Every once in a while, the distinctiveness of the monastic
life really hits me. Such was the case this afternoon. Where else
but in a Benedictine monastery might you find a group of 50 or 60
men gathered in a room at 3:00 on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon
to apologize to one another for their annoyances, their mistakes
and their offenses against one another?
Regularly throughout the year, our monastic community
gathers for what are called culpa services. The
proceedings are simple: an opening antiphon with verse (sung), an
opening prayer, a brief reading from the Rule, a short reflection
by one of the confreres, then the reason for being there - the
saying of "culpa."
One by one, beginning with
the abbot, we monks use a simple formula to acknowledge and ask
pardon for our sins against community life. "For my impatience with
my confreres and my poor example to the juniors, I ask you to pray
for me. Lord, have mercy." (The community responds: "Lord, have
"For my judgmental
attitude..."; "For breaking day silence…"; "For my misuse of lectio
time…"; "For gossiping and murmuring..."; "For my arriving late to
meals and Office…" Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have
After everyone has taken his
turn, the abbot concludes the assembly with a short prayer, a
blessing and the dismissal. We depart and then go about the rest of
our day, trying not to make the same mistakes, trying to get it
This stopping to take
responsibility, to apologize and pray for mercy, is really at the
heart of the Christian life and the monastic vocation: conversion.
And we ask for what we really need: support and accountability from
our confreres in order to change those things that keep us from
Culpa services increase
patience and mercy in community life. Fr. Harry likes to say that
one of the best things about culpa is hearing one another and then
being able to say to ourselves: "Well, at least he knows he
grumbles and he's working on it!"
It might take only 30
minutes, but culpa is one of the many little, but significant,
details that distinguishes our monastic life and points us in the
direction of what we came to pursue: the work of becoming each day
a better, more Christ-like person.
I love culpa services. I
love this life. It just makes sense.