A monk’s life is one of prayer. Monks live in a community and much of the prayer will be with the other monks. There is also a lot of individual prayer. God should be at the forefront of a monk’s thoughts all the time. A monk should spend as much of his time as possible in prayer. Even when doing other things, a monk should also try to pray.
St John Damascene described prayer as ‘raising the mind to God’ (On the Orthodox Faith, 3.24). This means that prayer can be completely silent. In deep contemplative prayer, there is only the awareness and love of God’s presence.
There are many types of prayer. Some of these are described here.
The Divine Office
Also called The Liturgy of the Hours or, in the Rule of St Benedict, The Work of God. The monastic day is punctuated by periods of collective prayer. From Matins and Lauds before breakfast, through Terce, Sext, and None during the day, with Vespers before dinner and then the end of the day with Compline, these Offices bring us together to praise God. Each one consists mainly of psalms, preceded by a hymn, and followed by a reading from Scripture, along with some other prayer.
The Conventual Mass (Mass of the Convent) is usually in the morning. It is usually concelebrated, although monks who are celebrating other Masses that day will not usually concelebrate.
There are many types of mental prayer. All have the aim of bringing the pray-er to a state of quiet contemplation of God. Only a few are mentioned here. The most difficult part of any mental prayer is clearing the mind of all distractions. It is only when the distractions of the world are cleared from the mind that we can concentrate on God.
Lectio divina is a way of praying the Bible that goes back to the Desert Fathers of the 3rd century. It involves reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Rather than in-depth study of the text, as would occur in academia, it is a prayerful way of listening to God’s word.
The Jesus Prayer
‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ This prayer, common in the Eastern Orthodox Church, is a way of freeing the mind of all distractions. It is repeated continuously until the person reaches a state of peaceful contemplation.
Praying with Icons
Icons (also spelt ikons) are paintings of religious scenes. The paintings are done in a particular style, with no scope for individuality on the part of the painter (or writer). Gazing at an icon helps focus the mind on the subject of the icon and then onto God. Icons are very common in Eastern Rite and Orthodox churches, and are being rediscovered in the western Church.
We also run icon painting courses at the Benedictine Institute.
St Augustine of Hippo is credited with saying, ‘When we sing, we pray twice’, although that isn’t quite right. Monks chant the Divine Office and so sing praise to God. (The expression ‘sing praise’ with God as the object of praise occurs over 30 times in the psalms.) We also sing (chant) at Conventual Mass most mornings. This style of singing is called Gregorian chant, after Pope Gregory the Great.
If you would like to learn Gregorian chant, we also have a lay plainchant choir.