Max Johnson on Benedictine Spirituality

The Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has posted a series of four videos in which Max Johnson, professor of liturgical studies at Notre Dame, discusses Benedictine Spirituality. Max Johnson is an oblate of Saint John’s abbey — a term he explains at the beginning of the first video, below.

Other videos in this series:

Benedictine Spirituality, Part Two

Benedictine Spirituality, Part Three

Benedictine Spirituality, Part Four


  1. The great schools of spirituality (Desert Solitude, Benedictine, Jesuit, -to mention those that have influenced me) have much to offer to our parishes and indeed all Christians.

    All too often our parishes are limited to the spiritualities that interest the pastoral staff or are contained in pre-packaged programs aimed at the whole parish. However in most of our large parishes you will find people who went to Catholic Colleges ( a Benedictine in my case) or spent some time in a religious order (Jesuit novitiate in my case), and have absorbed not only some of the spirituality of those orders, but have had occasion through reading, and their own life experience to use and adapt those spiritualities to their own lives.

    Many of these people would probably be willing to share their experience of these schools of spirituality and help promote them in their parishes and in society if they were given an appropriate support system.

    Fine videos such as these prepared by scholars of the particular spirituality are an important first step to bringing these spiritualities to our parishes and all Christians. It is better that they are not prepared by priests and religious but rather by scholarly lay people who have benefitted from these spiritualities. That way the parish leader can say “here is a very well informed lay person who has benefitted from this spirituality.”

    The second important step is to develop networks of lay people who have benefitted from the particular spirituality. Personally, I am not interested in meeting Benedictines and Jesuits who have lived their lives in monasteries or in the missions. Rather I am interested in meeting all those people like myself who have had some exposure to these spiritualities and been able to develop them in their lives. Beyond scholarly materials, that exposure to personal experiences of others would be most helpful to people in parishes and communities.

  2. Benedictine Spirituality is a liturgical spirituality, centered in the opus dei

    Most Catholic church goers today would probably say they have a liturgical spirituality because their spirituality is centered in the Weekend Eucharist. In many cases their spirituality consists mainly of the Weekend Eucharist, and little else. Unlike the local Orthodox parish which has Vespers or Vigil (Vespers and Matins) on Saturday, Catholics have little sense of the importance of the Divine Office. Making a claim for the Divine Office as liturgical spirituality is a tough sell in practice.

    Then there is the problem of what to call it: opus dei? Divine Office? Liturgy of the Hours? Opus dei is the natural choice given the monastic tradition. However although I probably know more about the Divine Office than 99.999% of Catholics, I have almost no understanding of what opus dei means other than it is the Benedictine word for the Divine Office. So selling “opus dei” is an uphill climb particularly since Catholics today are far more likely to associate that word with a secret society, Da Vinci, etc. Personally I prefer “Divine Office” which is what Vatican II called it. LOH can be misleading.

    Relating the Divine Office to “monastic Life in its entirety, no distinction between liturgy and life, divine presence everywhere” was helpful. Bringing in “pray always” and “ora et labore” and even ecology would have been helpful at this point. The Divine Office is more likely to catch on if it is perceived as something related to daily life that one can do at home or in the office and with family and/or friends than as a service that needs a church and clergy.

    Psalmody as the prayers of the historical Christ and of the Church was well done. Adding the notion of the Psalter as a compendium and guide to Christian life would have led naturally to next section on Lectio Divina.

    Fine videos; handouts could address the needs of parishes.

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