Recollections of how St. Bruno’s Day was celebrated at the Charterhouse of Transfiguration by a former
Carthusian monk of the Transfiguration, October 2006.
Since St. Bruno’s Day is a Solemnity and Feast of
Sermon in the Carthusian Rite, it was prepared for on Oct. 5th by the weekly bread and water fast for the Cloister Monks.
Before Vespers, the entire community of Fathers and Brothers would meet in the Chapterhouse across from the Church, to hear
the Sermon for the Feast; usually preached by our Fr. Prior.
If someone was entering or advancing in the Carthusian
Vocation, these ritual ceremonies would happen at an appropriate time in this meeting of the conventual chapter. The sermon
would be chiefly addressed to the new novice, donate, or new professed, but of course it was also meant to give everyone significant
pause to reflect on the mystery of the Carthusian Vocation as St. Bruno envisioned it. All the while, it reminded us of St.
Bruno’s effort to be a faithful follower and lover of Christ through the solitary contemplative vocation.
the sermon was finished, the community processed single file, into the Church for the first vespers of the Solemnity.
the sanctuary, the traditional four large lighted solemnity candles would be spread out atop the foot of the sanctuary steps.
The altar candles would also be lit.
When the community was settled in silent prayer, the signal to begin would be
given by the Prior with a knock on the wooden choir stall. The Hebdomadary (weekly) Priest would intone "Deus in adjutorium
meum intende" and the service would begin as prescribed in the Liturgical Ordo of the Order, using, what was then, the brand
new Common of Monks.
Since the Common was new, it wasn’t in the giant manuscript style choir folios that served
as our Antiphonals. The Order had printed these new offices in a smaller format on 11 X 17-inch paper pages as a supplement,
so these were bound locally and set on top of the folios. They had the new Antiphons with their Carthusian Gregorian Notation
(much simpler than Solemne’s Notation!) as well as all the directions to the Psalms to be used and the Great Responsory
to be used and the Magnificat Antiphon.
One of my favorite things happened during the chanting of the Magnificat. The
Hebdomadary Priest would incense the Altar and sanctuary, and then he would cense the whole community, walking right up the
choirs on the Prior’s side, and returning censing the choirs on the opposite side.
The service would conclude with
the normal prayers, Pater Noster, and the proper Prayer for St. Bruno.
Everyone would return to cell, and their pre-bedtime
activities. Of course the Fathers were still bread and water fasting, so if they ate anything before bed, that’s what
it would be. The order has always looked upon the work of the Brothers, which is long, quite often hard and heavy, as ascetical.
It has also put them under obedience to eat sufficiently to sustain their health and be able to perform their work, which
is so important for their way of contemplative life as well as the wellbeing of the community. So there is a different view
of what fasting consists for them. Given that their diet is meatless, and becomes dairy-less in Lent and Advent, the Order
has learned over the centuries that its fasting regime for the Brothers is appropriate. In general, the Carthusians see the
effects of these practices as cumulative over a lifetime, so they are not worried to get "dramatic", quick, short-term spiritual
results. As with the bread and water fasting, once the novelty
of it wears off, and it does pretty quickly, it becomes
a sacrifice. It leaves one feeling undernourished and hungry, lacking energy and feeling weak and worn out, and in the winter,
without reserves to generate sufficient body heat to get through the night offices in a cold church.
The Midnight Vigil
began at 12:15 a.m. It was comprised of Matins and Lauds. The Matins has 3 nocturnes. This spreads out the 12 lessons that
will be read and their beautiful, spiritually powerful Responsories that will be chanted. The are interspersed in groupings
of four lessons and Responsories per nocturne, between the psalmody and Old Testament canticles that are chanted. The psalms
are proper to the Common of Monks, so there will be a lot of page turning all over the Psalterium folio. Each of the 12 matins
psalms will have its own antiphon, chanted before and after it. In the third nocturne, a single antiphon introduces and completes
the prescribed chanting of Old Testament Canticles and Prophecies.
The readings are normally a patristic commentary in
the first and second nocturnes, although sometimes a portion of the Old Testament is read. The third nocturne lessons begin
with the introductory verses of the Gospel of the Day, and proceeds with a patristic commentary on the Gospel divided into
four parts, with a Responsory after each part.
Once the last Responsory is finished the TE DEUM LAUDAMUS hymn of St.
Ambrose is intoned. It is so glorious! Humanly, it makes all the hunger, cold, and exhaustion turn into a pure joy in the
Lord. Immediately, at the conclusion to the Te Deum, the Hebdomadary Priest, now vested in the Cuculla Ecclesiastica (It’s
like a special alb with a hood) and a Stole, reads the Holy Gospel solemnly from the Gospel lectern of the sanctuary. After
the Gospel, the response DE DECET LAUS is chanted, and then the Priest reads the proper prayer for St. Bruno.
