What is the Purpose of a Monk's life? Benedict wrote beautifully of its purpose thus:
"Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep (Rom 13:11). Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts" (Ps 94:8). (Rule: Prologue 8-10) It is a call to a life in union with God which must begin on earth if it is to be fully realized in heaven.
Six hours a day were occupied with manual labor because it was desirable for the monastery to become self-sustaining. Benedict believed that separation of the monks from the secular world was good for their souls. (Rule: Ch. 66) In Medieval times to establish a monastery was no easy task. Often an area had to be cleared of forest or swamp land reclaimed. Monks usually built their housing and Church from stones found in the area. They had to farm, cultivate gardens and care for animals. Grain had to be ground into flour and bread baked. Wool was spun into yarn and woven into cloth. Grapes were grown and wine made. Daily chores such as getting water and wood for the fire had to be done, and whatever else was needed to sustain life.91
Benedict in the rule dictated that the monks should pray seven times a day which took about four hours. He indicated that all the 150 Psalms were to be prayed every week and delineated which psalms and reading were to be used. For example, in chapter 7 of the rule he wrote:
"On week days let Lauds be celebrated in the following manner, to wit: Let the 66th psalm be said without an antiphon, drawing it out a little as on Sunday, that all may arrive for the 50th, which is to be said with an antiphon. After this let two other psalms be said according to custom; namely, the 5th and the 35th on the second day, the 42nd and the 56th on the third day, the 63rd and the 64th on the fourth day, the 87th and the 89th on the fifth day, the 75th and the 91st on the sixth day, and on Saturday the 142nd and the canticle of Deuteronomy, which should be divided into two Glorias. ...."
Latin was the language of his day. Today's Benedictines use the secular language of the country they live in.
Edited sample (Beginning and Ps 29) of Morning Prayer at St. Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, MA.
O God come to my assistance.
O Lord, come with me to my aid.
Glory be.... Amen.
Antiphon: Blessed is the Lord in his holy dwelling.
O give to the Lord, you sons of God,
give the Lord the glory of his name.
The Lord's voice resounding on the waters,
the voice of the Lord, full of power,
The Lord's voice shattering the cedars,
he makes Lebanon leap like a calf
The Lord's voice flashes flames of fire.
the Lord's voice rending the oak tree
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord sat enthroned the flood;
The Lord will give strength to his people,
READING AND STUDY
Illuminated page at Monte Cassino
Four hours a day were devoted to spiritual reading and study. Every monk had to be able to read and write, so anyone who could not had to study.
Of course in order to read or study one had to have books. So in time the Scriptorium or monks dedicated to copy the Bible, Prayer Books and other Classical works. A monastery like Monte Cassino, which at times had 200 monks, became renowned for its library and skilled monks who copied and illuminated manuscripts. This kind of work was very much in keeping with the monk's life which centered on the awareness of God.
EATING AND REST
Man composed of body and soul needs food and rest. So monks had two hours to eat and eight hours of rest. Benedict in his rule directed that the monks were to sleep in separate beds but together in a room or rooms. Older monks were intermingled with younger ones. They were to sleep clothed but without knives lest perchance they wound themselves (Rule ch.8)One of the reasons for sleeping with clothes on was that they had to rise during winter, from November till Easter for night prayer shortly after midnight.
Last winter (2003) I was on retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey at Spencer, MA which is part of the Benedictine Order of Strict Observance (Trappists). The Horarium (Order of the Day) is similar to that of the Middle Ages as follows:
3:10 am Rise
3:30 am Vigils, a communal praying of the Psalms
4:15 am Personal prayer and sacred reading, a light breakfast and attention to personal needs
6:00 am Lauds, morning prayer, followed by Eucharist and time for prayer and reading
8:00 am Angelus; the Great Silence ends
9:00 am Morning work until noon
10:00 am Tierce, midmorning prayer, in the workplace
12:15 pm Sext, midday prayer, followed by the communal meal
1:00 pm Dishes, rest or a walk
2:00 pm None, midafternoon prayer, followed by afternoon work
4:30 pm Time for prayer, reading, exercise
5:40 pm Vespers, evening prayer, followed by a light supper and time for prayer and reading
7:40 pm Compline, night prayer, concluded with the chanting of the Salve Regina
8:00 pm Retire; the Great Silence begins