Ruairidh MacLennan explains what makes the Benedictine Abbey at Pluscarden a special place for so many.
The entrance to the abbey of Pluscarden presents the words ‘In loco isto dabem pacem’, that is – ‘In this place I shall give peace’.
It is fitting that a monastery should propose ‘peace’ to the outside world. While the threats to order in our own lives may be very different to those faced in centuries past, ‘peace’ is something which many may find to be at a premium.
A monastery is a promise of peace.
Pluscarden Abbey is situated in a quiet glen in Moray. It is the sole remaining medieval monastery in the United Kingdom still inhabited by a monastic community. Its Benedictine monks live lives of balance, with their daily routine consisting of exercises for the heart, the head and hands.
The Benedictine office marks the day from early morning to evening, with mental and manual tasks complementing a structure of communal prayer. Retreatants are received in a manner after the Rule of St Benedict, which places great emphasis on receiving guests as Christ Himself.
It will strike many a visitor to the abbey that its routines appear as counterpoints to the routines of modern life. Where shopping and consumption can dominate, the monastery instead offers a space and time of contemplation.
The soundtrack of a day at Pluscarden is a symphony of calm.
The pealing of bells to summon the monks to prayer, the rising of Gregorian chant to the roof of the stone structure of the church, and even the crowing of the many pheasants who amble through the abbey’s grounds – each of these are notes befitting a space of prayer and balance in a world that is all too often out of balance.
Concluding each day in the abbey is what is referred to as ‘the great silence’. Upon chanting Compline and praying for a safe night, quiet descends on the monastery.
Speech ceases and stillness emerges. It is in this atmosphere of silence that the soul – all too often pulled one way or another by earthly distractions – can compose itself at the end of the day and centre itself on that which is central to its existence.
The rule of St Benedict opens with the command, “Hearken continually within thine heart, O son, giving attentive ear to the precepts of thy master.”
While this is addressed to the many in abbeys across time and space, its substance is applicable and even necessary for every soul.
The monastery provides a setting and an atmosphere that might be unfamiliar to many who are accustomed to lives filled with all manner of worries and distractions. Modern life does little in the way of fostering exterior peace, thus making interior peace all the more difficult to obtain.
Nevertheless, that makes its discovery all the more precious.
We might not all be called to the full monastic life, but there is a place in the yearnings of every heart, the ponderings of every head and the actions of every pair of hands for the peace that the monastery and the monastic life offer.
As God offered peace in the temple, so he offers peace in the monastery.
In a time defined by chaos, peace is something that we can all rest in, and come to grow in.