Monks' Brewery Part of New Evangelization: Visitors Can Find Beer and Prayer at Monastery in St. Benedict's Birthplace

By Wooden, Cindy | National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Monks' Brewery Part of New Evangelization: Visitors Can Find Beer and Prayer at Monastery in St. Benedict's Birthplace


Wooden, Cindy, National Catholic Reporter


VATICAN CITY * Even before retired Pope Benedict XVI set up a pontifical council for new evangelization and convoked a world Synod of Bishops on the theme, a new group of Benedictine monks was using Latin and liturgy to reach out to those whose faith was weak or nonexistent.

Now they've added beer to the blend, and people are flocking to the monastery in Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, about 70 miles northeast of Rome in Italy's Umbrian countryside.

But for the 18 members of St. Benedict's Monastery, life is still about prayer.

"If the prayer doesn't come first, the beer is going to suffer," said Fr. Benedict Nivakoff, director of the Birra Nursia brewery and subprior of the monastery.

The monks in Norcia initially were known for their liturgical ministry, particularly sharing their chanted prayers in Latin online--osbnorcia.org/blog--with people around the world.

But following the Rule of St. Benedict means both prayer and manual labor, with a strong emphasis on the monks earning their own keep.

After just a year of brewing and selling their beer in the monastery gift shop and through restaurants in Norcia, financial self-sufficiency seems within reach, and the monks are talking expansion.

"We didn't expect it to be so enormously successful," said Fr. Cassian Folsom, the U.S. Benedictine who founded the community in 1998 and serves as its prior. "There's been a huge response, and our production can't keep up with the demand and the demand continues to grow."

But even with the talk of expanding the brewery, and perhaps exporting some of the brew to the United States, the Mass and the liturgical hours are still the centerpiece of the monks' lives.

"Our life is very much unified by the liturgy, which forms a kind of skeleton around which everything else takes shape," Folsom said.

Many visitors tread a path between the church and the gift shop and, increasingly, from the crates of beer to the church.

Nivakoff said the monks began brewing Aug. 15, 2012, with three goals: contributing to the monastery's self-sufficiency; solidifying bonds with the town; and reaching out to people who are "turned off by religion."

For those who wouldn't think of going to Mass, he said, the monastery gift shop gives them a contact with the monks "in a setting and over a product they feel comfortable with. There's a spiritual gain for them, even though they aren't looking for it."

In many circumstances, Nivakoff said, "we have to preach the Gospel without preaching the Gospel--just through the example of Christian charity and being kind to people."

The monks' Mass, often celebrated using the extraordinary or pre-Vatican II rite, and their beer may appeal to different people, but Nivakoff said the beauty in both can open people to God.

After years of study and research, including Folsom's visits to Trappist breweries in Belgium to see how the monks ensure their business does not disrupt their prayer and community life, the monks in Norcia decided to make two Belgian-style beers--a "blond" and a dark, which has an alcohol content of 10 percent.

The dark's alcohol content is much higher than U. …

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