A Day In The Life Of A Pluscarden Monk
04.15 : Rise
The brethren at Pluscarden are roused from sleep each morning at 4.15. A designated brother knocks on the door of each monastic cell. He calls out a simple liturgical greeting, which seems to sum up our whole monastic life: “Benedicamus Domino” (“Let us bless the Lord”). A response is given to that: “Deo gratias!” (“Thanks be to God!”). Then: “Laudetur Iesus Christus” (“Praised be Jesus Christ”). Response: “In aeternum, Amen.” (“For ever, Amen.”)
After rising, all assemble in Church for the first Office, or service, of the day. Vigils is the Night Office, consisting mainly of Psalmody, which at Pluscarden is always sung in Latin. It lasts around one hour, varying slightly according to the length of the Psalmody of any particular day. Vigils on Sundays and Solemnities are somewhat longer. At Pluscarden the schema of Psalms set out by St. Benedict in his Holy Rule is closely followed. That is: there are never fewer than twelve Psalms at Vigils, with the addition of Psalms 3 and 94 at the Invitatory every day. After each “nocturn” of six Psalms, there is a reading, which we have in English. The first reading is from Holy Scripture, the second reading will be from the Fathers of the Church, or other approved Catholic and Orthodox writers. There is a certain austerity about the Office of Vigils. The Psalmody is long, and is normally recited on a monotone.
After Vigils: Lectio divina
The Great Silence continues to reign in the monastery after Vigils. About fifty minutes is set aside now for personal prayer, or lectio divina: the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture and other spiritual works. Each monk will normally return to his own cell at this time; or perhaps he may choose to remain quietly in Choir.
The Office of Lauds is the joyful morning Office of praise at dawn. What is a monk for? Above all he exists to give God praise. He does this on his own behalf, and also on behalf of the whole Church, and even on behalf of the whole of Creation. Lauds are sung, normally with organ accompaniment (outside Advent and Lent) and last around half an hour. This Office ends with the prayer of the Angelus.
After Lauds: pittance and lectio divina
The Pluscarden brethren now have around two full hours free for personal lectio divina. A light breakfast we call “pittance” is available informally during this time.
09.00: Prime, Conventual Mass and Terce
Holy Mass is the most important act of worship in the monastic day. At Pluscarden, on weekdays, Mass is surrounded by the two “Little Hours” of Prime and Terce. The Pluscarden Conventual Mass is always sung throughout in Latin, apart from the readings, which are in English. Normally Mass, together with Prime and Terce, lasts around one hour.
After Mass the brethren change into a denim “work habit”, and take up their assigned tasks for the day. A maximum of two and a half hours is available in the morning for work. There is always plenty to do. All the cooking, house work and general administration is done by our own brethren. In addition there is work in the garden or with the various craft industries, or in the guest house, etc. Obedience may also indicate that a particular brother spends time in serious study. Novices will normally receive one or more classes during this work time, given by the novice master or other senior monk.
Each of the Offices of Terce, Sext and None lasts around ten minutes. They follow an invariable pattern, with just three short Psalms at their heart. The Pluscarden custom is to sing these Offices, but without organ accompaniment.
After Sext the prayer of the Angelus is said; then all process in silence from Choir to the refectory for lunch.
After Sext: Lunch and Meridian
Lunch is a formal, served meal, taken in silence apart from the voice of the refectory reader. Grace is sung before and after the meal. The reading at lunch begins with a Chapter or so of Holy Scripture, reading the whole Bible through from beginning to end. After that our custom is to read some interesting and informative book, for example of biography or history or travel or science. The book need not be explicitly religious, but fiction is never read. Meat is not eaten on normal weekdays.
After lunch the brethren have around an hour of free time: what we call “meridian”. Most take a midday nap at this point, in accordance with venerable monastic custom. They may also quietly read, or go for a walk if they wish.
We end our meridian rest with the Office of None.
After None: Work
The brethren now have another two and a half hours or so for work. A cup of tea, to be taken informally and in silence, is available in mid afternoon for those who wish.
Vespers balances Lauds as one of the “hinges” of the monastic day. This is the beautiful evening prayer of the Church, whose high point is the canticle of Our Lady, the “Magnificat”. Vespers lasts around half an hour, and is always sung in full. Outside Advent and Lent, there is normally organ accompaniment.
