Archive for July 17th, 2017


There’s a Choir Stall for You!

This past week guests swelled the ranks in our choir stalls.  In fact, on several occasions the guests outnumbered the monks, and it’s not because our community is small.  It’s not.  Rather, there were just so many of them.  One evening 350 Lutheran church musicians joined us at Evening Prayer.  Then, for two days, 85 oblates of the abbey prayed Morning and Evening Prayer with us during their annual retreat.  It’s great to have any and all of them with us, but it can seem overwhelming at times.  And that’s okay.

Saint Benedict envisioned the presence of guests, and lots of them; but he scarcely imagined that they would join us for prayer.  In his day most guests visited and prayed in the church, and perhaps a few lingered to listen as the monks chanted the psalms.  But that was it.  The Latin and the musical notation put participation beyond the reach of guests.  That’s not so today.

IMG_6695Nothing better illustrates the change than one activity in the orientation of freshmen at Saint John’s University.  Last August 463 freshmen filed into our church to join us for Evening Prayer.  The abbot welcomed them and spoke for a few moments about the monastic community.  Later, after prayer, small groups of students met to visit with individual monks.  But the main business at hand was the recitation of Evening Prayer.  Doutless for many of the students it was a new and strange ritual.  But it was also their chance to take part in something beyond the reach of guests in Saint Benedict’s day.

English became the language of the liturgy at Saint John’s fifty years ago, and after that visitors began to join us for prayer in greater numbers.  Still later they began to sit in the section of the choir stalls adjacent to the stalls used by the monks.  There a monk is ready to guide them through the choir books.  Most guests fall easily into the rhythm of the psalms and hymns; but if on occasion there is a discordant note from the visitors’ section, adjustment to the pace of recitation comes quickly.

IMG_6688I can only imagine that in those first years the presence of guests was distracting for a few confreres, but the dynamic is rather different today.  Guests now are an important part of our daily prayer.  The presence of faculty, staff, students and other visitors bolsters our spirits, and we feel their absence keenly during the holidays.

Last August the abbot invited the freshmen to join us for prayer in the course of their four years at Saint John’s.  Are we disappointed that all 463 have not joined us regularly since then?  Not at all.  But on those rare occasions when guests truly are absent, our prayer seems strangely incomplete.

Next month the abbot will once again issue the invitation to the freshmen who have gathered with us for Evening Prayer.  Some will take him up on his invitation in the course of four years.  Some won’t.  But as is the case with all guests to the monastery today, there is a stall waiting for them to join us!


+On July 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict with a Mass in the morning followed by lunch with several hundred guests who were here as six monks renewed their vows on the anniversary of their profession.

+On July 12th we hosted 350 members of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, who joined us for Evening Prayer.

+On July 14-15 we hosted 85 Oblates of Saint John’s Abbey, who were here for their annual retreat.  Fr. Bob Koopmann gave the retreat conferences.

+On July 16th we hosted 50 Abbey volunteers who joined us for Mass and lunch.  They are friends of the Abbey who help us out with all sorts of day-to-day activities.

+The photos in today’s post show the Abbot’s Courtyard, leading to the entrance to the monastery.  The gate, wall and gardens were put in place in 1988.


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