Douai Abbey, as a monastery belonging to the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), is characterized by a mixed life of contemplation and apostolic activity. The principal works of the community are the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, hospitality, pastoral work in the seven parishes served by the community, scholarship, and various crafts such as bookbinding, baking, jam-making, gardening, beekeeping and sheep-farming.
Monastic life comprises a number of stages of initial formation which are outlined below. To become a monk at Douai you need to be a confirmed and practising Catholic man at least 18 years old, in good mental and physical health, an active member of your parish or other Catholic community, and single with no dependents.
A man usually applies after making a number of short visits to the monastery in order to experience the daily round of prayer, to meet with the Vocation Director and the Abbot, and to be introduced to members of the community. If the enquirer decides to apply to join the monastery, and his application is accepted, he will be invited to live in the monastery as a postulant for at least three months.
The purpose of the Postulancy is
- to enable the postulant and the community to discern whether God is calling him to monastic life in our community;
- to pass on to the postulant sufﬁcient information to help him discern whether or not he is called to monastic life here;
- to allow the postulant and the community to get to know one another at a human level;
- to enable the Abbot to gain some idea as to the postulant’s suitability for monastic life;
- to ensure that the postulant has adequate knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith, and to supply any deficiency;
- to ensure that the postulant has the physical and psychological health needed for community life; and
- to ensure that the postulant is sufﬁciently mature and stable to cope with monastic life.
Postulants live in the monastery and follow a daily programme of prayer, study and work under the direction of a monk appointed by the Abbot. They attend the community’s prayer in choir and join the community for meals and some periods of recreation. In the light of this experience the postulant may apply to join the Novitiate. A postulant may leave, or may be asked to leave, at any time.
On completing the Postulancy, one can apply to enter the Novitiate. The Novitiate is the first formal period of training to be a monk. Over the course of a full year, the novice will study the Rule of St Benedict, the Constitutions of our Congregation, some Latin and monastic history. He will also learn more about the liturgy, lectio divina and contemplative prayer. All such studies are tailored to meet individual needs.
The main purpose of the Novitiate is to continue the search for God under the guidance of the Novice Master and to discern whether the novice truly has a vocation to monastic life in our community. During this time of formation, progress is regularly assessed, and if the novice or the community come to the decision that his vocation does not lie within the community, then he may freely leave.
If a novice wishes to commit himself to monastic life, the solemnly professed monks will consider his application to make First Profession. This is a temporary commitment, usually for no less than three years. It consists in pronouncing the vows of stability, obedience and conversatio morum, or conversion of life, which includes a commitment to celibacy and poverty.
The junior (as he is now called), will normally begin theological and philosophical studies, usually at Blackfriars, the Dominican Studium in Oxford, and may be asked to help in the work of the community. Studies are intended to help deepen his knowledge and understanding of the ways of God, as well as his understanding of the place of monastic life in the life and mission of the Church.
After three years, a junior may ask to make his Solemn Profession of perpetual monastic vows. This binds the monk to the monastery for the rest of his life. After solemn vows the monk will be a member of the Conventual Chapter, and have the right and duty to discuss and vote on issues concerning the community.
Many of our monks are also ordained to the Priesthood. This requires further training, and the Abbot will decide on the monk’s suitability for priesthood at the time of Solemn Profession.
If you are interested in becoming a monk at Douai Abbey, please email the Vocation Director, Fr Gabriel Wilson OSB.
Further reading▪ Laurentia Johns (ed.), Touched by God (Continuum, 2008)▪ Thomas Merton, The Monastic Journey (Sheldon Press, 1977)▪ Cyprian Smith, The Path of Life (Gracewing, 1995)