The day here begins at about 4:30 a.m. when most brothers wake up. We begin chanting Vigils at 5:00 and that lasts most days until about 6:00. At that time, we go back to our cells (our rooms) and spend an hour in ‘lectio divina’ the monastic way of praying with Scripture. At 7:00 we return to the chapel to chant Lauds together. At 7:30 we have breakfast. Because we also run a Bed & Breakfast, some brothers begin cooking for guests at this hour. I sometimes begin mixing dough for the bread we eat here, a sourdough recipe.
At 8:15 we have Chapter and our work meeting. We chant three Psalms, then have a reading from the Rule of St. Benedict. The Prior may give a brief teaching on the part of the Rule that we read. After this, brothers also tell the community if they need to leave the monastery for some reason, and they receive a special blessing for their trip.
There is a brief period for personal needs after this. At 9:00 we have the brief period of prayer called Terce. After this, our work period begins. Some brothers cook, others work at repairs to the buildings we have, or mow the lawn, work in the garden, or shovel snow (!). Some brothers have office work– writing checks or thank you letters for gifts and working on music for the liturgy. A few days a week, we have classes during this period. Novices study Scripture, the liturgy and monastic history and spirituality, including the Rule of Saint Benedict.
The brothers come back together at noon for the office of Sext, which is followed by lunch. Lunch is informal but silent. Sometimes we listen to classical music or to recordings of chant. Some brothers occasionally fast from lunch. Most of the afternoon is reserved for personal needs. Some brothers take a short nap or go out for exercise. Afternoons on the whole are quieter than mornings. At 3:00, we pray the office of None. After this, brothers might do a bit more work. This is a favorite time for brothers to do personal prayer (rosary, more lectio divina, etc). Some brothers may work at a craft or practice piano or guitar.
At 5:00 we have Vespers. This is a very festive office, with incense and some of the liturgy’s most beautiful hymns. When this finishes, we prepare to celebrate Mass–the priests go to the sacristy to vest and brothers change from cowls to albs. Mass begins at 5:45 and is a bit longer than your average weekday parish Mass because we do all of the traditional Gregorian chants. Many people come for Vespers and Mass (many by our standards–maybe 4 or 5 for Vespers and 30 for Mass). Mass is also a bit longer because we tend to do things more slowly than what most people experience at a parish.
When Mass is finished, certain brothers return to the kitchen to finish preparations for supper while other brothers either pray or put things away in the sacristy. Our evening meal is very formal, served by one or two brothers and it features table reading. When supper is ended, we sing antiphons to Mary and Joseph, then we all clean dishes together.
The period after supper is used either for community recreation or for brothers to get caught up on things that are pressing. At recreation, sometimes we merely visit, though we also play cards or board games. On a brother’s name day, we will have a special dessert and do something special. Compline comes at 8:00 and then it is time for the Grand Silence. There is no talking after Compline until Lauds is finished the next morning. This is to facilitate brothers’ closeness to the Lord in the nighttime hours.
Saturdays and Sundays follow a slightly different schedule. We try to refrain from manual labor on Sundays and to keep a greater silence. The liturgies are also a bit longer and more solemn. At Mass, we normally have about 40 guests and we sing more polyphony. Sometimes Oblates will sing motets they have prepared for Mass. In the evening we have a recreational meal—the one meal of the week where we visit with one another.
What is all of this like? At first it can be a bit overwhelming if someone is not used to a strict schedule like this. Even after many years, it can take real effort to get out of bed to 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. Like all people, we have some personalities that clash and some that perhaps get along too easily. So quite a bit of the ‘work’ we do would not be recognized by others, but it is the important work 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.