A Timeline – A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MONK

Downside Abbey Somerset

  • For some people it comes as a surprise to learn that there are still monks today, living and working in the twenty-first century. For there are still monasteries of monks and nuns in England, most of them belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, all of them witnessing to God by their life of prayer and by a rich variety of works.

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    Downside Abbey

     

    This is at Downside Abbey in Somerset, where about thirty monks live. The monks have several different jobs, which they carry out in the gaps between the fixed times of prayer when all the monks come together. Monks tend to stay put in one place, so that the monastery becomes a focus for the prayer life of the local community and a stable point in a rapidly changing world.

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    6 A.M. Vigils and Prayers

     

    The day begins with the service of Vigils in the Abbey Church: this is the first and longest part of the 'Divine Office' that gives a framework to the monastic day. During Vigils the monks sing psalms and canticles from the Bible and listen to the Word of God and to the writings of Church Fathers. There follows a half-hour break for private prayer.

  • 7.05 AM Lauds

    This if the Office of Praise, when the monks joyfully greet the dawn and ask God's blessing on the day's work; Lauds is shorter than Vigils, and more 'upbeat' in tone.

    9.15 AM

    After Mass, the monks go about their different jobs, whether it be teaching in the school, looking after a local parish, or hosting visitors.

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    MIDDAY

     

    In the middle of the working day, the monks pause to remember that it is God who gives value to their work and the strength to do it. This if followed by lunch. The monks begin by singing grace together; then, as they eat in silence, one of the brethren reads an extract which the Abbot has chosen: it might be an academic article from a journal, or a sermon or lecture.

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    Afternoon

     

    In the afternoon the monks will be involved in whatever jobs are needed. Following which they will attend Vespers. Together with Lauds, Vespers is one of the 'hinges' of the day. For most of the community, the working day is done, and it is time to give thanks to God for the graces he has given during the day, in prayer and singing. After Vespers, there is another half-hour of silence so that the monks can pray privately or meditate on a passage of the Bible. Supper is at 6.45 p.m. As with the other meals, this is taken in silence, but the reading is lighter and more entertaining: it may be biography, history or travel writing.

  • Community Time

    After supper is the time to relax together as a monastic family, to swap news, ideas, stories, and just to be together. It is important to have this time for conversation, as monasteries are very busy places, and people might not otherwise get the chance to talk.

    Compline

    The last part of the Divine Office, which is sung off by heart in the darkened Church. After Compline there is silence in the monastery until breakfast the next morning.

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