This is an historical section of the website. The monastery is no longer open. Please read the INTRODUCTION page. The photographs show: 1. The choir area of the abbey church; 2. The monastic cloister.
St Benedict made it clear that his monks must regard the public worship of God as their most important activity. He insists that nothing is to be given priority to this. Also, the monastery church must be a place of prayer and silence. Benedict, well known for his practical turn of mind, orders that nothing is to be kept or stored there!
The traditional round of daily prayer starts early in the abbey church, before sunrise for most of the year. God is being praised in Psalms and Canticles taken from the Bible, while the world around them still sleeps. The monks also listen to the Word of God expressed both in Scripture and in the Church's tradition. Then they offer God their petition: for themselves and those whom they know and love, for sinners, and for the many who do not have the opportunity, or perhaps the desire, to pray on their own account.
The community (monastic community) then disperses, each to his private prayer or other duty, to return for the Conventual Mass. The one supreme Sacrifice instituted by Christ at the Last Supper is offered here every day for all humankind.
After Mass there is work, until the bell for Midday Office summons the monks back to choir, so that the working day too may be sanctified and offered to God. The bell calling the monk to pray is likened to the voice of God. Benedict tells his monks to leave unfinished whatever they are doing and hasten with due gravity to the Church to pray.
The second half of the day and its stint of work ends with Vespers, and before bed time comes Compline (Night Prayer), calling down God's protection on the night hours. This is the regular pattern, varied at times but never ceasing, of prayer and praise in a monastery church.
Monasteries offer to God a continual sacrifice of praise, they lend lustre to God's people with abundant fruits of holiness, they sway them by their example and they enlarge the church by their hidden apostolic fruitfulness. (Perfectae Caritatis 7). It is our vocation as monks to encourage the participation of the people of God in the Liturgy of the Hours and to provide necessary solitude for more intense personal prayer (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2691). That is why people who are not monks shared in our daily worship in the Abbey church. This applied especially to parishioners, retreatants, guests and visitors.
The day-to-day running of a Visitor Centre and a Retreat and Pastoral Centre was latterly the chief active work of the Fort Augustus community. St Gregory the Great describes how St Benedict used to spend time at the gate of his Monastery at Monte Cassino dispensing kindness to those who visited.
That is what we also tried to do. St Paul urges his converts to make hospitality their special care. St Benedict invites his monks to receive guests as if they were Christ himself. Our visitor centre gave an opportunity for what is called "pre-evangelisation", that is, preparing the ground for people to hear the good news of Christ our Saviour. Opportunities occurred mostly in the abbey church and in the Guest House, which served also as a Retreat and Pastoral Centre. We aimed to serve the local Christian community in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where Fort Augustus Abbey is situated, and also the visitors who come in great numbers to this beautiful spot.
The average monk experiences a variety of types of work during his monastic life. Be it intellectual, apostolic or manual, work always forms part of the life of a monk. Together with prayer in public and private, it blends to form the offering which the monk makes daily to God. The needs of the community and the direction of the Abbot show the monk how God wants him to use his gifts and talents for the building up of the church.
For the Fort Augustus monk, this could have meant working with a professional lay staff, within the enclosure of the monastery. Caring for the extensive grounds and gardens, managing the accounts of the monastery and its business concerns, looking after the buying and selling of products in the Abbey Gift Shop, are examples of the work which monks were sometimes asked to do. So was the organising of retreats and conferences and the welcoming of guests to the Abbey. By their work, monks earn their living and share the toils of the world.
Father Paul Bonnici OSB (Now Parish Priest of Fort Augustus)