Rorate Caeli

Abbot of Monastery that switched to Traditional Mass: "With old Mass, the Priest become more Priest, and the monk more monk."

Pontifical Mass at Mariawald (source)

In 2008, the sole Trappist Monastery in Germany, the Abbey of Mariawald, became the first (and, so far, the only) Trappist monastery to completely return to the pre-Conciliar liturgical books since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. It was one of the few houses in the world to make use of what is stated at Art. 3 of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (allowing for whole religious houses to become exclusively traditional), and this only after, it was repeatedly reported then, the personal intervention of Pope Benedict XVI.

A couple of years ago, Father Abbot Dom Josef Vollberg granted an admirable interview to German Catholic paper Tagespost, and it had never been translated. The Rorate translation follows:

Die Tagespost
May 23, 2013

Most Reverend Father Abbot, four years ago, you changed your abbey over to the Extraordinary Form. What changes did this bring to your monastery?

We were able to celebrate the first Solemn Mass in the classical Roman Rite here in Mariawald, in January 2009. And then, one month later, we began to celebrate Conventual Mass in the Extraordinary Form. At first, not all the Brethren welcomed this change. But in the meantime, the situation has somewhat improved. Of course, as a Priest, one had to learn how to celebrate the Rite, which was demanding and far from easy. An also, one had to refamiliarize oneself with Latin. Little by little, we completed the change. The second step was to sing the office of Terce in the traditional form, on Sundays, before Holy Mass. In this way we were able to establish liturgical unity. And then, we gradually changed over the Little Hours, Sext, None and Compline. Later, we did the same with Vespers and Laudes. And then, finally, from 2009 to 2010 we did the same with Vigils. This meant giving ourselves wholly to this Liturgy, with its more intensive theocentric character, which suites our contemplative vocation in a special way.

What Kind of spiritual development have you noticed since then? What has been the effect of this change to the Extraordinary Form on your Community?

We must not underestimate the spiritual enrichment, which has been brought about by the search for and rediscovery of the sources. Important features of ecclesial tradition can now once again play a significant role. Our monastic vocation receives its character from the Rule of Saint Benedict, which we have vowed to observe. The Rule of Saint Benedict and the Latin Liturgy, in the older Form constitute a symbiosis, within which the one fosters the understanding and significance of the other. Just as the Holy Sacrifice is offered daily, so is a portion of holy Rule read every day, and usually, it falls to me to interpretate. And undoubtedly there is a lot of truth in the old adage: "Keep the Rule, and the Rule will keep you." It must also be said, and more certainly, that no-one can survive without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The traditional form in which we now celebrate the mass, seems to suit us to an extraordinary degree. And also, the reawaken wisdom of centuries seems to help the Priest become more Priest, and the monk more monk. The is no doubt, that this reform has changed some of us. And Mariawald has changed. But it were asking to much of us, to evaluate the scale of this change. We must leave all that to God and to His Holy Mother, to Whom this place is dedicated.

Have more men entered since the changes, which were, after all, meant to bring this about?

I would dispute that this was the aim of the Reform. The Sacred should not be used in this way. It was, in the first place, a question of God, and the honour which was His due. Of course, a monastery must give thought to vocations, but this can not be its main aim. And yes, we did hope that a strengthening of monastic and Catholic ideals, brought about by the Reform, might result in a renewed attractiveness. And it is true, that more have entered since then. However, a love of the Extraordinary Form is not enough to qualify someone for admission. Nor indeed, a love of the peculiarities of our own Cisterician Rite with its small liturgical variations in the calendar, or sometimes slightly modified Mass formularies. To begin with, a man must have a real calling to be a monk. Hence it is important to be very careful in one´s choice of applicant. One needs to get to know him well. So before postulancy, there is a probationary period of at least four weeks. This phase of mutual acquaintance is very important, if one is to make the right decision over an admission. Large numbers have expressed an interest in our monastery. Since 2009, we have heard from more than 40. 2012 was a good year, with the rare event of a Solemn Profession. We also had the Clothing of a novice. So at present, things are going well. The real life of a monk presents an exceptional challenge to many people, for no-one can be a monk without sacrifice. Just the regular rising in the middle of the night is far from easy, for monks are human too. Admittedly, theirs is a special commitment. Let me clarify this a little. There are other professions, whose duties include night-shifts, whether this be on the railways, in a bakery, or a hospital. As monks we do not have to do any work, which offers concrete help to others, and yet we want to get up at 2.30. In this, we base ourselves on Christ, Who prayed at night. I also think of Saint Paul, who prayed by night in prison, and of the first monks, who did so deliberately, precisely when the day was still utterly fresh and unburdened. And thousands upon thousands have followed their example since then.“God first“ is literally what we strive for in our life. Saint Benedict says, that nothing should come before the worship of God. And this ist why we begin our prayer at night at 3o´clock, on behalf of so many people, in the Church, and in the world, in order, as it were, to break through the darkness, which so often surrounds us. And indeed in order to absorb something of God´s light which shines in the darkness.

