Horarium (1): Holy Cross Abbey

In college, I spent many weekends, winter and summer breaks at Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Berryville, VA. The monks were cloistered, meaning the only two brothers you might meet and speak with were the Guest Master and the priest who met you for confession and spiritual direction.

The Horarium at Holy Cross Abbey:

Mornings began at 3:30 with Matins, after which I regularly walked back to my room and returned to sleep. The office of Lauds at 7am was followed immediately by Holy Mass (7:25am). Throughout each day, I would pray, read (often New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton), and write in my journal in my guest room. I would return to the chapel for Sext (12pm) and Nones (2pm). The evening ended with Vespers (5:30pm), silent dinner, save the Guest Master reading from Imitation of Christ (6pm), a rosary walk (6:30pm), Compline (7:30pm), and then we would return to our guest rooms to read and sleep (8pm).

This monastery is one of the places where my conversion to the Catholic faith was solidified. The hours of silence, reading, hearing Holy Mass, and prayer with the monks made sense to me. During those visits, I seriously contemplate a religious vocation — to live and pray with these brothers for the rest of my life.

Because the Catholic thing was already asking a lot of my lovely Protestant mother, my father equally discouraged me from becoming a monk. “Perhaps this vocation would be a waste of your talents.” Perhaps he was right.

Even still, amid the domestic vocation of married life with my wonderful wife and beautiful daughters, I still feel strongly that the monks have it right and the rest of us are either faking the Christian life or simply treading water — something akin to living paycheck-to-paycheck, spiritually speaking.

It’s been some time — over 15 years since I was last in Berryville at Holy Cross. The monastery seems to have undergone a few changes: pictures reveal that the brothers are less cloistered and that the old choir seats have been updated, but I’d still like to return as a pilgrim to the place that was for me a Bethlehem. Perhaps, save my own horarium here at the house and at the school where I teach, retreats will be the best I can must as far as a monastic occasion.


Before silent dinner in the retreat house (source)