In the early morning, the monks gather in the Church for Morning Prayer, our first time of prayer. The first bell rings at 5:35 a.m. giving the monks a ten minute notice to gather for prayer. Some monks have already been up for some time to shower, grab some coffee or spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. Others sleep until the very last minute. Morning Prayer starts at 5:45 a.m.. For a lot of the year it is still dark and rather cold. It can be a time to make a special effort to put God first. Morning Prayer is a time for God to speak in the Bible readings before the noise of daily life dulls our ears. The psalms we pray often express our need for God, as well as meditate on the work of God in history.
After Morning Prayer the monks spend about a half hour in silent prayer, a time to let God sink in more deeply. We often refer to this as Lectio Divina.
At 6:35 a.m., the Abbey bell rings for the morning Conventual Mass. In the light of the risen Christ, we celebrate his gift of new life and pray for the day ahead. Everything we do flows from what we celebrate at Mass, and it is the time each day when we particularly bring our whole lives as an offering to God, and find in Jesus’ gift of himself in Holy Communion the renewal of heart and soul to give ourselves more fully to the monastic life of our community. Once Mass is complete, we then spend a few moments in private prayer before the toning of the Angelus Prayer. This is a reminder, morning, noon and evening of the birth of Jesus, and of God’s invitation to human beings like Mary to work with Jesus for the salvation of all. We then process from the choir to the refectory for breakfast. Our breakfast is eaten in silence.
The Day Continues
After breakfast, the monks leave to go to their work. St Benedict attaches great importance to monks having suitable work, given to each monk by the Abbot. Some monks are teachers in the Academy, others are parish priests, whilst others work in the monastery itself. The Subiaco timetable allows monks a lot of freedom to meet a variety of commitments. It is a busy life, but it also allows time for fellowship, time to relax and share with each other. At 11:50 a.m. the bells once again call us to prayer. We gather in the choir stalls to offer our mid-day prayer. It is a much shorter service, reminding us that the praise of God is central to our lives, but also praying for spiritual strength for the rest of the day. At noon, the Angelus bell rings again, and this is always a good time, in the middle of our tasks, to remember what we are really about. We then process out to the refectory for our noonday lunch. Our lunch meal allows for talking.
In the afternoon, there may be time for a short rest, or some exercise, but otherwise there will be more work to be done, whatever form it may take. Each monk has tasks to complete that have been assigned by the Abbot and Prior. Some may do gardening or other practical work in the afternoon. A good monk tries to find a balance. Probably the afternoon will be when many monks find time for lectio divina, personal study and spiritual reading.
To end the working day, the bells ring again for our next prayer at 5:30 p.m.. This is the sign for the monks to return to the Church for the Office of Readings. Once we complete this, we then pray the Angelus and head back to the refectory for supper in silence. This is a time of thanksgiving for the day to Jesus who has given us so much, as well as a time for intercession for the world. As we gather at the table we hear an extended passage from the Scripture, and give thanks to God who feeds our bodies as well as our souls. We then hear a brief story of any monks that may have died on the following day from previous years, whose lives we remember annually. This is followed by reading from an ordinary book. Sometimes the book has a religious theme, but we also read books of general interest to help broaden our minds with other subjects. Finally, the end of the meal concludes with a reading from the Rule of St. Benedict followed by a closing prayer.
At 7:05 p.m., we are back in the Church praying and chanting our Evening Prayer. After Evening Prayer, the Abbot blesses monks and guests with holy water and we retire. Some nights we will then have a short time of recreation with the other monks or a conference with the Abbot, whilst other evenings finds us spending time in personal study or prayer.
The Day Ends
Sometime around 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 pm we privately pray Compline, the Night Prayer of the Church. In the midst of reading once again the scripture, we also take a short time to look back over the day, with its sins and failures. St Benedict advises us not to let the sun go down on our anger! So it is a time to make peace in our hearts. We pray for God’s peace, His blessing and protection. It is sung in semi-darkness, and ends with a song to Mary, seeking her prayers on our behalf. From 10:00 p.m. to the next day’s Morning Prayer at 5:45 a.m., our monastery practices “Grand Silence” where the stillness of the Abbey is allowed to be experienced.