Top Ten Monks (Part Two)

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Dana Perry, Producer and Director of the HBO documentary “Top Ten Monks” said she had been aware of monastic tradition before her visit to Stift Heiligenkreuz Abbey. But she assumed all monks were Buddhist. She imagined the monks would “be somehow grim-faced and dour, suffering in some self-imposed way.” But, she says, “that idea could not have been farther from the truth.” They “were full of joy.” Perry was particularly impressed with the story of a monk who formerly worked as a feature writer in a Motorcycle magazine. Becoming a monk was clearly not on his “bucket list” but he felt compelled to join. And chant the psalms.

Perry’s previous documentary “Boy Interrupted” premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. And with her husband Hart Perry, she produced and directed “The Drug Years” (2006), a documentary exploration of illicit drugs and popular culture. A significantly different subject, she found monks and their life utterly compelling. She was enchanted by their sense of peace, dedication to community and hard work. She found their joy infectious and charming.

Like many contemplatives, the “Top Ten” monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz follow the “Rule of St. Benedict” (Regula Benedicti) which forms their community life around two main elements “ora et labora” (pray and work). The monastic life is a life of common prayer and common work.

The main part of their common prayer begins at 5:15 every morning with solemn and meditative singing of the Psalms. Praying the time-tested words of the psalms is their chief mission. In psalm praying they honor the liturgy; they worship God in his Church. They don’t sing, then, just for artistic reasons (though they’ve gone “Platinum” and are doing very well on the music charts), but their song is a form of prayer, meditation praise. That is why every monk studies Latin; so each can attend to the meaning of the words as they sing.

Their Liturgy is mainly the psalms, the ongoing liturgy of the Church. Visitors to their monastery are always invited to join–and many do.

To hear their Gregorian chant:
(This particular chant is about the Holy Spirit. It is the Introitus of Pentecost.)

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