A procession takes the body of Fr. Plasker from Mount Angel Abbey Church to the cemetery.
A procession takes the body of Fr. Plasker from Mount Angel Abbey Church to the cemetery.

ST. BENEDICT — When a Benedictine monk of Mount Angel Abbey professes solemn vows, he is presented with a cuculla, a long black cape donned only on solemnities. When a monk dies, he is wrapped in the very same garment for burial.

“It is a symbol of dying to self and living in Christ,” says Benedictine Brother Cyril Drnjevic, a monk since 1985.

When it is clear that a monk is near death, his Benedictine brothers keep a round-the-clock vigil with him. Monks do not die alone.

On the evening before the funeral, the community gathers for a Scripture-based vigil with the same readings and rites used for the feast of All Souls. The vigil includes a eulogy delivered by a monk of the abbot’s choosing, usually a man who knew the deceased well.

There are other links between the profession of vows and funerals at the abbey, all enfolded in the paschal mystery. The rite for profession of solemn (final) vows includes a mystical burial in which the monk lies on the ground between the choir stalls and is covered with a large black cloth. Incense is used to bless the man and the altar to show that he is part of the solemn offering of the Mass. At death, the monk’s casket rests in the same place where he was mystically buried on the day of his final profession. Again, incense blesses the body and the altar, linking the monk to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

After the funeral Mass, a cross, candles and incense are carried slowly out of the church in front of the simple wooden casket, which is pushed by monks. A long procession follows to the cemetery. This slow walk is the only time when Benedictines all put up the hoods on their habits at the same time.

At the cemetery, which has rows of humble crosses marking the graves, the abbot prays and again uses incense to bless the casket, and the body within. 

Brother Cyril sums it up: “We give him to God.”

After burial, monks and family members of the deceased gather for a meal in keeping with 1,500-year-old Benedictine hospitality. The gathering is characterized by a unique combination of sadness at the loss of a brother monk and the joy that overflows from a deep confidence in the resurrection.