THE STATUS OF PRIESTS in the monastic community has changed in many ways during the centuries since St. Benedict wrote his Rule. Originally, monks were not priests. In the monasteries of his predecessors [Pachomius, Jerome, Cassian, and Gregory], priests were ordained only as necessary to provide the sacraments for the monastic community and local churches.
Most monastic communities did accept men who were already ordained prior to admission, and as in Benedict’s Rule allowed them to exercise their priesthood under the supervision of the abbot.
Although they were given liturgical preference, priests in monastic communities have never been allowed special status or enjoyed special privileges. Like all others, their seniority in the community is determined according to the date of their entry.
As the understanding of the Eucharistic liturgy changed, so did the role of the priest in the monastery. During the Middle Ages, an emphasis on the devotional aspect of the Eucharistic liturgy predominated, with less attention to the dynamics of community participation.
Both in parishes and in monasteries, most priests celebrated daily Mass alone without a congregation. This practice prevailed until the middle of the twentieth century: to be a monk also meant to be a priest.
Since the reforms of Vatican II, a candidate enters the monastery to become a monk [brother], and the possibility of ordination is addressed at the discretion of the abbot only after solemn profession. ✜
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