The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (11)
Be faithful to the rule of the gentle Lord, because therein lies your salvation. Far better that you not violate it while in this present life.
- Rule of Comghall (7thcentury)
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
- Romans 12.9-13
In the monasteries of medieval Ireland, the rules to which monks submitted, and which shaped the communities of which they were a part, spelled out certain responsibilities that all members of the community shared in common. Guidelines and standards were drafted to help the monks practice proper submission to one another, to participate in common worship, and to take their meals together, feeding their bodies and souls at the same time.
Monks were to practice submission to the Lord first, then to the abbot of their monastery and the “seniors” or older brethren. These were but more specific standards for how monks should submit to one another in love. The rules of Celtic monasteries directed monks to submit to one another, always giving deference, seeking to aid or encourage, and treating one another with courtesy, respect, and edification. So whether they were working together in fields, villages, or the scriptorium or refectory of the monastery, they were to regard one another as brothers and co-laborers, and to show them the love of Christ at all times.
Clearly, these believers took seriously the many “one another” passages in the New Testament as they lived and labored together in their walk with and work for the Lord.
Worship was a part of each day’s activity in monastic communities, although the Lord’s Supper was not always served during worship. Worship consisted of singing, prayers, silence (“two thirds of piety consists in being silent” – Rule of Ailbe), practicing cross vigil, and the reading and hearing of the Word of God.
Monks were to be especially diligent in making it to gathering, for this was a time of offering a “wonderful gift” to the Lord. As they came to worship, monks “should have compunction of heart, the shedding of tears, and the raising of hands to God” (Rule of Carthage).
Communal worship was practiced not only when monks were together, but as they observed, wherever they may have been, the summons to prayer that signaled the arrival of each canonical hour. “The assiduous observance of the canonical hours is regarded as primary” (Rule of Ailbe). It didn’t matter if a monk was in the fields or the scriptorium, he was expected to pray at the appropriate hour, along with all his brethren.
Finally, monks observed strict procedure in taking meals together. Meals were not a time for mere socializing. There would be conversation, of course, but never loud, and never merely about mundane things.
During the meal a monk was appointed to read from Scriptures, the lives of great saints, or the rules of their own and other monastic communities (Rule of the Céli Dé). Silence was generally the norm, so that all might have the opportunity to benefit from spiritual nourishment as well as their physical meal. Eating was a time to focus on God and spiritual food. Monks were not to see meals as a time for mere bodily indulgence.
Life in a Celtic monastery was thus highly structured, but not tedious. If it had been tedious it would not have attracted the multiplied thousands of young men and women who flocked to the monasteries in Ireland and Scotland, as well as on the continent. Here young people discovered a purpose in life, true companionship, the practice of self-denial, and the life of martyrdom in love of Christ and the company of true soul friends.
Surely adopting practices like these, in ways appropriate to our own Christian communities, can help us to regain some of the spiritual vision and vitality that sustained the Celtic Revival for nearly four centuries. The disciplined life demands that we work hard to make the most of all the time God gives us for knowing, enjoying, and serving Him. This doesn’t just happen; we must apply ourselves continuously to bringing our bodies into submission to the Lord, His Word, and His Spirit.
This is not the approach to Christian life that characterizes most Christians today. But that does not mean it shouldn’t be. It certainly can be for you, and to the extent that it is, you will find the Lord ready to fill the time of your life with His presence, promise, and power, and to use you as an agent of grace to the people around you each day.
Psalm 5.7, 8, 11, 12(Meirionydd: O Savior, Precious Savior)
O Lord, Your lovingkindness escorts me in this place.
I bow before Your highness and praise Your glorious grace!
In righteous ways You guide me; Your pathway I will know.
No good will be denied me as I with Jesus go.
Let those rejoice who seek You and shelter ‘neath Your wing.
Their tongues shall rise to speak to Your praise; Your grace they sing.
Your people You will bless, Lord, all those who to You yield;
Preserve them with Your best Word, and guard them like a shield.
The Disciplined Life
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.