attested in tradition, has been adopted as the normative model. Designs for the other rites have been aligned with it. They may be outlined as follows:

Perpetual Profession

Temporary Profession

Admittance

Gathering

Gathering

Gathering

Request

Request

Request

Admonition

Admonition

Admonition

Promise

Promise

 

Reading of Document

Reading of Document

 

Suscipe

 

 

Prayer of Community

 

 

Prayer of Consecration

 

 

Sign

Sign

Sign
Presentation of Rule

 

 

Prayer

Peace

Peace 

Peace

Mystical Burial

 

 

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From this outline it is clear that the essential structural components of profession, whether perpetual or temporary, are the oral promise and the reading of the profession document. Perpetual profession, however, is structurally distinguished from temporary profession by the suscipe, intercessory prayer of the community, consecratory prayer of the abbot, and mystical burial. Reading and presentation of the Rule, plus an optional oration, are structurally characteristic of admittance to the novitiate.

Aside from these elements, which are obviously the most important ones, the rites begin in identical fashion: with the gathering of candidates before the abbot, the request, and the admonition. They also conclude in more or less the same way: with a sign proper to the occasion and the kiss of peace.

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Although the structural makeup of each rite is stable, it is broad enough to encompass all the component elements attested by the Rule, medieval tradition, the Roman rite, and the particular rituals used in monasteries of the Federation from 1970 to 1978 -- though not necessarily in the same order. Furthermore, the manner in which most of the component elements may be handled admits of considerable diversity.

Since the sign of admittance to the novitiate or temporary profession touches the delicate matter of monastic vesture, it has been left entirely to the discretion of individual communities. As a general principle, however, the less important an element is, the more it permits of diversity. Conversely, the more important an element is, the less it permits of diversity. For example, there are many ways in which candidates may gather to make their request, but there is only one way of singing the suscipe.

Elements which are less important -- such as the request, kiss of peace, or mystical burial -- may be omitted entirely. Similarly the relatively minor rite of admittance to the novitiate is deliberately looser and more flexible than the rite of perpetual profession which has major canonical significance. The descriptions of different approaches to the component elements of the proposed ritual pretend to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive.

Turning now to spoken formulae, it should be emphasized that the requests, admonitions, and prayers of the proposed ritual are intended only as model texts. Many are fresh translations or adaptations of medieval material already contained in the rituals of particular abbeys; a few, such as the admonition at admittance and the consecratory prayer at perpetual profession, are original compositions. All these texts have been selected and prepared with great care, but their use depends largely upon the decision of each monastery.

In a word, the existence of this ritual does not imply that each monastery will use it in exactly the same way or to the same extent. The ritual is conceived primarily as a paradigm or pattern. It contains a minimum of detail and allows a maximum of latitude in the treatment of component parts and in the choice of verbal formulae.

Finally, it might be of interest to know that quotations from the

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Rule of Benedict, whether in the ritual or commentary, are taken from the translation by the team of American Benedictines in 1981.4 The desirable uniformity of vocabulary between Rule and ritual, especially on such an important matter as the rendering of conversatio morum (RB 58: 17), is thereby assured.

3. Commentary

A frequently heard criticism of liturgical reforms is that the reasons for changes are not adequately communicated. Inability to fathom the rationale behind new models of celebrations leads inevitably to reluctant implementation, or worse, opposition. The present commentary is drafted with this in mind. For each structural component it reviews pertinent historical background, and explains the solution adopted in the ritual. Where alternatives are provided, the various options are evaluated. Occasionally theological reflections are offered. The aim, therefore, is to render the content and arrangement of the ritual more understandable, and so serve as a tool of instruction for future generations. Hopefully this will assure a more fruitful celebration of profession.

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Chapter 1

 

Web version: 4 March 2006; rev. 10-Mar-2007 | © 2007 by Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation | www.osb.org/swissam/ritual/commintro.html