At Conception Abbey, it is our house custom that we do not do much to celebrate birthdays. However, what we celebrate is a monk’s nameday. A “nameday” is the feast day of a saint after whom a person is named.
In monastic life, the Abbot gives a new name to the monk at profession. It is our custom that, prior to profession of vows, the monks submits three name choices to the Abbot, providing reasons or an explanation why the individual would like that name. The Abbot will usually select one of those names to give the monk. Before the profession ceremony, in which the monk professes vows in the midst of family, friends, and the monastic community, the new name is only known to the monk and the Abbot. After the proclamation of the Gosepl, the name is revealed in the context of an exhortation or homily. From that point forward, the monk is known as “Brother _______.”
Why the name change?
If you look to the Scriptures, we see various instances where a figure from the Bible takes a new name when he or she begins a specific mission. A new name is a new identity. We might think of “Abram” being named “Abraham.” Genesis 17:5 recounts, “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.” Similarly, a few verses later, “Sarai” is named “Sarah” (Gen. 17:15). In the New Testament, “Saul,” the one who vehemently persecuted the Church, undergoes a powerful conversion, and after his conversion Saul determined to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and became known as “Paul.” Additionally, Jesus changes the name of his apostle “Simon” to “Peter.”
Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as children of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in the Church’s mission. In baptism, we receive a new name, being honored and bearing the name, “Christian.” It is a new identity, and for the monks, we find a deepening and reinforcement of that initial transformation through our profession of vows.
Today, December 3, happens to be Fr. Xavier’s nameday. It was the name he received in profession, over 50 years ago. Often, the confreres will pray in a special way for the monk who celebrates his nameday, or write him a note or a card. Even at our Printery House, our apostolate of Christian greeting cards and gifts, there is a special section for nameday and feast day cards.
For the priests, they usually celebrate Mass on the day that honors their heavenly patron. Today, Fr. Xavier celebrated the Eucharist for the monks and guests who joined us.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us.