A Day in the Life
It’s 5:30 a.m. The abbey bell is ringing for the first time today—the only sound in an otherwise quiet monastery—to rouse the confreres from sleep and to call us to prayer. In silence, one white-robed figure after another is taking his place in statio, lining up beside the cloister gardens to prepare for Morning Office. One priest is just finishing his candlelit Latin Mass in the chapel. Some of the seminarians already are making the rounds on their rosary beads or prayer ropes. This week’s lector is holding his breviary, glancing over the patristic homily that he is about to proclaim in the liturgy. Now it’s 5:45, and we are processing into the church together in hierarchical order, bowing to the altar and to one another, and taking our places in choir. The rector chori is intoning the first words of the Liturgy of the Hours: Domine, labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam. “Lord, thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall announce thy praise.” The day has begun.
It’s 10:00 a.m. Thus far this morning, we have prayed Matins and Lauds, spent half an hour reading Sacred Scripture (lectio divina), celebrated or assisted at the community’s conventual Mass, eaten breakfast, and prayed Terce. Now our priests are busy with their daily pastoral work. One is leading his high school literature class in a dramatic reading of Macbeth. Another is rehearsing St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous five ways with his freshmen. Still another is on the air with Catholic Answers Live to explain divine predestination to thousands of radio listeners. And several more priests are offering Confession or spiritual direction in various parlors around the abbey. We seminarians are in class. This morning the novices are studying Gregorian chant, the writings of St. Augustine, and the history of our Norbertine Order. The philosophy students have just finished Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and now they are diving into the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae. In our free periods, we are getting ahead on Latin translations, or writing letters to friends and family, or taking a much-needed nap. At 11:55, the abbey bell will ring, and we will gather in the church once more to consecrate the day to God.
It’s 3:00 p.m. We have already prayed Sext and processed to lunch, where one of the fraters served as table reader. (At lunch we always read from the Rule of our Holy Father St. Augustine, from the Norbertine Hagiologion, and from some other spiritual book—recent selections have included a biography of Pope Benedict XV, a theological study on the role of angels in liturgy, and a history book on the early Christian martyrs.) After lunch, our priests returned to their apostolic endeavors, while we seminarians cleaned up the refectory. If today were a Monday or Wednesday, then the philosophy students would have headed down to their cells to study, while the novices would have assembled for a work meeting and then manual labor—and if it were a Friday, everyone would be working. But today is Tuesday, so all of us seminarians have a free afternoon. Several fraters are down on the field for a fierce game of ultimate frisbee. A few others are on a bike ride through the canyon. Two are in the kitchen making apple butter and hot sauce. A handful have gathered around a piano to practice their musical act for our next talent recreation. Most of the painters are hanging out working on their newest icons, while one is over in the woodshop crafting a frame for his. Our confreres enjoy their leisure time in all sorts of different activities, but the common thread running through them all is communio—we are united in love of God and the brethren.
It’s 6:30 p.m. After cleaning ourselves up, we finished the afternoon by convening to pray None. Then the lights in the abbey church were extinguished, and we seminarians spread all throughout the sanctuary and nave for our daily rosary. We sanctified the evening by gathering in statio once again and processing into the church for Vespers. Then we had dinner, prepared by our saintly Dominican sisters. Our table reader began the meal with a few minutes of the Roman Martyrology and the constitutions of our order, and he ended with a passage from the Life of St. Norbert. But most of dinner is spent in conversation—a “family meal” at its finest. Now that dinner is finished, some of our priests are in the computer room, preparing their homilies for the parishes where they assist on Sundays. A couple of others are out for a run on the trails. Several fathers are relaxing together in the priest recreation room. One or two are in the parlors giving spiritual direction. As for us seminarians, several of us are resetting the refectory, while others are bringing dinner to the elderly fathers, or setting up vestments and chalices for tomorrow’s conventual Mass, or shelving books in the library, or doing any of the other beautifully routine tasks that help maintain our religious life. Soon we will head down for our nightly seminarian recreation. Sometimes we play a board game or sing songs, but more often we just sit back and enjoy each other’s company. After recreation, our grand silence (magnum silencium) will begin, which will continue until breakfast tomorrow morning. Thus we begin and end each day in the silent peace of prayer.
It’s 9:00 p.m. We are right where we belong: kneeling together in our abbey church, adoring the Holy Eucharist. This is the end of our day, and also the end of our nightly holy hour, which begins with chanted Compline and concludes with benediction. Two of our priests have been hearing Confessions throughout. Some of the fraters are reading and meditating on Scripture, while others just lovingly gaze at our Eucharistic Lord on the altar, and others still recite the Jesus prayer or simply talk with God. In a few minutes, the Blessed Sacrament will be reposed, and all of our canons will make their way towards bed. Then we rest, we rise, and we do it all again.
“Day unto day takes up the story, and night unto night makes known the message.”
“How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers live in unity!”
“Seven times a day I praise you for your just decrees.”
We are blessed to live the psalms that we chant, day in and day out.
Benedicamus Domino. Deo gratias.