Parish of St Benedict Ealing Abbey

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From the Rule of St Benedict
   
   

The Monastery > Monastic Life

Benedict laid down a structure for the ordering of the monastic day but he allowed that the Abbot might rearrange matters if he thought fit. Over the fifteen centuries since then, in order to meet the demands of widely differing circumstances and social developments, the timetable (or Horarium) has frequently been adjusted. Most recently, this has been in response to the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) but the Horarium still preserves the balance of prayer, study and work which Benedict provided, although the proportions of these have been altered.

The Divine Office (or Opus Dei) establishes the main framework around which the day is organised. It has been called the "sacrament of the monastic life" because, in praying the Office together we celebrate our communal life, by using psalms, canticles and silence to consecrate our time to God and to mark important focal points of prayer in a day that is already dedicated to him. The busier these days are, the more important is the rhythm that is provided by praying the Office. Each day the monks also come together to celebrate the Eucharist; we do so as members of a Christian family and, although there is little that is exclusively monastic about the celebration, it is a powerful sign of unity. We draw strength from it for those aspects of our Christian life which are implied by our monastic profession: listening to the word, mutual forgiveness, shared joy and praise, communion with Christ and with one another.

At Ealing the day begins at 6.00 a.m. when the monks gather in the abbey church to sing Matins, the first Office of the day. Many will have been up for some time already, spending their time in private prayer and in preparing for the day ahead. The theme of Matins varies from day to day but the psalms and readings are chosen to reflect its meditative character. Scripture and readings from the Fathers of the Church serve to provide food for thought during the prayerful silences. The monks sing Lauds at 7.35 a.m. During the day, there are three briefer Offices: Terce at 9.00am (in the abbey church); Sext at 12.45pm and None at 4.00pm (both of these being sung in the monastery chapel). They give us opportunity to pause and take stock during the course of the day. The Evening Office of Vespers (at 6.35pm in the abbey church) has its theme of thanksgiving and is summed up in Mary's joyful Magnificat. After Supper and Recreation, the monks join with their guests and parishioners in singing Compline at 8.00pm, the night prayer of the Church.

Each Monk has his own room which also serves as a place where he may study and pray quietly; there is also a small House Chapel set aside for prayer. Benedict stressed the importance of spiritual reading (lectio divina) as a springboard to prayer. In addition to the individual rooms there are also the communal rooms of the monastery: the Library and the Chapter Room, where the monks sing some of the Office and also hold meetings of the Chapter (all the "solemnly professed" members of the community; that is, those monks who have taken their vows for life after a period of temporary or "simple profession"). Both of those rooms are in the old part of the monastery, but on the ground floor of the new wing is the Refectory where the monks eat together. Breakfast and lunch are informal self-service meals, but dinner is formal and is usually silent, with the monks taking it in turn to wait on each other; the Reader (who is appointed for the week) reads aloud from the current book - usually a work of biography or history. On one evening each week there is music during dinner instead of reading.

The daily recreation periods in the Calefactory, the main common room, can be times of growth for the community as we relax together for half an hour or so after lunch and dinner. At other times of the day, casual conversation is restricted to a minimum and this contributes to the atmosphere of stillness in the monastery. Silence is seen not as a prohibition on talking but rather as permitting an openness to God and an opportunity to listen to his word.

 

 

   

 

 

   
   

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The Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey, Ealing’ is a registered charity no 242715