Prayer and Manual Labor
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The ancient religious orders in the Latin Church (those founded in the 12th century or before) have always fostered a lifestyle that emphasizes a common life, a day order that hinges around the chanting of the divine office, manual and intellectual labor and meals taken in common. If such a schedule is lived faithfully for many years, far from being tedious, it can open up one's heart and soul to a peaceful lucidity that is hard to imagine for those who are not in a monastery. Prayer and manual labor are linked in that prayer informs the spirit in which the work is done, and work can make prayer visible.

Here at the abbey, for most of the confreres, it is during the years of formation that most come into contact with manual labor. Historically, our community tends to use priests in positions of teaching or preaching more than in the field or woodshop, although there are exceptions to this. These would include the priests charged with management of the abbey plant and work at the new site, as well as priests who use occasional days working in the garden as needed respite from their other duties.

The field of labor is as wide as and wider than that of the maintenance of a typical household. Landscape maintenance, help in the kitchen, cleaning bathrooms and showers, keeping the church clean and set up for Mass. Each of these tasks, performed with love for the common good, helps to sanctify the individual and make the abbey a more ordered and peaceful place to live.

Photo: Fraters Anselm and Christopher clean the refectory glass doors.

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Community Meals
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Table Reading

At St. Michael's Abbey, it doesn't take long to realize that silence is an important aspect of our daily life. Many are puzzled, however, when they learn that we even observe a spirit of silence during our mealtimes. For one, breakfast is taken completely in silence. Having just come from Holy Mass, the confreres observe this quiet as a way of fostering continued recollection and prayer. You won't hear conversing confreres at lunchtime either; instead, a seminarian reads aloud for the duration of the meal. "Table reading," as we call it, is meant to encourage and enlighten the confreres. It often consists of the Sacred Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and other religious topics. At dinnertime, while the confreres can converse for most of the meal, we begin with a short reading from the Roman Martyrology: short biographies of the saints for the next day. This is followed by the Norbertine constitutions. At the end of the meal, we conclude with a final reading, usually about the life of St. Norbert or from the Office of Readings.
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Photo: Frater Urban takes his turn reading aloud to the community during lunch.
 
Community Meals

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It isn't an uncommon sight at St. Michael's Abbey to see the confreres hard at work. You may see them offering Holy Mass, teaching a class, or perhaps trimming up our Abbey's gardens. Service to the community is an essential part of Norbertine life. Even at dinnertime, you'll find our priests and seminarians hard at work serving and bussing the refectory tables. Every week there's a different crew of confreres who give up their seat at table so that they can serve their brothers and then clear the tables as meal concludes. At the end of the meal, it's the servers turn to eat while a group of seminarians stays behind to prepare the refectory for the next meal. With the growing number of men joining our ranks, our refectory is now a tight-squeeze and so working there often feels like an obstacle course. This, of course, is a sign of God's generosity to our community. Grateful for our overflowing religious community, we also eagerly await a more ample space in our new home.

Photo: Frater Jacob takes his turn washing the dishes after the community meal.

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Community Mass
150402 holy thursday 59 - copyThe Greatest Thing We Do For You

"Your mercies are renewed each morning, for great is Your faithfulness." Thus the prophet Jeremiah sings in his beautiful Lamentations. At St Michael's Abbey these mercies are renewed each morning at what is called our Conventual or Community Mass. Although there can be many Masses celebrated for various occasions, this Mass, called from the first days of our Norbertine order the Missa Summa, the "supreme" Mass, must be celebrated with the participation of all the confreres at the abbey each day of the year. The celebrant of this Mass must offer it according to our Constitutions for the intentions of all the living and deceased confreres and benefactors of our canonry. There is nothing we do for ourselves or our friends that is more powerful than this, for the Mass fulfills our whole duty as creatures by our adoration and thanksgiving (that is what "Eucharist" means), and gains us graces and pardon by our offering of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Each day is a new day, with new gratitude, new hopes, and new forgiveness, so each day has its Mass for all of us together. This Mass is at 7:00am on weekdays, and 11:00am on Sundays. Everyone is most welcome, but present or not, you are always represented here at our altar as the celebrant lifts up the Lamb of God. Join us each day in body or in spirit!

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