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Carthusian Life and Vatican II

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Changes within the Charterhouse

1. The Basic structure of the Carthusian Life changed very little. There was really nothing that could be changed without destroying the Carthusian Life. The Pope and the Congregation for Religious were well aware of that, and worked to maintain the integrity of the Carthusian Life. The Liturgy Congregation was not as accommodating and had its own ideas about how the Carthusian Rite needed to be "updated". Fortunately, the Pope was the final word in how far the Congregation was allowed to go with anything considered a "major change", and the Popes were sensitive to the pleas of the monks and nuns begging them to stay the hand of the Congregation's more aggressive impositions.
  2. While there were some relatively minor changes, mostly additions of feasts, to the Carthusian Liturgy, this too did not change the nature or structure of the Carthusian Life. The vernacular was adopted for the reading in the Mass and the Office, Sermons in Chapter are now preached in Latin, and the final oral examinations each semester, of the candidates for ordination, are now in the vernacular.
  3. Some externals that were late pietistic accretions where abandoned for the more original Carthusian the noisy, heavy Rosary hanging off the belt disappeared. The scourge went out of vogue...perhaps a dangerous practice because it is very hard to moderate in a hermit’s cell. The hair shirt remained for the Fathers but never for the Brothers or Nuns.
  4. The Status of the Professed Laybrothers Vows was juridically unified with that of the Professed Fathers. For coenobitic orders like the Benedictines and Trappists, this meant that the Brothers were now considered "full" monks and their was not distinction of Choir Monk and Lay Brother. All, technically are exactly the same, some attend more Divine Office and work less and have more study time, others attend less Office work more and have less study time. This is regulated by the Abbot for the spiritual wellbeing of the individual monk. Most importantly, the Brothers were given the right to vote in any matter before the conventual chapter requiring a vote. Election of Abbots, Profession of Vows, Admission of Novices, and any communal business requiring the advice and consent of the community.
  5. With the Carthusians, this "unification" could not take that form, since from their beginnings, they have always had two distinctly complementary forms of eremetical vocation. That of the Cloister Monks was centered on a highly structured literary-oriented, clerical, solitary life with the obligation of the full Choir Office and sacred study as a primary focus, in a very fixed solitude of the enclosed self-contained "Cell" complex. The Lay Monk vocation was that of a more free-style mobile hermit, with less structure, greater freedom and variety, focused on contemplation through manual labor, like many of the Desert Fathers. From the beginning the Carthusians believed these were both true hermit charisms within the same Charterhouse, and were perfectly ordered to care for all the needs of their communities, with the spiritual and administrative aspects cared for by the Cloister Monks and the temporal and domestic aspects cared for by the Lay Monks.
  6. What the unification did was declare that the profession of vows was exactly the same in value, without obliging the same patterns of life, and of course giving all the professed monks a vote in the conventual chapter. Even the simply professed Cloister Monks and Lay Monks, and the Donate Brothers were given the vote on matters that concerned and included them, such as the admission of novices and the profession of simple vows or the Temporary or Perpetual Donation. I can remember voting in the chapter as a simply professed Cloister Monk on the admission of novices and the profession of novices and the acceptance of Temporary Donates.
  7. One aspect of the Post Vatican II Renewal was that all Lay Monks, if they wished, were invited to join in the Choral Office with the Cloister Monks. Some do, on a limited basis. Also, Lay Monks who wish, may be instituted Lectors and Acolytes to serve at the Choral Office and High Mass. There is no permanent Diaconate in the Charterhouse, so the only Deacons are Cloister Monks in transition to the Priesthood, which is part of their vocation as Cloister Monks. If there are no transitional Deacons in a community, then, the Cloister Monk Priests take turns serving as the weekly Deacon for all functions requiring a Deacon.
  8. From the stand point of Canon Law and Ordinary Jurisdiction in the Church, the Monks Branch of the Order is a Clerical Religious Monastic Order with Perpetual Solemn Vows. This means that all Cloister Monk candidates must be capable of becoming ordained to the Priesthood, and that their profession of vows, automatically admits them to the clerical state and candidacy for Holy Orders (formerly what the solemn rite of clerical Tonsure did). This also means that the Prior of a Charterhouse is a Major Religious Superior of an Exempt Religious Order, and has Ordinary Jurisdiction (like a bishop) over the territory of the monastery, its inhabitants, and the clerics who reside there. While he is only a priest, and can not ordain his clerics to the major orders, he supervises them in all things as a bishop would, granting faculties to actually serve as a deacon or priest, celebrate the sacraments, hear confessions, and preach in the monastery.
  8. As to the Carthusian Nuns, Vatican II gave them more autonomy within their monasteries, so that the Priest Vicar of a Nun's Charterhouse is not a juridical superior of the Nuns, and the Local Prioress has the Ordinary Jurisdiction over her Nuns and the monastery. The Simply Professed and Solemnly Professed Lay Nuns, and the Lay Nun Donates, have been given the vote. The Solemnly Professed Lay Nuns have also been extended the Solemn Virginal Consecration just like the Solemnly Professed Cloister Nuns.
  These are the changes that I am aware of. There may be more, but most of it is slight, at best, since the Carthusian formula, in this day and age, just doesn't admit to major changes without loosing the essence of the vocation.
  Let us pray that the authenticity of the life lived today as it compares with both the Pre-Vatican II life and the more primitive forms of Carthusian Life has not changed much. We can only assume that the invention of the printing press was a much more significant event for the Carthusians than any of the Ecumenical Councils. At least I pray so...

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