The Benedictine monks of Nursia are a young community living the traditional Benedictine monastic life in Nursia, Italy, birthplace of St Benedict. They recently began brewing beer, and supplied beer for the recent conclave, which inaccurately produced jokes that the cardinals would take their time. I have a young friend, the son of friends, Brother Evagrius, who is a monk in the community and involved with the brewery. Here is part of an interview with his friend, the master brewer, Brother Francis:
BREWVANA: What’s been the reception to your beers?
BR. FRANCIS: Given that there is only one other monastery in Italy that brews beer (Cascinazza), we are certainly facing a challenge. But so far Italians have been very receptive to our beer. Thankfully they have a very artisanal and local mentality here.
BREWVANA: What does mealtime look like at the monastery? And what about Lent, specifically?
BR. FRANCIS: We try to follow the monastic fast described by Saint Benedict in his rule. So, depending on the time of the year, we have different meal schedules.”
Normally we have the following:
From Easter to Pentecost we have a normal meal schedule: breakfast in the morning, lunch around 1 p.m., and dinner around 6:30 p.m.
From Pentecost to Sept. 14, we have the above schedule on all days but Wednesday and Friday. On those days we have breakfast in the morning, lunch around 3 p.m., and no dinner.
From Sept. 14 until Lent, we have the same fasting schedule as above: breakfast in the morning, and lunch around 3 p.m., no dinner. Of course we do go back to the Easter schedule for the time from Christmas to Epiphany.
Then from Lent until Easter, we have breakfast in the morning, then our only meal is at 5:30 p.m.
On any 1st or 2nd class feast, we follow the Easter to Pentecost schedule for the day no matter what time of the year it is.
Sundays are always the same too: breakfast in the morning, lunch around 1:30 p.m., and dinner around 6:30 p.m.
Also, breakfast is optional on all days. We also only eat meat on Christmas, Holy Thursday, Easter and Thanksgiving.
Typically monasteries take on a more penitential spirit during Lent, but given the nature of Benedictine monasticism, each house will have its own customs. Trappists and Cistercians have a bit more uniform organization, whereas Benedictines are grouped by different “confederations” usually based along the lines of motherhouses and daughterhouses, or geographical regions or language.
BREWVANA: Aside from the scaled back diet, are there other Lenten practices that you keep?
BR. FRANCIS: As for our other Lenten practices, each monk selects one penance under each of the categories of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and submits that to superior for approval just like in the Rule of Saint Benedict. So, for example, a monk could choose to say a rosary a day, not add sugar to his coffee during Lent, and clean the common bathrooms once a week on his own. We also have to a Lenten book to read, a choice we make and submit to the superior for approval.
BREWVANA: What about beer in your everyday life?
BR. FRANCIS: Regarding beer in our monastery, we typically only have it at dinner on 1st or 2nd class feasts. At lunch and dinner any time we have table wine, since we’re in Italy. I personally don’t find it that high quality, so we might get wine at meals, but it is more of a penance for me to drink it. LOL. We do get a nicer wine on feast days though.