Part One-The Divine Office
In this series, we will be exploring some of the ways that the monks of Mepkin Abbey pray and inviting you to participate with us, if you feel called, in some or all of them. First, we will reflect on the Divine Office. St. Benedict refers to it in the Rule as the Work of God and says it is the most important thing that a monk does. The individual times of the Divine Office are often referred to as “The Hours.”
Here at Mepkin, the monks gather in prayer seven times a day, primarily in the church. We begin with the Office of Vigils at four a.m. Later in the morning there is Lauds (morning prayer). Terce is said just before going to work. Before lunch is Midday Prayer, sometimes called Sext, and when lunch is over, we say the Office of None. Later in the evening, we have Vespers (evening prayer) and Compline before retiring for the night. All this, is in addition to the daily Celebration of the Eucharist.
Through the Divine Office, the monk is immersed in scripture, especially the Psalms, as they feature in each of the Hours. St. Benedict wanted the monks to read all one hundred and fifty Psalms a week. We are not as ambitious as that at Mepkin, but we do a two-week cycle. We sing the Office in choir, which means we sing antiphonally (two choirs singing alternate verses). In addition to the Psalms, there is always a reading from another part of scripture and often intercessory prayers.
The Psalms were the prayer book of the people of Israel, and Jesus Himself would have prayed them. In them, you can find all the moods you can imagine. People celebrating joyful moments, people in despair, people sick, people wondering about belief. All life is here. In praying them, you’ll be able to enter in your own experience as well as praying for others who may be having an experience which you are not going through personally.
How can you join the monks in the Divine Office? Most people will not be in a position to say all the hours every day. However, you might consider some of the following methods. One way is to buy a copy of the Divine Office; this has all the Palms and prayers, but it is slightly different from the one the monks use. The Divine Office was previously the preserve of priests and nuns, but now many lay people, either individually or in parishes that are attached to monasteries, are saying the Office, or parts of the Office during the day.
Another method is the app Universalis, which is a wonderful resource. Here you will find all the hours for each day, in addition to articles about Lectio Divina, spiritual reading, the Angelus, and the Rosary. You will also find all the readings for the Mass of the day. It’s quite simply a superb app that will quickly get you into the rhythm of the Divine Office.
Additionally, you can join us here at Mepkin on our livestream of the Office. Each day we broadcast Lauds (morning prayer) at 6:30 a.m. every day except Friday. Vespers is at 6:00 p.m. except Friday, and on Sunday it is at 5:00 p.m. You can also join us at Mass at 7:30 a.m. each day, Monday-Saturday and 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. This is a wonderful way of linking in with the monks of Mepkin and also praying with us.
Lastly, at our first Office, Vigils, we select an appropriate reading for reflection and inspiration for each day. Some of the readings come from modern writers, others are from ancient ones; all are brief. You can find them on the Mepkin home page under “Vigil Readings.”
We hope that you might like to explore the Divine Office further. It is a rich tradition within the church. In our next installment, we will look at the monastic practice of Lectio Divina.