Christmas in Carmel

by Donna Sue Berry

They are monastic superstars for a growing following of devotees of their Mystic Monk Coffee — an innovative small business that sustains the monks and their dream of building a monastery in the wilds of America’s Wyoming.  But they are also cloistered Carmelites, who observe strict contemplative rules. In this fascinating look behind the scenes, Regina Magazine’s Donna Sue Berry takes you on a privileged visit to Christmas in Carmel, with the Mystic Monks.

Q. Father Prior, what do the words ‘Christmas in Carmel,’ mean to you? 

The Carmelite life is a hidden life of loving intercession for the church and for the world.  In Carmel, Advent is a time of even greater recollection as the monks spend yet more time in silence and solitude to prepare for the great mystery of Christmas.  As such, Christmas arrives in Carmel after much preparation and anticipation.  The joy a contemplative knows in his cloister at the birth of the Lord is difficult to clearly articulate as his entire vocation is one of waiting upon the Lord that the monk might “open when the Lord knocks” on his heart. Christmas in Carmel is a blessed time of tremendous joy and peace.

Christmas in Carmel is a blessed time of tremendous joy and peace.

The Order of Carmel has its roots in the Old Testament when our hermit fathers, the sons of the prophets, spent centuries waiting for the coming Messiah prior to Christ.  In some way, Carmelites today share in that waiting for Christ whether it be in the days of Advent leading to the celebration of Christmas, the Carmelite day where we wait to receive Jesus again the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Mass, or especially in our own lives where all is ordered towards attaining to mystical union with God and through prayer and penance assisting countless other souls towards this same union.

Families have traditions during Advent leading up to the great celebration of our Lord’s birth. Can you tell me what traditions are observed by you and the Monks at the Monastery?

In Carmel, dating from the time of our holy Mother St Teresa of Avila, the Carmelites observe what we affectionately call “the child Jesus days of recollection.”  This great and noble tradition has the entire community process in white mantles holding candles, with the prior carrying the child Jesus in a little manger, to a monk’s hermitage each evening that the father or brother may spend the next twenty-four hours in solitude and more intense prayer.  This time of retreat is so special as the monk, together with the Virgin Mary, contemplates how meek and humble our God truly is as manifested in his nativity.

The Carmelites observe what we affectionately call “the child Jesus days of recollection.” 

Another great tradition of our Carmel is that each evening, following mental prayer and before the evening collation (or small meal), the community gathers in the refectory for the chanting of the Veni, Veni Emmanuel around the burning Advent wreath.  Oh how great is our expectation and our desire to prepare ourselves to receive our divine King on Christmas night!

Q. On an individual basis, can you each have certain devotions or “traditions” from your past life that you may keep while in the Monastery?

As Carmelite monks in the great tradition of the discalced reform, we enter the monastery to imitate particularly the Blessed Mother, but all the great Carmelites down through the ages.  We do not seek to do anything new, or discover our own path to holiness; rather we joyfully embrace the glorious tradition of Carmel and its deep wellsprings of Marian spirituality and devotion.  That being said, we recognize in the order of Carmel, manifested through our many saints and blesseds, that there is a myriad of Carmelite devotions, each reflecting an aspect of our Lady’s spirituality. 

We do not seek to do anything new, or discover our own path to holiness; rather we joyfully embrace the glorious tradition of Carmel.

When we are clothed as novices, we take new names in religion such as “Fr Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified.”  The second part of our religious name might be thought of as a window into each monk’s individual devotion.

Q. As out in the world there is always the exchange of gifts between loved ones, do you exchange gifts among each other in Carmel?

In Carmel we do not exchange gifts, as we are but poor religious. 

What we exchange at Christmas is our love for one another that manifests itself so beautifully when on Christmas Eve day, after the solemn chanting of the martyrology at prime announcing the birth of Christ on Christmas day, the monks warmly embrace one another wishing each other a truly Blessed and Merry Christmas.  Christmas and the following three days are known as recreation days when the silence is lifted in the monastery and the monks spend these days in beautiful liturgy and fraternal charity.

Q. What is Christmas Eve like in the Monastery?

Christmas Eve we like to call the “Day of the bells” as the day begins with merry procession throughout the monastery with rustic instruments.  After solemn prime, the monastery’s bells toll out announcing as it were to the whole world that Christ is to be born on Christmas night.  The rest of the day is spent in beautiful chanted liturgy and the final preparations of the crèche and Christmas tree.  As monks, we enter into the joy of Christmas most intimately by means of the sacred liturgy as we prepare through our hours of contemplation to welcome Christ into our hearts.  The beautiful and solemn three Masses of Christmas day, beginning with midnight mass, and continuing with the Mass of dawn and the conventual Mass, invite the monk to enter into Christmas with exuberant joy.  Indeed, praised be Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.

After midnight Mass, the community gathers before the Christmas crib singing carols to our divine Savior. 

In a lovely Carmelite tradition, there is a procession throughout our monastery even going into the monk’s cells, to the turn, to the parlors, and all the other monastic rooms where the prior carries Our Lady and the sub-prior carries St Joseph.  The monk kneels to kiss these holy images when they are brought into his cell and placed on his straw mattress. 

In this way, the monk’s very hermitage becomes a new Bethlehem where Christ is welcomed in obscurity but with great love and adoration.  Our holy mother St Teresa loved this custom and insisted upon its practice, being moved by her tremendous love for God that grieved her so deeply when she considered those who turned the Holy Virgin and good St Joseph away as there was no room in the inn. 

Q. And then on Christmas Day? Does it begin with Midnight Mass? More Masses said during the day? Is there a Feast…a dinner celebration?

In Carmel there is an ancient saying, “Carmelus totus Marianus est” (‘Carmel is totally Marian’). 

As above, there is indeed a delightful time of celebration following midnight Mass where the community gathers before the Christmas crib singing carols to our divine savior.  As the sleep comes into the monks’ eyes, the Father Prior concludes this celebration in the middle of the night by intoning the psalm, Laudate Dominum Omnes Gentes (O praise the lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.)

On Christmas day, the monks again share a delightful meal and joyful conversation in the recreation room, rejoicing in the divine infant born for the salvation of men. 

Q. Tell me a little about the Mystic Monk Coffee we so love. What’s in store for Christmas?

 Throughout the great tradition of monasticism, monks have always done monastic industry to be as self-supporting as possible.  Some monks have baked breads, others have brewed beer.  As monks who keep vigil in the middle of the night, we know a great deal about a good cup of coffee to keep us awake for our times of prayer. 

Moved by other coffee companies that openly supported the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-death, atheistic agenda of our modern day, Mystic Monk coffee was born as a pro-life coffee company to support the building of our monastery here in the rocky mountains of Wyoming. 

Roasted by our monks during our times of daily work, Mystic Monk coffee is a true monastic industry.  For Christmas, we annually hand-craft our own signature Christmas blend that is a delightful holiday roast for those cold winter days of December.       

Q. Your web site says ‘The Carmelite monks of Wyoming seek to perpetuate the charism of the Blessed Virgin Mary by living the Marian life as prescribed by the primitive Carmelite Rule and the ancient monastic observance of Carmelite men.’   Can you tell us what that means?

In Carmel there is an ancient saying, “Carmelus totus Marianus est” (‘Carmel is totally Marian’).  Carmel has been hailed by the popes as the “preeminent order of Mary.” 

We are true Marian souls who seek to “perpetuate the charism” of holy Mary through our union with Christ, hidden here in the enclosure, where our obedience, chastity, and poverty are modeled after the Blessed Virgin and allow us to be transformed into spiritual fathers of countless souls.


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