A “monks day” at the Abbey of Gethsemani

January 21, 2008


Liturgy of the Hours
Vigils, lauds, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline are the seven “hours” of the liturgy of the hours or opus Dei (work of God) as St. Benedict called it in his Rule. They are common prayer services, the prayer of the Church as well as the prayer of our community. None of these “hours” actually lasts an hour. All seven add up to two and a half or two and three-quarters hours. The backbone of these services is the 150 psalms, sung or recited according to a two-week cycle. At each hour there is also a hymn, reading from Scripture, prayer of the day and commemoration of Our Lady. Some of the brothers recite a simple office of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be to the Fathers in another part of the monastery. The monks and others who pray the liturgy of the hours do so on behalf of the Church, and of all humankind, to praise, thank and petition God throughout the day. Guests are welcome to join us for any of these services as well as for the community Mass.

Reading and Individual Prayer
Besides the liturgy of the hours, the typical prayer of the monk or nun is lectio divina (divine or holy reading). It consists of a reading ordered to prayer. Material will be selected on the basis of whether it is conducive to prayer. A bit of the text is read, then reflected on in order to grasp its meaning in itself and its meaning for us. This leads naturally to prayer: praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, repentance, resolve. At times, the monk is led to rest in God’s loving presence with few or no words. Such reading allows the brother or sister to spend time with God and builds up the habit of doing so. It nourishes faith in such a way that they come to see and value things as God does and to live from this vision.

Work and Service
We earn our living by making cheese, fruitcake, and bourbon fudge. The community has to be fed, clothed, housed. The needs of the guests are cared for. Newcomers to the community must be initiated into monastic living. Those with particular talents will probably have a chance to use them. Thus we have musicians, artists, gardeners, craftsmen. According to the needs of the community and the gifts of each monk, the abbot assigns work. Work is seen as service and preference is given work favourable to prayer.

The fundamental discipline is surrendering our will to God and submitting ourselves to the guidance of another. This does not at all exclude a personal search for the will of God but it does mean we bring more important decisions to the superior for discernment.

The pattern and regularity of the daily schedule can be a searching discipline.

When it is time for the office or other community exercise, the monk goes.

Living a community of love with 65 other persons, year in, year out, implies a willingness to sacrifice oneself.

Bringing our best effort to prayer, whether we feel like it or not, can be costly. The relative lack of recognition for achievements that comes from being hidden in a community goes far to tone down excessive self-concern.

Friendship is encouraged. Community amounts to a network of friendships. Yet these must be balanced with the need for solitude and with our radical commitment to Christ. These are real penances in Trappist life, more so than fasting, abstinence from meat (actually, the meals are well-balanced and well-prepared), silence, vigils.