Rorate Caeli

The Reform in the Trappist Abbey of Mariawald: "Putting God back at the center of the life of the monastery"

Divine Office in Mariawald, prior to the renewal of the High Altar (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. The Abbot of Mariawald, Dom Josef Vollberg, was interviewed very recently by Paix Liturgique, which has published a partial English translation of the interview: “Restoring Her Youth To the Church”: an interview with the Abbot of Mariawald". I would like to highlight the following portion of the interview (emphases mine):

2) Can you tell us the motivations that led you to embrace the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and to choose the extraordinary form at your Abbey, late in 2008? 

Dom Josef: In our community there had been no visible fruits of the changes brought about by the second Vatican Council and our numbers had fallen drastically. From 1965 to 2011, many monks left the monastery and we had only two confirmed vocations.

And so, faced with the new liturgy's anthropocentric tendency, the desire was born to put God back at the center of the life of the monastery. Just as a tree lives only when it is fed by the energy it draws up through its roots, so too the monk (and not only the monk!) needs the wisdom of a centuries-old treasure to restore her youth to the Church.

Note that the liturgy at Mariawald is not completely identical with the Roman rite. It has its own specific features in terms of the calendar, Eucharistic liturgy, and especially as far as concerns the Breviary (the Liturgy of the Hours).

3) What changes has this choice meant for your religious life?

Dom Josef: The reform as (sic) made the monks' spiritual life more demanding. The new--understand “ancient”--liturgy requires an appropriate learning process: singing Gregorian chant is an art that demands a specific formation; attention to Latin as the proper language of worship demands willpower and diligence; reciting the Breviary takes longer and starting the Office at 3am demands a true willingness to surrender onself. All these sacrifices are rewarded by the discovery of heretofore unknown riches.

Service at the altar too requires appropriate training and the faithful themselves have to be formed to the liturgy versus Deum. Celebration versus Deum rather than versus populum demands a different kind of 'participatio actuosa' on their part--and for the most part, a more conscious one. Communion on the tongue also leads to deeper adoration. By the way, the Holy Father himself distributes Communion on the tongue in the Novus Ordo, thus giving an example of the much desired “reform of the reform.”

4) What influence has it had on the quality of your community life?

Dom Josef: Forty years of the new liturgy make any new change of orientation difficult, especially for the older brethren.

These days, however, the earlier tensions have eased and the situation is more serene. Openness to the Church's uninterrupted tradition and the more intense spiritual life are slowly bearing fruit, especially when it comes to new vocations. There is no room for impatience. If I may use the image of one of the Abbey's friends: reforming Mariawald is like turning around an ocean liner going at full steam: it takes time. Mariawald needs time . . . and also everyone's prayers.

5) What assessment are you in a position to make of this choice today? Has it had an effect on the vocations you have been attracting?

Dom Josef: If you wish to ask me for an assessment, I would say: “I would do it again, despite many, and sometimes subtle, difficulties.” There have been and there still are many candidates to enter at Mariawald: since the 2008 reform, between forty and fifty. But most of them do not stay because of the demands specific to the strict rule that we observe. This reflects a general phenomenon in our present-day society: the inability to commit on the long term. Ones sees it in the refusal to marry, the ever more general practice of cohabitation, and the increasing number of civil divorces.

This fear of commitment reaches all religious orders and is not tied to the nature of our reform. In 2008 we were twelve monks at the monastery. Two have since passed away. Today, therefore, there are ten of us, including a brother who has recently made his solemn profession (there's one who isn't afraid to commit!). We also have a novice and shall welcome a postulant this year, and there are two or three people who have shown serious interest in joining us. We also have three monks who live outside the monastery.


  1. NIANTIC9:55 PM

    Good news! Yes, the return to Tradition obviously is not easy and quick to achieve. But these monks are to be applauded for their perseverance. I am convinced they will receive great and many spiritual blessings. Hopefully they will be able to convince some of their confreres to make their return to Tradition as well.

    Traditional monastic centers are desperately needed for the future holiness and well being of the Church.

  2. This matches what I had previously heard -- that many have come, but most don't stay long, and of those who stay for a while, most can't take the austere lifestyle long term.

