The order takes the name of “Trappist” from La Trappe Abbey or “La Grande Trappe” in Normandy in France, where it began as a reform movement in 1664, in reaction to the relaxation of practices in many Cistercian monasteries.
The life of the Trappists is guided by the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century. The Rule describes ideals and values of a monastic life.
As a contemplative order, the Trappists live a life of prayer and penance. The day of a Trappist is divided between work and prayer. Manual work is preferred over other types of work and Trappist monasteries generally provide for themselves through the sale of goods produced in the monastery. Prayer is divided between the Divine Office, Lectio Divina and various other forms of meditative and contemplative prayer. Except for the ill, they abstain from meat and fowl and eat fish on a limited basis. To the extent that it is practical, they are expected to remain silent throughout the day and most especially at night. They are expected to live a life of strict personal poverty with few personal possessions and limited contact with the outside world.
“Strict Observance” refers to the trappists’ aim at following closely St. Benedict’s Rule, and take the three vows described in his Rule: stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience. As Benedict also insisted on silence, it has some importance in their way of life. However, contrary to popular belief, they do not take a vow of silence. They will generally only speak when necessary, and idle talk is strongly discouraged. Meals are usually taken in contemplative silence, as members of the order are supposed to listen to a reading. Trappists’ silence should be understood as the wish to give space to what matters: gaining a deeper love and understanding of God.