The Monastic Day
As with everything else in the Rule, Benedict’s rationale for the structure and content of each office was rooted in Scripture and in pastoral common sense. By following an ancient biblical practice of praying seven times during the day (“Seven times a day I praise you.”— Psalm 119:164a), and once at night (“At midnight I rise to give you thanks.”—Psalm 119:62a), those who followed Benedict’s Rule recited the entire Psalter each week and still kept a balance between worship and manual work.
The Night Office, or Matins, was set in the middle of the night, while the Day Offices were spread more or less evenly throughout the daylight hours: Lauds, at daybreak, followed by Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and, finally, Compline in the evening. Each of these times of prayer is commonly called an “office.”
As precise as Benedict was in setting forth the schedule for the monk’s day, he allowed for the possibility of each monastic house adapting the schedule to fit its own needs. This flexibility is part of the reason Benedict had such an enormous effect on religious and secular life over the ensuing centuries: it has allowed those who follow the Rule to adapt to various cultures and times.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Christians of many traditions wrestled with how to maintain the round of daily offices in the midst of the pressures of modern life and demanding ministries. Many modern monastic houses, including the Community of Jesus, have heeded Benedict’s suggestion and have altered their schedules to better fit their own unique circumstances. By observing four offices a day (Lauds, Midday, Vespers, and Compline), we at the Community of Jesus keep the spirit of Benedict’s Rule while realistically adjusting it to the demands of modern life.