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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 13 Jun 2002

Life in a monastery QUESTION from Darryl Draper February 15, 1999 I have been a catholic follower all my life, some times more applied than other times. I was wondering if you could give me more information on life in a monastery. I am 34 years old with several misguided steps in my life. The one thing that has always stayed constant was the acceptance of the church. I live in Calgary Canada, and would like to find out more, aside from what my parish preist could tell me. I have only been going to St. Joseph's Parish a short while and anything that could relate would be much appreciated.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on February 20, 1999 Dear Darryl:
Sorry for the delay in answering you. Thanks for the question.
The question about life in a monastery depends on the monastery and its particular charism. There are some monasteries that are very strict and austere — some only have plat-boards for beds. Others are less austere and have more, yet simple amenities. Some may have little contact with the outside world, others may even have TV's available. Some will be entirely cloistered so that the monks or nuns never have direct contact with the world, others may have limited contact with the world and may allow the public to have retreats on the monastary grounds in guest houses with some limited access to the monastary population.
So the answer really depends.
Most monasteries will have a daily structure of prayer, work, study, and personal times. There will be times of silence during part of the day perhaps. Usually there will be a time of the Grand Silence, which begins after Night Prayer and ends after breakfast.
Depending on the charism of the monastery some meals may be taken in silence, some in conversation.
The Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) forms the basic prayer structure that sanctifies the various times of the day. Contemplative communities will usually participate in all 7 hours of the Divine Office…
...Vigils (typically around 3am, or said with morning prayer), Lauds (Morning Prayer), Tierce (Mid-Morning Prayer), Sext (Mid-day Prayer), None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer), and Compline (Night Prayer). When the prayer bell rings, the monk or nun stops whatever it is they are doing and heads to the oratory or Church for prayer. Punishment can be applied to those failing to come to prayer or who are late to prayer.
Again depending on the community there may also be four hours or so of work time scheduled. This work includes whatever the community may do to support itself, such as farming, printing, wine-making, bread-making, etc. This is also time for various household chores, too, such as cleaning and maintenance.
Part of the day may be spent alone in one’s cell (bedroom) resting or studying. Other times of the day in study and reading and in personal prayer adn contemplative prayer. Time is also set aside for recreation.
In essence, the day is structured around the Divine Office, with periods of work, study, personal and contemplative prayer, rest, and recreation inbetween the Hours of the Office.
On Friday in many communities there is an activity called the Chapter of Faults. This is a time when the residents confess minor faults in following and living the Rule of Life for their order. This confession is given to the Superior who may assign a penance. What is confessed in the Chapter of Faults are NOT sins that would be confessed in the Sacrament of Confession, but are instead rule infractions such as coming late to prayer, talking during a time of silence, and things of that sort.
Communities that are in active apostolates, such as mission work, teaching, counseling, working with the poor, etc. will vary in their schedules, and be more flexible in their schedules, to accommodate the work of the apostolate. Most often these active communities are called Friaries rather then monasteries. A Friar is like a monk except that he is actively involved in some ministry work outside of the community house. The monk is more involved in the contemplative life and remains in his monastery.
An example of a daily schedule can be seen on our website. It is the daily schedule for St. Michael House. Daily Schedule. Because of the needs of our apostolate to the Internet, our schedule starts a little later in the morning and ends a little later at night than usual, but the basic design of the work periods, prayer, reading, and personal time scheduled around the primary hub of the Divine Office can be seen in our schedule.
I hope this has answered your question at least a little.
God Bless.
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