Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pentecost at Gethsemani

Over the weekend I found myself in Kentucky (my family and childhood home) and was able to join the monks at Gethsemani for Terce and Mass on Sunday.
As a child I often came to Gethsemani with my father.  It is a quiet place.  Palpably quiet, making everything feel sweetly mysterious and peaceful.  The entrance way and Church look a little different now but it is still simple and stark.  There is a new retreat house on the left.
 When I was a child the lay people had to go upstairs and watch the goings on from up there.  But now there is a little place downstairs in the back of the Church.
The Church was redesigned in the late 60s by artist, William Schickel.  I love the simplicity of it, and the way the light plays throughout the space.  Harry, my Benedictine cousin, tells me that the colors of the stained glass are supposed to reflect the colors of the Trappist habit.

I watched the monks slowly file into the choir stalls for the chanting of Terce.  There were more young monks and monks-in-training than the last time I was here about 5 years ago.  After Terce, I was surprised when a monk came back to the place where the lay people were sitting and opened the gate.  We all (all 15 or 20 of us) then went up to the main alter to join the monks at Mass.
 I felt so honored to be up there that I didn't take any more photos.  Being Pentecost, it seemed impressive to me.  The celebrants - all the monks who were priests, I guess - processed in with red stoles, followed by the main celebrant who was dressed all in red.  This celebrant priest didn't look a day over 25 years old.

And yet the liturgy was very slow, deliberate, simple and above all, humble.  The radical Pentecostal insight was one of forgiveness.  During one of the prayers the monk said: during this weekend (Memorial Day weekend) we remember those who die in war, those who are fighting for us and those who are fighting against us.

The Mass lasted 1 1/2 hours.  I loved all of it.


  1. Nice, thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    It's very good to hear that there are more young monks than when you last visited.

  3. Beth, thank you for this post. It IS my intention, some day, to visit Gethsemani. For now, I must stay with my yearly visits to St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. Four years ago I brought my son Matthew with me on retreat. He did not know what to expect. He said he enjoyed it...but I think it takes years of retreats "in silence" to really understand and appreciate this gift. I expect and hope that someday, when I am gone, he will bring his own son on a trappist retreat, and remember his retreat experience with his dad.

  4. I think that I want, some day in my future, to go to the Colorado Trappist monastery (Snowmass?) for a 10 day silent retreat. But the timing hasn't been right (yet?). In the meantime, it seems the invitation for me is to find and recognize the silence and contemplative moments that are always all around, in the midst of everything ...

    1. What a realistic challenge "to find and recognize the silence and contemplative moments that are always all around, in the midst of everything". Thanks Beth

  5. Thank you, Beth, for sharing. Love the photos, too...

  6. i can see what merton meant by the "clean lines" of trappist monasterys

    how fortunate you were to have that experience in childhood

    my sister-in-law recently returned from her tour in iraq - her son has been part of it too - he's been away from his mom for extended periods of time

    i want one of those signs


From Dorothy Day’s editorial in the Catholic Worker on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.