After Vespers: Prayertime
Monks aspire to pray “without ceasing”, as the Apostle commands (cf. I Thessalonians 5:17). But they also need to spend some time each day in the deliberate exercise of mental prayer, or the prayer of the heart, or prayer beyond words, in the presence of God, to the exclusion of anything else. The Pluscarden custom is for the whole community to remain together in Choir after Vespers for half an hour in silence, with each brother free to pray as he wishes, or as he can.
Supper at Pluscarden is a lighter meal than lunch, except on fast days. Nevertheless it is still always formal, with reading and serving. The meal begins with the day’s portion of the Holy Rule read out. Next comes the Martyrology, announcing the Saints whose commemoration is kept the following day, often with a brief biography. After that a book is read, different from the lunch book. The supper book is always religious. At the end of the meal the Necrology is read. This lists the names of all members of our Benedictine Congregation whose anniversary of death occurs at this time, and all who have recently died. Mention is also made of our deceased relatives, friends and benefactors, for all of whom we pray that they may rest in the peace of Christ.
After Supper: Recreation
Apart from certain days on which there is no recreation, the brethren now go to the Chapter house for free and informal conversation among themselves. On weekdays this recreation lasts between twenty minutes and half an hour. On fine days in the summer it may be taken out of doors. Recreation is an important aspect of monastic life, as it helps build up a strong sense of community in fraternal charity.
At the signal for the end of recreation, all talking ceases. A formal “Chapter” is now held, presided over by Fr. Abbot. This is the time for him to speak to the whole community, if and as he wishes. The specific prayer requests which come to us daily are read out at this point. There is also normally some reading from a spiritual book.
After Chapter: Compline
For many people, Compline is the favourite Office of the day. The Psalms are always the same, and so can easily be recited entirely by heart. In the winter months Compline is sung in the dark. The Office ends with the final Hymn to Our Lady. Fr. Abbot then blesses all present with Holy Water, and the Great Silence of the night begins.
Sundays & Solemnities
On Sundays and Solemnities the Pluscarden Timetable is adapted to reflect a day of freedom from all non-essential work, with increased time for prayer and lectio divina.
A third “nocturn” is added to the normal twelve Psalms and two readings of weekday Vigils. In this nocturn, first of all three Old Testament Canticles are recited. Then a Patristic commentary on the day’s Gospel is read. The Te Deum laudamus is sung; then Fr. Abbot solemnly reads the Gospel set for the Day. After the Gospel the Te decet laus is sung, and the Office is concluded in the normal way.
After Lauds on Sundays a special blessing is given to those who have duties Reading and Serving in the Refectory for the coming week.
Prime on Sundays is sung as an entirely separate Office. It is followed by somewhat under half an hour, in which the brethren can prepare themselves for Mass.
Terce on Sundays is sung just before the Conventual Mass. After it, once the Priests of the community have vested, there is a more solemn entrance procession from the Cloister.
Mass on Sundays and Solemnities normally lasts around an hour and a quarter. It includes two readings before the Gospel, and a homily, and Bidding Prayers, as well as a sung Gloria and Credo.
12.40: Sext, Lunch and Meridian
As on weekdays. At Pluscarden though meat is served on Sundays and Solemnities, and the meridian is considerably longer than on weekdays. This is the longest period of free time the brethren enjoy in the course of the week.
16.20: None, followed by Common Room Tea
The Sunday recreation is taken after the Office of None. Brethren talk freely with one another, while partaking also of tea and cakes or biscuits. In the summer the tea may be served in the very pleasant Cloister garden.
17.15: Vespers and Benediction
Vespers are sung somewhat earlier on a Sunday or Solemnity. The Hebdomadary or presiding Priest is vested in cope, and the Altar and Community are incensed during the singing of the Magnificat. At the conclusion of Vespers, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a monstrance on the Altar for half an hour. This period of exposition begins and ends with Chant and incense; otherwise all remain in silent prayer and adoration.
Sunday supper is not different from a weekday: though normally some articles of interest from the Catholic papers are read out. After supper there is some more time for lectio divina: we never have recreation more than once a day.
19.45: Chapter & Compline
Having celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord, the monks pray that they may sleep in peace and safety, and rise up joyfully the next morning to praise him again. Sunday Compline ends with the beautiful solemn tone of the Marian Antiphon.