    Still all the best and God's blessings to the Trappists of Mariawald. With all their troubles, there is more reason to hope for their future than for many novus ordo Trappist monasteries, who have no vocations and are barely recognizable as Catholic.

  3. McCormack5:00 AM

    I see a white zuchetto!

    "From 1965 to 2011, many monks left the monastery and we had only two confirmed vocations."
    Now just watch them blossom!

    If I were a rich man, I'd certainly donate some money to renovate that sanctuary. They've done well, but a lot of work could still be done.

    Good on them!

  4. What a remarkable interview. The Trappists have chosen the hard path - but, one might also say, the narrow path.

    There have been and there still are many candidates to enter at Mariawald: since the 2008 reform, between forty and fifty.

    Many of them have and will turn away. But if even 1 in 10 choose to stick it out - well, you do the math. The sums will be a lot higher than what they had over the previous forty years.

    The traditional sacraments produce vocations. The evidence is clear. And the Trappists have figured out why.

  5. Anonymous9:44 AM

    i was there for one week this year.i also was allowed to serve at the two private masses of father abbot at all souls day.he s very nice and authentic but unfortunately not all monks-especially father prior and the older ones-participate at the office and the convent mass.they still use the german stuff.when i was there there were max. 5 monks in the choir stalls and two interested men-both older then 40.i really like the eucharistic adoration after matins but i dont like the cisctercian way of singing the office.i think the best choice would be to get a benedictine monastery of strict observance-i think of the type of le barroux (no meat,matins at night,tonsure).if they would change i would enter immediately but bellaigue is founding a monastery some kilometers away from mariwald so theres big concurrence.

  6. "Celebration versus Deum rather than versus populum"

    I like that phraseology better than "horizontal vs. vertical". It's a bit easier to understand.

    We go to mass not to be in communion with each other, but to be in communion with God, on the cross.

  7. Sequentia2:34 PM

    This shows that it takes more than a conservative reform to save a monastery. I wouldn't necessarily pin the lack of vocations on a fear of commitment. Growing communities like Clear Creek show that young men are more than willing to commit themselves when their dealing with a unified and youthful community. Being the only novice in your age group is unbearably lonely, and no one wants to enter a house that's already divided.

    1. I think that your analysis hit the nail on its head.

  8. Truth Seeker3:57 PM

    ""From 1965 to 2011, many monks left the monastery and we had only two confirmed vocations."
    Now just watch them blossom!"

    That remains to be seen. I think the abbot was right when he said that people are afraid of commitment, be it to marriage or monasticism.

    Malta, keep in mind that Cistercian/Trappist usages and Benedictine ones are just different. Of course, if God is calling you to be a Benedictine, may He prosper your vocation.

    I don't know what further changes you desire to see in their sanctuary, McCormack. Remember that austerity and restraint characterize the adornment of Cistercian/Trappist churches.

  9. Malta4:48 PM

    Truth Seeker.

    It was not me, Malta, that wanted to become a benedictine.

  10. As a former member of the Cistercians of the Common Observance (the group the Trappists broke from in the 17th century), I wonder whether any Common Observance house has attempted to reinstitute the old office rite of Mass.

    The pre-Vatican II Trappist take on monastic discipline and the Rule (monastery as "prison") always struck me as imbalanced and needlessly brutal. I suspect a Common Observance-style house with the old liturgy might have a little more luck.

  11. McCormack and Truth Seeker...

    See a previous article here:

    It appears that the sanctuary has already been addressed (i.e. Traditionalized).

    Pax Christi.

  12. Does any one know if any Carthusian charterhouses have taken similar steps? I believe they have their own liturgical rites anyhow.

  13. Anonymous7:10 PM

    one ocist abbey returned to the usus antiquior.its the czech monastery of vissy brod.this happende this year.

    the carthusians for example pray the canon of the mass in silence.

