The Carthusian Order

The carthusian way

The goal : Contemplation

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« …Discover the immensity of love. »

Statutes 35.1

The only goal of the Carthusian way is CONTEMPLATION, by the power of the Spirit, living as unceasingly as possible in the light of the love of God for us, made manifest in Christ.
This implies a purity of heart, or charity : « Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. » (Mt 5:8)
Monastic tradition also calls this goal pure and continuous prayer.

The fruits of contemplation are : liberty, peace, and joy. O Bonitas ! O Goodness, was the cry which issued from the heart of St. Bruno. But the unification of the heart and the entrance into the contemplative rest assume a long journey, which our Statutes describe as such :

« Whoever perseveres without defiance in the cell and lets himself be taught by it tends to make his entire existence a single and continual prayer. But he may not enter into this rest without going through the test of a difficult battle. It is the austerities to which he applies himself as someone close to the Cross, or the visits of God, coming to test him like gold in the fire. Thus purified by patience, fed and strengthened by studied meditation of Scripture, introduced by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the recesses of his heart, he will thus be able to, not only serve God, but adhere to him. »

Statutes 3.2

All monastic life thus consists of this journey towards the heart and all the meaning of our life is oriented towards this end. It helps the monk unite his life to charity, introducing it to the depths of his heart.

Truthfully, it is not this end which distinguishes us from other contemplative monks (Trappist, Benedictines, etc.), but the borrowed path, of which the essential characteristics are :

  • the solitude
  • a positive mixture of solitary and community life
  • the carthusian liturgy

Solitude

We share certain monastic values with other contemplative monks, for example: silence, work, poverty, chastity, obedience, listening to Scripture, prayer, and humility. Others are our own.

The first essential characteristic of our life is the vocation of solitude, to which we are especially called. The Carthusian monk searches for God in solitude.

« The primary application of our vocation is to give ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the area where God and his servant hold frequent conversations, as between friends. There, the soul often unites itself to the Word of God, bride to the groom, the earth to the sky, man to the divine. »

Statutes 4.1

Solitude is lived on three levels :

  1. Separation from the world
  2. The cell
  3. Interior solitude, or solitude of the heart
  1. Separation from the world is made possible by the cloister. We only leave the monastery for an occasional walk. We do no receive visits nor exercise any outside apostolate. We have neither radio nor television in the monastery. It is the prior who receive news and tell the monks what they need to know. As such the necessary conditions for internal silence develop, which then permit the soul to stay alert and attentive to the presence of God.
  2. The Cell is a hermitage arranged in such a manner as to assure the Carthusian a solitude as complete as possible, all the while giving him the necessities of life. Each cell consists of a two story building surrounded by a garden, where the monk lives alone for most of the day, for the duration of all his life.
    Coupe d'un ermitage   Cellule
    It is because of this solitude that each of our cells is called a Desert or Hermitage.
  3. The cloister and cell only assure an external solitude. It is only the first step whose goal is to encourage interior solitude, or purity of heart: to keep one's soul away from any and all things not of God or which do not lead to God. It is at this level that the Carthusian meets the sudden impulses of his thought and the changes of his feelings. As long as the monk discusses with his "self", his sensibilities, his worthless thoughts, unreal desires, he is not centered on God. It is here that he experiences his weakness and the power of the Spirit which he learns bit by bit « …the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart which allows God to enter by all path and access. » (Statutes 4.2)

Welcome

Liturgical celebration does not have any pastoral intent. This explains why those outside the Order are not admitted to participate at the offices or the Mass celebrated in the churches of our monasteries. Because of our call to solitude, visits are limited to the family members of the monk (2 days a year) and to those who feel called to our life, whom we call retreatants.

Solitary life and Community life

A solitary communion

« The grace of the Holy Spirit brings together those living in solitude to make a communion in love, in the image of the Church, one and extending to all ends of the earth. »

Statutes 21.1

Carthusian originality comes, in second part, from the community aspect which is intrinsically linked in the solitary aspect. This was St. Bruno's stroke of genius, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to have been able, from its very inception, to balance in just the right proportions solitary life and community life in such a way as to allow the Carthusians to be a communion of solitaries for God. Solitude and brotherly life balance themselves perfectly.

Community life becomes concrete in the liturgy sung at the church, and by weekly meetings of the community on Sunday, during lunch in silence at the refectory and in the afternoon during the bimonthly recreation. In other words, on the first day of the week a long hike of approximately four hours (the spaciement) occurs in which we can talk to better get to know one another. These recreations and hike have the goal of maintaining mutual affection and helping unite the hearts, while assuring healthy physical exercise.

Fathers and Brothers

A Carthusian community consists of cloistered monks, priests or those destined to become priests (Fathers) and monks converse or donate (Brothers). Cloistered monks live in the strictest of solitude. They do not leave their cells other than when allowed by the rule. They occupy their time with prayer, readings, and work (sawing wood to heat themselves during winter, gardening, transcribing, pottery, etc.) The Brothers ensure that the various needs of the monastery are met by their work outside of the cells (cooking, carpentry, laundry, work in the woods) It is a unique ideal, lived in two different ways. The Brothers work in as much silence and solitude as possible. They have their share of life in the cell for reading and prayer, yet it is less demanding than the Fathers. That is why their cells are smaller. Both ways of life complement one another to form the unique Charterhouse and correspond to the different aptitudes of those who wish to lead a Carthusian life.

