Ampleforth Abbey

24 February 2018

A day in the life of a monk

Saint Benedict wrote that a monk should prefer nothing to the work of God - the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours. The monastic day is therefore built around set times of prayer, although there are also periods of work and recreation as well as mealtimes. The day begins at 5.40 a.m. when the rising bell sounds and the monks then gather in the Abbey church for the first prayers of the day, Matins, at 6.00 a.m. This is followed by a period of quiet prayer before Lauds (Morning Prayer) at 7.30 a.m. and then breakfast. 

The rest of the morning is dedicated to work, apart from a short coffee break. Conventual Mass is celebrated in the Abbey church at 12.45 a.m. Lunch follows with Midday Prayer taking place at 2.15pm. The rest of the afternoon is devoted to Manual Labour or other work. A period of work and spiritual reading follows in the early evening before the celebration of Vespers at 6.00 p.m. This is followed by half-an-hour of lectio divina, with supper at 7.00 p.m. Compline, or Night Prayer, is at 8.15 p.m. After Night Prayer the Summum Silentium, the Great Silence, begins and is observed throughout the monastery until Morning Prayer.

Matins, 6.00am (6.20 on Sundays)

This is sometimes called ‘Vigils’ and some communities get up in the middle of the night to pray it, while all around them sleep. As well as psalms it includes a couple of substantial readings, one from Scripture, another from the early Church Fathers. It lasts about 40 minutes. This gives us fuel for the private prayer that follows.

Lauds, 7.30am (8.00am on Sundays)

This is Morning Prayer, and the tone is celebratory, full of praise and thanksgiving. It lasts about 25 minutes and is followed by breakfast.

Mass, 12.45pm (10.00am on Sundays)

This is not part of the series of prayer services, because it is in a category of its own. It is the sacrament of the day, in which we offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus, and commune with Jesus himself. Lunch and a brief period of recreation follow.

Little Hour, 2.15pm 

For us this replaces the old Prime, Terce, Sext and None, the short offices that punctuate the day. It lasts approximately ten minutes. Lunch follows.

Vespers, 6.00pm (6.20pm on Sundays; 6.30 on some Tuesdays)

This is the second principal office of the day, Evening Prayer. At Ampleforth we sing it in Latin, in Gregorian Chant. It lasts 25 minutes and is followed by half an hour of Lectio Divina, and then supper.

Compline, 8.15pm

This is Night Prayer. It begins with a reading from the Rule of Our Holy Father Benedict. All the psalms, readings and prayers are about protection, safety and the love of God. It lasts 15 minutes and is followed by an antiphon to Our Lady in Gregorian Chant. Silence lasts from the end of this office until Matins the next day.