Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Monastic Prayer

by Br. Francis Wagner, OSB


"Nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God," St. Benedict says in his Rule (Chapter 43:3). In the monastery each day, the monks arise before dawn and keep silence until the bells summon everyone into the church to chant the Liturgy of the Hours for Vigils and Lauds. The first words spoken for the day are in unison and directed toward God: "O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise" (Psalm 51:17).

Before any business or conversation for the day in conducted, the monk is immersed in God's Word so that it may shape his prayer, work, and community life. At regular intervals throughout each day, the monk returns to this time of prayer-in the spoken and chanted Word, in the Eucharist, inlectio divina,in the depth of his heart, and in spiritual counsel. Prayer is the first and last work of the day for the monk, and what guides, sustains, and completes all other work.

St. Benedict's Rule is not a complex treatise on contemplation. Rather, it is a practical and adaptable framework for monks to center their time and being in God's presence-in prayer, work, and community life. No matter what we are doing, or how busy we are, we are called back every few hours to the church for our common prayer.

And we have two specific periods each day-one in the morning and one in the evening-set aside for personal prayer and lectio divina or sacred reading. When the bells announce these periods, the faithful monk goes, and leaves everything else behind (physically if not always mentally).

"Monastic life is not difficult-it's relentless," former novice-master Fr. Harry Hagan, is fond of saying. No matter what else we do, our ordered round of prayer continually calls us back to listen and respond to the Word of God, who is the center of our lives. Over a lifetime, this rhythm of listening and responding to the Word slowly becomes part of us, reshapes who we are, and flows out to encompass all of life.

We bring our lives to prayer, and our prayer to our lives. With God's Word permeating our lives, we are confronted with ourselves and extended beyond them into the life of the wider Church and world. It is relentlessly full of grace.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.