Monks who are priests (LXII)

CHAPTER LXII. Of the Priests of the Monastery
17 Apr. 17 Aug. 17 Dec.

If any Abbot desire to have a priest or deacon ordained for his Monastery, let him choose from among his monks one who is worthy to fulfil the priestly office. And let him that is ordained beware of arrogance and pride, and presume to do nothing that is not commanded him by the Abbot, knowing that he is now all the more subject to regular discipline. Let him not, by reason of his priesthood, become forgetful of the obedience and discipline of the Rule, but advance ever more and more in godliness. Let him always keep the place due to him according to his entrance into the Monastery, except with regard to his office at the altar, or unless the choice of the community and the will of the Abbot should raise him to a higher place for the merit of his life. Nevertheless, let him know that he must observe the rules prescribed by the deans or Prior. Should he presume to do otherwise, he shall be judged, not as a priest, but as a rebel; and if after frequent warning he do not correct himself, let recourse be had to the intervention of the Bishop.* If even then he will not amend, and his guilt is clearly shewn, let him be cast forth from the Monastery, provided his contumacy be such that he will not submit nor obey the Rule.

A monk does not choose to be a priest, nor does he put himself forward for Holy Orders. The abbot, holding the place of Christ in the monastery, chooses from among his sons those who are, by nature and by grace, suited to “stand behind him” (as Saint Benedict says in Chapter LX) in humility. “You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).

Those who enter the monastery as priests are, no less than the monks chosen for the priesthood by the abbot, called to surpass all others in humility and in obedience, for it is given them each day to meet the gaze of the Lamb, and to touch with their hands the very mystery of the humility of God.

The monk priest is, first of all, a monk. The conferral of the priesthood does not lift a monk above his brethren nor dispense him from obedience to his abbot. On the contrary, the priesthood is a configuration by sacramental grace to the Christus Passus, to the Victim Christ, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” and “humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). The priesthood is not necessary for the monastic state to be complete. The priesthood is, in some way, accidental to the monastic state. It changes nothing of the way a monk lives obedience, silence, humility, and separation from the world. This being said, there is a profound harmony between the state of monastic consecration and the sacrament of Holy Orders. The monk who daily goes to the altar as a sacrificing priest also offers himself daily from the altar as a single victim with Christ.

It is also eminently fitting that a monk, bound to put nothing before the Opus Dei, should also be sacramentally configured to Christ the Head of the Mystical Body in offering each day the Sacrifice of the Cross for the glory of the Father and for the salvation of the world. Given that, in our monastery, we are dedicated to the adoration of the Hidden Christ who, under the veil of the Sacred Host, exercises His priesthood in heaven and on earth, the monk who is a priest recognises in the Sacred Host what, by sacramental grace, he himself has become, and is thereby drawn into an ever closer union with the mystery that he contemplates and adores.

The monk priest, though largely hidden from the eyes of the world, gives God to men and gives men to God. This he does without leaving the cloister. He does this not by engaging in pastoral labours in the vineyard but by remaining permanently at the very fountainhead from which all pastoral labours are irrigated and made fruitful. Paradoxically, the more the priesthood of a monk is exclusively monastic—that is, hidden in the silence of the enclosure, utterly gratuitous, and unknown—the more fruitful will his priesthood be.