Monastic Life

A monk’s day begins early in the morning, while most of the world is still asleep. At four AM, before the sun has come up and before the birds have begun to sing, the sound of the rising bell peals out through the dark hallways of the monastery beckoning the sleeping monks to rise from their beds. They must hurry after they wake up since they have to be in the church within 20 minutes after rising for the beginning of the Divine Office, Lauds, after which Prime and Tierce will be sung.

his morning Office is probably one of a monk’s greatest sacrifices. To wake up at four in the morning and spend forty-five minutes chanting psalms does not come easily to human nature. But that is the point. If it was easy and pleasant it would not be much of a sacrifice. And so the monks can firmly hope that amidst all their weariness and distractions their early morning prayer has done some good for the world, that it has glorified God.

When the morning Office is finished the monks walk back to their cells for a long period of private prayer and spiritual reading. Often during the day, at times like this, a monk finds himself in solitude, alone with God. Such moments are precious to him, for it is then that he is most free to pray to his Heavenly Father in secret and in peace.

The Conventual Mass (the Mass for the monastic community) begins at 6 o’clock. Private Masses are also said around this time on the various side altars of the church. This is, for a monk, the most important time of the day. For this is when he will have the enormous privilege of offering himself, with Christ in the unbloody reenactment of Calvary, to the Father in reparation for the sins of mankind. And not only will he give himself to God but he himself will receive God in Holy Communion. The opportunity to receive Communion every day is one of the greatest blessings of religious life. Nothing on this earth could be more sanctifying. After Mass, the community has another period for spiritual reading and holy solitude, time to cherish the gift Christ has made of Himself in Holy Communion.

At 7:30 the monks gather in the refectory to eat breakfast, in silence. On most mornings they have cereal and toast, but on fast days their morning meal consists of bread and water, and coffee too, for those who want it. After breakfast the grand (night) silence is broken for the day. This means that the monks are free to speak, as necessity might require, until after Compline, when the grand silence will again descend as a quiet and gentle blanket of peace, enveloping the monastery in its rich folds. This night silence, as well as the partial silence observed during the day, is not merely an empty external silence but one which is full of God. External silence is one of the most important ingredients for acquiring that interior quiet within the cloister of the soul in which one can more easily hear the gentle voice of God and more freely converse with Him by frequent heart to heart conversation, remaining in His holy presence throughout the day.

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