It is just about 8:15pm. Compline has been sung and the Community processes out of the Oratory in silence. A single candle is left burning next to the Tabernacle in silent witness to the presence of Christ in a darkened and otherwise empty space.
Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ - John 6:29
Some gather for fellowship in conversation while others retire to their rooms for study or meditation. A deep quiet begins to settle around the community as the evening wears on toward 10:30 when observance of the Greater Silence begins and voices are stilled, for St. Benedict has instructed that “…after going out from Complin, let there be no more permission from that time on for anyone to say anything.”
“I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep;Dawn arrives and I am wakened by birdsong, as I am every morning this week. Brothers and Sisters begin to stir and prepare themselves for the day’s work of prayer and study.
For only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” - Psalm 4:8
I leave my room and join the black-clothed figures walking past lush lawns beneath fully-leafed trees, shockingly green to the eyes of a Southern Californian, and enter a red brick building. It is 7am and the Community is gathered in silence outside the refectory until the Abbot silently bids us enter to break our fast. We eat in silence, alone, or by twos or threes or sometimes more, and prepare ourselves to begin another day of the holy work of prayer.
It is 7:45am, breakfast is done, and the Community waits just outside the Oratory until, prodded by a motion from the Abbot, we enter in an order set by seniority of time in the community: eldest to most junior, the most junior holding the door for the more senior. We are seated in silent reverence for a moment until, with a single tap of his ring on his wooden chair, the Abbot bids us stand, for St. Benedict has instructed that “…the sign having been given by the Superior, let all rise together.” And so, the Greater Silence is broken as with one voice when the Community speaks the opening phrases of Matins (Morning Prayer):
“Lord open our lips. And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.”After the final Collect, we process out of the Oratory in silence, again eldest to most junior, to allow the sacristans, acolyte, priest, and choristers to prepare for the daily Holy Eucharist. It is 9:00am and the Community assembles in the Oratory for the celebration of sung Holy Eucharist, in a liturgy familiar to all of us from our typical Sunday services. We begin:
“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.”The peace is passed – a swirling mass of people intent on greeting each and every person present at the service. Holy food and drink is blessed and shared. The Eucharist is ended and we are instructed, as always, to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We depart, this time in no particular order, to spend the better part of the next two hours in prayer, study and meditation, as each of us is called or required.
It is Noon and we are again gathered outside the refectory for a meal. The food is blessed by one of the Sisters or Brothers and we wait until the Abbot bids us enter. Unlike breakfast, the mid-day meal is full of conversation and the Brothers and Sisters of the Community are seated at full tables.
It is 1:00pm, lunch is over, and the Community assembles and processes into the Oratory, in order, to sing Diurnum (Noon Prayer). This is a short service – perhaps only 10 minutes in keeping with St. Benedict’s instruction that “…prayer ought to be short and pure, unless, perhaps it is lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace. At the community exercises, however, let the prayer always be short…”
It is just about 1:15pm and we disperse for the better part of the next three hours to rooms, gardens, benches, and footpaths for rest, study, prayer, meditation, and quiet time as we are called or required. Geese can be heard at the lake and some of us are pulled to its banks.
It is 4:00pm and once again the Community meets at the Oratory. It is the time of Vespers (Evening Prayer) when we sing of our love for God and our gratitude for his mercies and blessings of the day now drawing to a close:
“Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”And
“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.Vespers is one of the two longer Offices and we are at our work for perhaps half an hour, as we were at Matins. It is 5:00pm and time for dinner. We assemble in our accustomed fashion and enter the refectory when the Abbot instructs us, after the food is blessed by a Sister or Brother. We sit at full tables enjoying the company of our Brothers and Sister. On a special occasion there may be wine with dinner.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.”
It is later in the week set aside for Convocation and it is a special night, for we are welcoming our new Bishop Visitor and thanking our out-going Abbot as he resumes his place as an ordinary Brother in the Community. So, tonight there is wine on the table and we raise our glasses in thanks to God and for the love of the fellows surrounding us.
The day is slowing its rhythm and we look forward to two hours of unstructured time, although many of us will spend the hours after dinner and before meeting to sing Compline in study and reflection on scripture or the day’s events. I choose silent reading and reflection in my room and marvel at my great good fortune to be at the beginning of my journey with this loving Community of men and women dedicating their lives to Christ and the love of God. God has indeed blessed me.
It is 8:00pm, and for the final time today the Community takes its place in the Oratory, this time to sing Compline, the last of the four Daily Offices of prayer, and as brief as was Diurnum. We sing the psalms and prayers with one voice and conclude with a tender, haunting hymn to the Blessed Virgin, Salve Regina.
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send forth our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.”
It is now just about 8:15pm. Compline has been sung and the Community leaves the Oratory in silence. A single candle is left burning next to the Tabernacle in silent witness to the presence of Christ in a darkened and otherwise empty space……
“The Lord grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen."
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St. Paul’s Cathedral offers Daily Morning Prayer (M-Sa) and Daily Evening Prayer / Evensong (Su-F). The worship schedule can be found here on the Cathedral Website or you may call the Cathedral Office at 619-298-7261.
Liturgies and Orders of Service for the Daily Offices can be found in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and online:
Daily Morning Prayer BCP Page 75 or here.
Order of Service for Noonday BCP Page 103 or here.
Daily Evening Prayer BCP Page 115 or here.
Order of Service for Compline BCP Page 127 or here.
Holy Eucharist: Rite Two BCP Page 355 or here.
Resources for praying the Offices at home:
The St. Bede’s Breviary
The Daily Office at The Mission of St. Clare