Cistercians and Death
Trappist monks strive to “prefer nothing to Christ.” In devoting their lives to a search for God, they follow a lifestyle marked by simplicity and prayer, as well as a concern for the environment. Visitors to Cistercian monasteries often notice a strong sense of relatedness that links the abbeys themselves to their physical surroundings. Here at New Melleray Abbey, the beauty of the earth is reflected in the abbey church’s limestone walls, the solid oak of the choir stalls and tabernacle house and the plain granite altar. The church is filled with light that streams through tall stone arched windows of clear glass and sinks into shadow as night approaches.
This same uncomplicated and reverent regard for the beauty of God’s created world is reflected in the way Trappist monks approach death.
“This is why the monastery is a kind of prophetic place, an anticipation of the world to come, a permanent declaration of a universe re-made in God, whose poles are charity and the praise of God.” (Andre Louf, The Cistercian Way, p. 60.)
For Trappists, there is beauty in death because it is treated as a natural part of life. That is why Trappists do not try to hide what happens to the body at death or interfere with the natural process of returning it to the earth.
The reason Trappists are able to see death in this light is because they believe something much greater is taking place. It is the final step along a path they have been following all along—the path to God.
“I do not know, except by Christian faith, what lies beyond this life. In death I lose everything without knowing for sure that there is anything to follow. Faith however, assures me that there is a God who is like a loving father or mother. The ultimate reality is not death and extinction. But God.” (Charles Cummings, Monastic Practice, p. 192.)