  14. James Ignatius McAuley8:51 PM

    One of the points brought out in this interview that, in my opinion, is generally overlooked by trads is the spiritual/disciplinary collapse that happened after the breviary was reduced for "pastoral purposes." The justification for suppressing the Office of Prime and shortening the Office of Matins (Readings and Vigils today) was that priest and monks would have more time to do pastoral work if they prayed less. The spiritual net result of less prayer was less pastoral productivity, along with other disasterous results, such as fewer vocations. In the Monastic World, these longer offices were integral to their spiritual discipline, and the loss of such offices could only adversely affect them.

    While the Office of Prime was allowed to be retained by monasteries at their option, we should note that when something is made liturgically optional, that means that license has been granted to effectively abandon it.

  15. Joseph10:09 PM

    I don't think we should be overly concerned that many look at the Trappist life and decide it is not for them. Very few have ever been called to that vocation and, as he pointed out, even fewer in our sad age. The question with this particular monastery is whether they made the change in time. However, with God's grace anything is possible.

  16. GQ Rep10:42 PM

    "Joseph said...
    I don't think we should be overly concerned that many look at the Trappist life and decide it is not for them. Very few have ever been called to that vocation and, as he pointed out, even fewer in our sad age. The question with this particular monastery is whether they made the change in time. However, with God's grace anything is possible."

    Hey Joseph, Merry Christmas,Happy New Year:

    I hate to contradict you about vocations to the Trappists, but you're wrong. Before Vatican II, there were over 4,800 Trappist monks world wide (1,700 today). In the USA there were 12 Trappist Abbies, over half with close to 200 monnks apiece. The famous Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky had 250 monks in the mid 1950's, the era of the well known (but after Vatican II radical liberal Thomas Merton). St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer Ma, has over 200+ monks as well. One abbey in Canada had close to 200 monks. Some Trappist houses in the USA (like Gethsemani in the 1950's), had as many as 40 novices. Same was true in Europe.
    Today, Gethsemani has barely 40 monks with most in their 70's. There are still 12 USA abbies, but some have as few as 6 monks! The situation is the same in all Europe.
    Only in Africa is the Order growing.

    Mariawald is a divided community. The aged remnant of the liberal clique (like everywhere in the Church)-represents a dead Church with a very aged membership.

    The younger monks who have embraced the old ways represent the Catholic Faith of the future.

    The old liberals know it, and hate the young traditionalists for it. The liberals (from Popes all the way down to dissident priests, nuns and lay people), know that the Vatican II Church is a failure...a spiritual desert. But they will fight to the death to keep it.
    And that's the tragedy of the Catholic Church. They will all die with their fists in the air screaming "The Spirit of Vatican II", rather than admit it was a failure and return to Catholic tradition.

    Mariawald will flourish with many vocations and will repopulate with many monks who love tradition, but not until the remnants of the Vatican II crowd are gone.

  17. RFN, just visit

  18. Joseph1:37 AM

    GQ Rep,

    Merry Christmas to you as well. My point was merely that the Trappists have always been a small monastic order because of the stringent lifestyle, not that it hasn't suffered a decline since the Council. If people seeking a religious vocation don't find the Trappist life appealing and choose another order or the diocesan priesthood, I don't think we are in a position to judge them as being somehow soft.

  19. Fidus et Audax2:58 AM

    "Mariawald needs time . . . and also everyone's prayers." And money, if you've got it, send them some. Austere though they may be due to necessity, they still need money to eat and pay for materials and things. I plan to send them some money.

  20. Anonymous2:39 PM

    Roman Observer said,

    The community is not divided, they obey their abbot and he is leading them in the right direction.

    Trads need to follow traditional metaphysicis and look at the substance and direction of things, and not nit pick about accidental details. Otherwise they will end up either as proud but perfect Jansenists or protestant Sedevacantists...

  21. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone here!

    This bit of news is a pleasant way to round out a rather overall dreadful year, setbacks for the SSPX, the Election results, various catastrophes, people's individual struggles... We hope and pray (which is all we can do overall) 2013 will be much brighter despite the different Govt mandates doing into effect for the new year.

    I think it's very interesting that while Summorum Pontificum seems to be a dead letter in Rome, it's proving to be an anchor for the Church at large and allow folks to implement it as best they can.

    God bless these Trappists for taking a stand with action, not just words.


Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!