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.