How have the Faithful, who come to your Masses reacted?

Their reactions varied greatly. Fortunately, protests tended to be rare. From among our regulars, apart from those who stayed, there were some who chose to go elsewhere. And then, there were several who came for the first time. Since the Reform, and this has been very striking, young people keep on coming, which used never to happen. And every so often, a lasting relationship would develop out of a casual visit. It may be, that through the classical form of the Liturgy, something is offered to the modern world, which it lacks, this world so filled with technology, calculation, finance, and pleasure. And it is precisely the young, who discover in our Liturgy an unobtrusive way of finding peace and prayer. Here one is not drawn inescapably into an organized dialogue, which one has continually to join in. One can sit down quietly and entrust oneself to what is taking place. One can follow it and bring to it all one´s intentions. The Divine Liturgy offers a space, which is fortunately not under our dominion. Yes, indeed, God comes to us, if we abandon ourselves to the Liturgy, if we hand ourselves over to Him, Who stands here at the very heart of things. I am glad to say, that we have received numerous positive emails and letters. However, some were very negative, and not far removed from hatred, giving voice to the greatest incomprehension. Rejection of the Extraordinary Form was often linked to rejection of the Holy Father, who had authorized and encouraged the Reform with fatherly generosity. One can sense the presence of a subtle incomprehension and even stupidity surrounding the monastery. Since the Pope himself approved our undertaking, I do hope that the Reform has God´s blessing, since it is, in the end, a question of the honour due to Him, and also of the salvation of souls, an aspect frequently forgotten today. We believe in God, we believe in eternal life, which He has prepared for those who love Him. In the Credo during Holy Mass, we profess our Faith in eternal life. Our life should lead us into this eternity. And the Reform of Mariawald should help us to reach that goal.

Are you in touch with communities abroad?

Well, really very little. Our problem is, that we are few in number, and so it is often difficult for us to keep in touch with other monasteries. There are only ten of us, of whom several are older. And I, as Abbot, am very largely taken up with duties in the house. There has been closer contact with individual Benedictine monasteries of Tradition in France, e.g. with Le Barroux and Fontgombault, or others, or with Vyssi Brod in the Czech Republic. And we are often in touch with the Priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter, working in ´the world´, who are very close to us through the Mass. However, there is often a very different dynamism at work in a contemplative monastery. Of course sometimes we must leave our own small world, to attend to certain important matters. But usually, the work inside the house is so demanding, that life is more than full.

Would you go the way of the Reform again?

Certainly, I would, even though I know it´s not an easy way, in which one only makes friends. Some see the Reform as an attack on their own personal territory, indeed, as an attack on their supposedly sovereign rights of interpretation. They regard the Pope, but not themselves, as fallible. But we believe the Reform is important. It´s a question of significant values, which have been lost in many places, and which are in danger of being lost in monastic life too. Indeed, they are being lost there as well. Of course one cannot copy former times absolutely, but one should try to recover precious treasures, one of which is the Liturgy, with its clear Godward direction, which is so important in the contemplative life! Many people do not realize, that it is also a question of the fullness of Faith, where we may not pick and choose. The Faith must be respected and cherished in its entirety. There are many topics of discussion in the Catholic Church, but something of great urgency is basic catechesis, which covers the Creed and everything which constitutes our Faith. We neglect what belonged to it from the beginning, and therefore belongs to it now and will belong to it in the future. The revival of Tradition can help to put an end to this threat. It can gain acceptance for the Faith in its fullness. In all this, I am encouraged by what I discover in the Scriptures: it is a matter of nothing less than the Truth, of Reality, which does not depend on majority opinion. I am reminded of Moses. He was often in dire straits, indeed, they wanted to stone him. And sometimes, I think of this or that prophet in ancient Israel, who was similarly treated. It gives one comfort and confidence, just to consider their steadfastness. The truth does not have an easy time, but it comes from God, indeed, God Himself is Truth, not in the abstract, but in a highly concrete personal form: Christ Himself. Let me say it once again: Truth dos not depend on majority opinion. And we see this in Christ Himself, in Our Lord. He Himself was not moved by majority opinion. So we find ourselves in the very best company! And so, yes, I would do it all over again.