A Day in the Life of a Benedictine Monk
Our day begins at 3:10 a.m. with the wake-up bell. After a small cup of coffee, the brothers quietly make their way to the chapel for Vigils, the longest office of the day. Over the course of an hour, we chant fourteen Psalms and listen to two long readings, one from the Scriptures and a second from the Church Fathers. We join the angels, who never sleep, in watching for the coming of Jesus Christ in glory to save those who eagerly are waiting for Him.
This communal prayer is followed by a period of private prayer called lectio divina. This is a traditional prayerful meditation on God’s Word, particular the Holy Scriptures. At 6:00 a.m., we return to the chapel for the office of ‘Lauds’, our morning praise of God. This is followed directly by the celebration of Holy Mass, with traditional Gregorian chant. We sing most of the offices in English and most of the Mass in Latin.
After Mass, there is a short period for personal matters and breakfast. We also prepare breakfast for our B&B guests at this time. At 8:15 a.m., we gather in the Chapter Room, where the Prior reads from the Rule of Saint Benedict and gives a short commentary applying its sixth-century text to our contemporary situation. We then have a few moments to discuss together our work for the day.
Strengthening the Spirit
After Chapter, we have classes each day, on liturgy, Scripture, the Tradition, moral and spiritual theology, the vows, and other topics important to deepening our monastic life. At 9:30 a.m., we return to the chapel for the office of Terce. When this concludes, we begin the main work period of the day.
Monastic work is preferably humble and manual, though it also includes intellectual work of study and the preparation of classes, homilies and conferences. Our work in hospitality means that cooking and cleaning occupy a good portion of the brothers’ mornings. We also have a large garden. We do not employ any outside help for the daily work of cooking or keeping the cloister clean and in good repair.
At 12:45 p.m. the work period ends and we gather for the midday office of Sext. This is followed by the main meal of the day, in silence, with table reading. The reading is typically something of interest in the monastic life, but we also enjoy books on history and biography. The main meal is served by one or two of the brothers. The servers and reader take their meal after everyone else finishes. The community does the dishes, and then we have about an hour for a siesta or other personal matters.
At 2:30 p.m., we pray the office of None. This is followed by shorter classes, either chant or languages (Latin, Greek or French). The rest of the afternoon is usually used for exercise, practicing musical instruments or reading.
Vespers is a solemn office each day, beginning at 5:15 p.m. with a short procession. On Sundays and major feasts, we also use incense and vestments to mark the solemnity of the office. It is a particularly beautiful time of day in our church, with the setting sun streaming through the golden Magnificat window in the choir loft. Vespers is followed by a light optional meal called ‘collation’. After the meal, brothers have some time of their own again, though three night a week we have recreation, and one of those nights, the Prior also gives a longer spiritual conference. Compline follows at 7:15 p.m., ending with the great antiphon to Our Lady, either the Salve Regina (during Ordinary Time) or another antiphon varying by season.
Ideally, the monks return to their cells and prepare to retire for the night. Often, there is some reading to be done in preparation for the next day’s classes, and this quiet time of night is also ideal for personal prayer.
Sundays follow a slightly different schedule. We try to refrain from manual labor and to keep a greater silence. The liturgies are a bit longer and more solemn. At Mass, we normally have about 40 guests and we sing more polyphony. In the evening we have a recreational meal—the one meal of the week where we visit with one another.
Creating a Community of Faith and Support
What is it all like? It can be a bit overwhelming at first if someone is not used to a strict schedule like ours. Even after many years, it can take real effort to get out of bed and sing joyfully. Like everyone else, brothers go through periods where they are excited about prayer and times when they are not. But no matter how we feel, we go to the Divine Office! This is a wonderful privilege and really helps the monk to get ‘outside of himself’ and to learn to turn over his own desires and feelings to God.
The other hidden part of this is community. We see the same brothers much of the time, every day. It is so very important to learn humility, to learn how to treat brothers in a way that is supportive and encouraging and not picky, irritable and so on. This is demanding work and it is the small detail of monastic life that people in the world do not see. We have brothers from all kinds of backgrounds and even from different cultures and it is easy to take or give offense. Quite a bit of the ‘work’ we do involves the practice of loving the brothers. If we really give ourselves over to this, if we don’t insist on distracting ourselves with ‘more important’ things, then God can really mold us into saints.