Within the group of Brothers, there are two categories, those called Converts (monks that take the exact same vows as the Fathers) and that of the Donates.
The Donates are monks who do not take the vows, but for love of Christ, give themselves to the Order by mutual agreement. They have their own set of customs which differs slightly than those of the Converts. For instance, their help during the Offices, most notable during the night Office, is not as strict. They live without owning anything. After seven years, they can fully enter the Order or renew their donation. Their gift to God is not any less than that of the other monks, as they tackle tasks and duties less compatible to the obligations of the Converts.

The nuns have of the same type of vocations under the name of Cloister Nuns, Converse Nuns and Donate Nuns.

Carthusian liturgy

Characteristics of carthusian liturgy

As soon as they arrived in the region of Chartreuse, St. Bruno and his companions put together a liturgy particularly adapted to their hermitical vocation and minimalist dimensions of their community. Over the centuries, our fathers have sought to preserve this same liturgy according to our solitary and contemplative life.
In comparison to the Roman rite, the Carthusian rite is characterized by its simplicity and sobriety in terms of external forms, which favors the union of soul with God, by visible and sensible expressions.

Certain elements of our liturgy :

  1. Long periods of silence
  2. No musical instruments
  3. Gregorian chant, helping internal conversation

Liturgical celebration

The celebration of the most holy Eucharistic sacrifice is the center and summit of communal life. Every day the monks gather to celebrate the sacrifice of Our Lord. The eucharist can only be concelebrated on days where Carthusian life exhibits its community character, Sundays and significant Holy days. Other days, there is only one celebrant at the altar, and the Eucharistic prayer is said in a very low voice. The community takes part of this Eucharistic liturgy with Gregorian chant, silent prayers, and communion.
At other times of the day, each monk priest celebrates the holy mysteries in a solitary chapel, uniting him in a special and sacramental way to the universal sacrifice.

Another highlight of the liturgical day is that of the office celebrated in the church during the middle of the night (Matins and Lauds) : lasting from three to four hours depending on the day, alternating chants of Psalms and readings of Holy Scripture or of Church Fathers, times of silence and prayers of intercession. All Carthusians have a particular love for this long office of the night where each, united to all his brothers in a personal manner, can live an intense and meaningful communion with God.

Chanting is always done in Latin, according to Gregorian melodies specifically attached to the Carthusians. Certain houses of the Order sing the psalms in vernacular, others in Latin. Readings are usually done in the vernacular. In the cells, the office can be recited in Latin or in the vernacular.

Towards the end of the day the monks find themselves in the church to celebrate Vespers. The other parts of the office are celebrated by each monk in his cell, except on Sunday and certain Holy Days where they are sung in the church. In addition to the divine office, Carthusians recite the office of the Virgin Mary every day in their cells and once a week an office with special intentions for the dead. They pray to God that he welcomes in His eternal kingdom all those who have passed away.

Thanks to the liturgy, the Carthusians do not remain a group of solitaries by themselves, but become a real community, thus manifesting the mystery of the Church and finding its place by the public worship it gives to God.

In the Heart of the Church and of the World.

« Separated from all, we are united to all for it is in the name of all that we present ourselves to the living God. »

Statutes 34.2

Praise

The Carthusian did not choose solitude for its own sake, but because he saw in it an excellent means for him to attain a deeper union with God and all mankind. It is upon entering the recesses of his heart that the Carthusian solitaries become, in Christ, present to all men. He becomes a solitary to attain solidarity. Contemplatives are at the heart of the Church. They fulfil an essential function in the ecclesiastical community: the glorification of God. Carthusians withdraw to the desert first and foremost to worship God, to praise him, to admire him, to be seduced by him, to give themselves to him, in the name of all of mankind. It is in the name of all that they are mandated by the Church to be a permanent prayer.

Intercession

Since the very beginning the Church recognized that monks tied to contemplation act as intercessors. Representing all of creation, on a daily basis, at all the liturgical offices and during the Eucharistic celebration, they pray for the living and the dead.

Witness

« Turned, by our profession, solely toward Him who is, we are witness in face of a world engrossed in the earthly realities that outside of Him there is no God. Our life shows that the good from heaven is already to be found on earth; it is a precursor of the resurrection and like an anticipation of a renewed world. »

Statutes 34.3

For the solitaries, being such a witness is not realized by speech, nor by personal contact. By his mere presence, the monk is a witness that God lives and can take over the hearts of men.

Penance

The ascetic life associated with the Carthusian as the work of Christ, for the salvation of man :

« For our penance we take part in the redemptive role of Christ. He saved mankind, captive and burdened by sin, especially through his prayer to the Father, and by his death; by forcing ourselves to be associated with this most profound aspect of the redemption, and in spite of our apparent lack of outside activity, we exercise this apostolate in the most immediate way. »

Statutes 34.4

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