An Augustinian house14 Sep 2015, by Augustinians in
A house for the Augustinians is far more than just a building made to live in. yes, laying bricks on top of each other with a roof on top does not define what a house means to us as Augustinians. The brothers or the friars living together with one mind and one heart intent upon God defines a house. The Augustinian Constitution defines a house as the union of friars who share the same life in a single place, or several nearby places, constitutes a house of the Order, under the direction of a single local prior (Chapter X, No. 226). This house can also be referred to as a community, a community of brothers.
The Augustinian houses and many other religious houses are structured so that some elected members of the house govern them. Those elected into these offices are not superior to other members of the house or community. Still, they are entrusted with some responsibilities for the smooth run of the house.
THE PRIOR: The prior who may not necessarily be the oldest is the father of the house, and he is to be respected as such by every member of the house. Therefore, our constitution insists that the prior is to be obeyed as a father with respect due him so as not to offend God in his person. However, it is the duty of the prior to provide thoughtfully for the welfare of the friars, to see that precepts are obeyed, and, if any point has been neglected, to take care that the transgression is not carelessly overlooked but is punished and corrected (Chapter IV, No. 75). The prior, therefore, a brother among equals occupies an enormous position in the house. He is always conscious that he is not to lord it over others but to guide, punish, and correct them in love. He doesn’t think himself fortunate nor exercise his authority arbitrarily; he is the servant of the servants of God.
The prior alone cannot do all the work that needs to be done in the house, so some other house members are elected into some offices to assist the prior. In each house, according to the needs of the place and the norms of the statutes of the circumscription, certain friars are to be elected as officials who are to help the prior in his service to the community and carry out their duties under his direction (Chapter XVI, No. 310). Like the prior, these brothers are not to see themselves fortunate but see their election as a call to service. These offices are Subprior, Counselors, Sacristan, Treasurer, and the librarian.
THE SUBPRIOR: In each of our Augustinian houses, there must be a subprior; he takes the prior place in his absence. However, in his acting capacity, the subprior is not allowed to introduce any form of change or innovation in the house except in a case of urgent necessity. He must seek the consent of the house chapter.
The house chapter is the official gathering of every house member to deliberate on issues affecting the house or community. The prior convoke this meeting with the purpose of fraternal consultation, and the chapter has ecclesiastical power and jurisdiction, to be exercised according to the norms of common law, the Constitutions, and statutes (Chapter X, No. 225). So, for the subprior to make any change or introduce any form of innovation in the absence of the prior, he must seek the house chapter’s consent.
THE COUNSELORS: These are members of the house elected to assist, especially the prior and other house members with their advice and work. It is their duty also to deliberate and offer their judgment about more important business. They may not be more than four in number.
THE SACRISTAN: The sacristan is to take care of the sacristy, the Church’s worship, and everything that has to do with liturgy. He organizes the brothers in such a way that they all have their turn to officiate at Mass and other liturgical functions.
THE TREASURER: It is the duty of the treasurer to take care of all community goods and administer them in such a way that the goods are seen and used as God’s gifts. Though he keeps the money and other community goods, he has no right to use them as he wishes; he is accountable to the community. It is his responsibility to provide for the community’s needs.
THE LIBRARIAN: Our holy Father St. Augustine advises every house or community to have a library, to read and update ourselves. Therefore, it is the librarian’s duty to ensure that the library is equipped with the necessary books and keep them safe.
These are the constitutional officials of an Augustinian house or community. It is enforced, especially in a house where they have enough brothers living together. In the Province of St. Augustine of Nigeria, we have no house for now with such a big number of brothers. We have at most five brothers living together in one house, which means t that the prior of the house will have no counselors and most times no subprior as well.
In a community with a parish attached, one of the brothers becomes the parish priest. His duty is to represent the community at the parish level, and he has an obligation to report back to the community while the community supports him in other pastoral activities. Other offices may be created out of necessities.
The Augustinian way of life is beautiful; we come from different regions and countries to remain by God’s grace brothers of one mind and one heart intent upon God. This is a prophetic message to our world divided by tribalism, religion, politics, and other factors that we can live together as one and in peace.