Over Easter I spent a few very peaceful days at Clearcreek monastery in Oklahoma.
Clearcreek is one of the only (the only?) traditional Benedictine monasteries in the United States. They are an offshoot of the Solesmes congregation, which was founded in France following the devastation wrought on the monasteries by the French revolution.
The Solemnes congregation has specialized in resurrecting Gregorian chant, and the monks at Clearcreek participate in that tradition to the fullest. Daily mass at the monastery lasted a full hour and a half because of the intricate and rich chant (This was Easter week, and so I can’t be entirely sure such an elaborate mass was entirely normal. I have been to the monastery twice before, but both of those times was during Christmas week, when you would also expect elaborate liturgies).
The monastery was founded in the early 90s and has come a long way. I counted 39 monks while I was there, though there may be more. They say their goal is to reach 60, at which point they will found another monastery. The most remarkable thing about the monk is how young they are: there appear to be several monks in their early to mid 20s, and plenty who can’t be into their mid 30s. Just another sign of the “springtime” JPII spoke about.
This is monastic life at its richest, and its most authentic. The Benedictines are an entirely contemplative order, meaning their primary purpose in life is simply to pray. Silence rules their life: they speak only when necessary, or during times of recreation. They strive towards self-sufficiency by raising their own cattle and sheep, growing their own produce, and by mastering various crafts, including cheesemaking and iron work, the products of which they sell in their book store.
All of their liturgies are in Latin, and they say the 1962 missal (i.e. tridentine or extraordinary rite). They get up around 4:45 for lauds, and then matins, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline, all of which are chanted with exquisite purity.
During my time there I was able to get a tour of their cheese-making operation. It’s a humble thing, with an incredibly humble monk at its helm: and the cheese they make (a gouda from their own milk) is utterly delicious. In order to get this private tour I had to ask permission, and had to get it from the abbott: they are very jealous of their privacy, as pretty much any authentically contemplative order is.
I will tell you more about the cheese-making later (and my own experiments trying to make cheese). I am also working on an article about monastic life, which I should be done relatively soon. In the meantime enjoy the pictures.