St Benedict highlights the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours when he says “Nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.” (RB 43.3)
He dedicates Chapters 8–20 of the Rule to laying out the way in which this community prayer should take place.
The monks of Worth Abbey gather five times a day, from Matins early in the morning to Compline at the end of the day. These ‘hours’ are not just convenient ways of dividing the day; they reflect ‘sacred time’ – an encounter with “the now that does not pass away” (as St Augustine described it). They are the inner structure which helps monks live consciously and responsively throughout the day, becoming more and more open to the ‘present moment’.
Each of the hours has its own character:
- the dark glimmer of Matins encourages an attentive listening to Psalms and Scripture;
- Lauds praises the dawn of day – “the rising Sun has come to visit us“
- At midday the short pause from work reminds and encourages us in our attentive waiting.
- The Vesper hour allows all of the day to be drawn together as daylight fades and the distinct silence of night descends. Mary’s canticle ‘Magnificat’ praises God for our salvation – our ultimate reconciliation – and reveals the motherly image of Mary our Patron, Help of Christians.
- Compline (meaning completion) is the conclusion of the monastic day. Entering the night, we pray “May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end”.
This care and attention to the Work of God, and its central place in the life of the community is a visible expression of the work of a monk. It is when the community lays aside any work that they might have in hand and praise and worships God. This is at the heart of the monastic life, a life dedicated to God, and orientated towards him. The divine office punctuates the day, and recalls us to what is important, namely God.
In praying together five times a day we consecrate the day to God, and act as a channel of God’s grace to all who come and join us.
As well as the Liturgy of the Hours, the monks meet each day to celebrate the Conventual Mass. Just as the Eucharistic mystery is the heart of the Church, it is particularly so in the monastery. All that the monk seeks to do and to offer finds its source in all that Christ did and offered in the Paschal Mystery – and united to Him is drawn by the Spirit into the koinonia of the Blessed Trinity.