Frequently Asked Questions
What is Cistercian Spirituality?
“Cistercian nuns seek God and follow Christ under a rule and an abbess in a stable community which is a school of mutual love”.
These words, from the Constitutions of our Order, point to some key elements in our spirituality.
: “Cistercian” comes from the word Cîteaux, in Latin Cistercium, which means “marshy place” or “swampy place”. Cîteaux, in France, is where the Cistercian movement began in 1098, as a reform within the Benedictine monastic tradition.
Nuns and monks
: there are both men and women Cistercians. We live in single-sex communities, but the two branches form one Order. There are Cistercian communities on all five continents: they follow the same lifestyle, adapted to local situations.
: the heart of monastic life is seeking God. From earliest times, some Christians have felt called to go apart to lead a life more intensely focused on God. They separated themselves from the distractions of regular society, and went away to a remote or isolated place more conducive to prayer and consciousness of God. There they devoted themselves to seeking God and union with God. The first people to practise this kind of lifestyle went literally into the desert, in Egypt. We follow in their footsteps, and so do not engage in any outside apostolate. The purpose of a Cistercian is to seek God.
: Cistercian life is a way of living the Gospel. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is fundamental in each sister’s heart.
Christ is our model: we strive to be conformed to him in his obedience, humility, patience and poverty. He is our King, whom we try to serve. And he is our Beloved: we seek intimate union with him in prayer.
Under a Rule...
: this means the Rule of St Benedict, as interpreted by Cistercian tradition and contemporary understanding. There are three key elements in the monastic day according to this Rule:
: Seven times a day we meet in the church to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, consisting of psalms, Scripture readings, and prayers. By this we offer praise to God, we ourselves are sanctified, and we intercede for all people. We celebrate the Eucharist daily; it is the source of our communion with Jesus Christ and with one another.
(2) Lectio divina
: quiet, meditative reading of the Word of God in Scripture, which leads to contemplative prayer and shapes us to live by the Gospel.
: Through our work we support ourselves, and have something to share with the poor. In Glencairn we produce eucharist bread and greeting cards for sale, and we have a farm which is now mostly dedicated to tillage (barley) with some cattle. Other work includes care of the sick and guests, the upkeep of the monastery, administration and formation work, gardening, and many other tasks.
Living “under a Rule” means that our life is disciplined. The purpose of this discipline is to make us free: free from selfishness and unhealthy desires, free from things that do not help us on our journey to God; free to have hearts open to give and receive genuine love.
…and an abbess
: the abbess is a central figure in the monastery. She is believed to act as Christ’s representative, and so ministers to the whole community with pastoral care, teaching the sisters by word and example, and encouraging them in their monastic vocation.
: Cistercians maintain a balance between solitude on the one hand, and community living on the other. Solitude and silence provide us with a climate for prayer and encounter with God. Community relationships are the place where love is put into action. Unity of spirit, sharing of goods, and bearing one another’s burdens are hallmarks of a Spirit-filled community.
: we make a vow of stability, which means that we commit ourselves to live always in this particular community, and will not normally move to another one. Stability is the “for better, for worse” of monastic life. Our other vows are fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.
School of love
: St Benedict called the monastery a “school of the Lord’s service.” The early Cistercians called it a “school of love”. On our spiritual journey we are always pupils. Learning to love with the heart and mind of Christ is an ongoing task, which will occupy us all the days of our life.
Hospitality is a particular feature of Cistercian life and an expression of love. We try to welcome all who visit our monastery, and to share with them something of the peace and hope of Christ. In our little guest house many people stay for a few days of prayer and quiet.
If you are interested in finding out more about our Cistercian way of life, you might like to join us for our next Monastic Experience Weekend for women at St Mary's Abbey, Glencairn. Please see our Vocations Page for details
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