American-cassinese congregation of benedictine monasteries office of the president

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Section C:

Section D:


Appendix 1 Formulae for Use in Reports
Appendix 2 Prayer Formulae for Visitations


V 1. Visitation is defined in The Constitutions and the Directory of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine Monasteries as "the personal evaluation of a monastery by authorized representatives of the Congregation in order to assess monastic life and observance, to stimulate growth, to aid in the correction of deficiencies, and to assist the local community in the solution of any problems" (C 126). Although there are earlier historical antecedents, this developed form of the visitation procedure, which is closely linked with the institution of the general chapter and the development of monastic congregations, evolved in the Middle Ages as one of the principal instruments of monastic reform and has continued in use down to the present.

V 2. When the American-Cassinese Congregation was erected in 1855, the regular visitation of monasteries was already an established practice in all monastic congregations. Provision for it was therefore incorporated into the constitutions that were drawn up under the direction of Boniface Wimmer. The system of triennial visitation that was adopted was based largely upon the practice of the old Bavarian Congregation, which had existed from 1684 until the suppressions of 1802. This visitation procedure was followed, with few alterations, for more than a century, until after the Second Vatican Council.

V 3. In response to the council's mandate to renew the religious life, the capitulars of the thirty-seventh general chapter in 1971 authorized a committee to draw up new experimental guidelines for visitations. These provisions were used in the visitations conducted in 1972-73 and, in the light of this experience, were reviewed by a special general chapter in 1973. This assembly entrusted the revision of the visitation system to a new committee that was mandated to incorporate the chapter's decisions into the Guidelines for Visitation that were approved by the thirty-eighth general chapter in 1974 and published that same year. These Guidelines constituted the norm for visitations for the next fifteen years.

V 4. The complete revision of the Congregation's proper law was promulgated in 1989 and published in 1990 as The Constitutions and the Directory of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine Monasteries. The norms for visitations are contained in Part III, Chapter II of this document (C 126-D 128.11). The forty-third general chapter in 1989 mandated the revision of the Guidelines for Visitation in order to update them and bring them into full conformity with the new constitutions and directory. In 1990 a committee was appointed to prepare such a revision for approval by the general chapter of 1992.

V 5. The legislation of The Constitutions and the Directory regarding visitations does not differ substantially from the provisions of the 1974 Guidelines. The proper law of the Congregation is now contained in The Constitutions and the Directory; the Guide for Visitations is a handbook meant to comment upon and assist in implementing the proper law. The Guide for Visitations reproduces, for the sake of convenience, all of the paragraphs of the proper law that concern visitations (though in a slightly different order); the remainder of the text constitutes a kind of commentary upon this law and some practical procedures to help in implementing it.

V 6. What is new in the Guide for Visitations is not primarily changes of legislation, but rather a difference in emphasis. In the twentieth century profound changes have taken place in the world, in the Church, and in our monasteries. Consequently our communities are increasingly called upon to become aware of the changed situation in which they find themselves and to respond to it in a creative way. As a result, the service rendered to a community by the Congregation through visitations receives a somewhat different emphasis than in the past: rather than merely offering judgments upon matters of observance, visitators are now called upon to help the members of a community understand their own needs and to help them undertake the kind of planning that is required to meet these needs.

V 7. Accordingly, the Guide for Visitations is intended to assist communities and visitators in the same ways as in the past; neither the purpose nor the methods employed have been fundamentally altered. What is new in this revision is solely a matter of emphasis, especially in the following two areas:

V 8. 1. There is a stronger emphasis upon maintaining continuity from one visitation to the next. Every community that wishes to grow in its communal vocation is thereby engaged in a process of gradual development. Visitations should assist this process by providing a periodic review of its progress. A visitation may be seen as a snapshot of a community at a particular stage of its development. A visitation should evaluate a community in the light of the previous stages through which it has passed, and the community may profit by the findings of the visitation to help them refocus or reorient their own process of growth. Therefore, both the community and the visitators should see each visitation not as an isolated event, but as a marking point in a continuous process.

2, The other new emphasis is related to this point. A community's own growth process may lead it to reexamine now one and now another aspect of its life. Rather than making every visitation a generic examination of its entire life, a community may find it more profitable to limit a particular visitation to one or more specific areas with which it is particularly concerned at a given moment in its history. However, when such a narrowing of the visitation's focus is undertaken, individual members of the community still remain free to raise other issues during the visitation, and visitators are likewise free to address other issues in their reports.

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