|Pontifical Mass at the Trappist Abbey of Mariawald, 2009 (source)|
The degree of observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict by the Cistercians was the object of intense debate throughout the 17th century. The so-called "Strict Observance", enforced and defended in many places since at least the earliest days of that century, ended up finding a systematic application through the choices made by Fr. Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé when he left his former life as a mundane priest and decided to lead a serious spiritual life in the Abbey of Our Lady of La Trappe, in Normandy. The Rancé reforms that would take the name of that Cistercian house led by its new Abbot began in 1664, exactly 350 years ago - as always (always) in the history of religious life, it was a true reform, which meant a path towards greater asceticism, a more rigorous life, a deep devotion to Tradition, that truly reformed it for the better. "Reforms" leading to laxity, adaptation to contemporary mores, and done against tradition always end in disaster and abandonment of the faith.
After many years of exile and persecution caused by the Revolution, the Trappists returned to La Grande Trappe in 1814, exactly 200 years ago, following the fall of Napoleon and the return of religious life to France (there were new expulsions after the French anticlerical laws of the late 19th-early 20th century, but they returned years later). We are celebrating the dates above in our special header, and we wish to present to you the following video. It is a portrait of life at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de la Trappe right before the storm hit: it was broadcast by French public television network RTF on April 7, 1960 (the presenter, curiously enough, is the famous Belgian-French writer Louis Pauwels).
The 10-minute video is narrated in French, with no subtitles, but that is not important - the information contained therein is one most Catholics with some idea of Western Monasticism would already know: the Rule, the function of monasteries, the function of lay (converse) monks, the life of work and studies. What is really impressive are the sights and sounds, and we urge you to watch it until the end, in which there is a touching traditional ceremony of the burial of a monk in the abbatial cemetery. In the end, this is what our Catholic life is all about, and which monks take to the ultimate level: to prepare for eternal life with the Most Holy Trinity, Our Lady, and all the Saints in Heaven.
As a reminder, there is one Trappist monastery that has returned to full observance of the traditional rites and liturgy and rules of Trappist monasticism after the advent of Summorum Pontificum, following the personal intervention of Pope Benedict XVI: the Abbey of Mariawald, near Aachen, Germany, covered by us in 2012. Those Catholic men envisaging a rigorous and firm monastic vocation must take into consideration this remarkable German abbey.