Matins and Lauds is a time of silent prayer in total darkness for the Fathers. It is taken standing in the choir stall facing
the Altar with the hood covering the head. Usually, the Brothers leave and return to their cells for their own private prayers.
the Prior gives the signal, Lauds begins. The Common of monks will prescribe the Hymn, as well as proper Antiphons and festal
psalms. Everything proceeds like the first vespers, with an incensing at the Benedictus.
All of this will end around
3:00 or 3:15a.m. depending on the length of the readings and the Responsories.
So it’s back to cell, prayer and
bed, since 6:30a.m. will arrive all too quickly to begin the "daylight" portion of the Carthusian day. When it does, the Sunday/Solemnity
Horarium will prevail, with office, contemplative prayer, and Lectio Divina until 9:00a.m. Terce will be celebrated in Church
prior to Concelebrated High Mass. After thanksgiving, it’s back to cell at about 10:30a.m., for prayer and Lectio Divina.
At a little before Noon, it’s Sext in Church, then off too the Refectory for Grace and a meal in common in silence
with readings. The brothers will try to cook their specialties for these special festal meals, although they really don’t
have a lot of time due to the Mass schedule. There may be a small glass of wine at each place setting, but that is a rarity.
After the meal the community finishes its thanksgiving in Church then its back in cell for some free time and a short prayer.
At 1:00p.m. or so, it’s None in Church and then off to the Chapter House for the Martyrology and any other conventual
business that needs attention. Once that is over, then the whole community processes to the common recreation, either at the
Prior’s office, the Procurator’s office, or outdoors. There they have a gentle group exchange, the Prior make
talk about prayer requests, personal, ecclesiastical, national or global. He may also share major news about the Church, the
Order, the General Chapter, the Father General, or the Diocese. Then there may be more chatty topics about news from the different
communities that the monks came from or were trained at and how different monks are doing and the greetings they send to the
community at Transfiguration. Sometimes the recreation can turn into a small stroll close to the monastery, paired up two
by two, spatiamentum style, since October 6th is usually the peak time for foliage on Mt. Equinox. The Vermont mountain color can
be pretty spectacular and breathtaking, and the Carthusians love to
take advantage of it as one of the perks of living there. It helps offset the severity of the mountain winters and the lateness
of the spring. Since there are only 6 real common times the Frs. and Bros. are together each year, Christmas, Easter, the
Grand Spatiamentum, Transfiguration Day, the Fall Prioral Spatiamentum, and St. Bruno’s Day, it is common for a Brother
and a Father to walk together and chat.
Usually, this is all finished by 4:00 p.m., then it’s back to cell for
prayer. At 5:00p.m. it’s Second Vespers of the Solemnity of St. Bruno in Church. It basically repeats the First Vespers,
and so there you have the liturgical conclusion of the celebration. After Vespers it back to cell for prayer and supper and
The Festal Supper is where the Brother "pull out the stops" to the limited extent that can be done in the
charterhouse. Again they will go out of their way to make something particularly yummy, and especially a "fancy desert" usually
pretty sweet and tasty, like a British Date and Nut pudding. There may be a few pieces of candy, fruit, candied fruit or nuts,
and a tiny bottle with a snort of Chartreuse Liqueur (We are Carthusians after all). It is a very rare commodity in an extremely
I can remember sitting at my small dining table looking out the window at the trees gloriously illumined
on the mountainside with the last bit of light from the quickly fading sunset, sipping my Chartreuse very slowly, savoring
its delicate bouquet and body. It reminded me of drinking in this heritage of St. Bruno. I’d sit there thanking God
for St. Bruno, the Order and the Transfiguration community. And since this was my feast of clothing as a novice, profession
as a monk, and institution as a Lector, it was always preceded by my annual week-long solitary retreat, so these things made
St. Bruno’s Day all the more poignant for me. Even though he seems like some kind of mystery man, perhaps that is good.
While he was gifted, in a worldly sense, his greater giftedness shown through the humble obscurity of his person by the life
he embraced to actively love Christ and to give Jesus his all, and in so doing, started this wonderful monastic eremitical
spiritual movement. As St. Paul told his disciples, "Imitate me for I Imitate Jesus! "So, too, except for his extreme humility,
I could imagine easily those words coming from the lips of St. Bruno. It would be Jesus, himself, by the Spirit, speaking
to them through St. Bruno to all of us, his spiritual children and heirs.