In darkness and silence, the brothers rise at 3:15 a.m. to “Keep watch,” as the Lord commands in the gospel. Our prayer is that all may be brought into the light of Christ’s never ending day.
From the Latin “laudate” which is a call to praise, Lauds is chanted at the break of day. We celebrate the gift of light returning to dispel the darkness of the previous night. The early dawn is like the gaze of Christ looking upon each soul for whom he died and now raises to new life.
Each day, the monastic community gathers to celebrate Eucharist which is the source and summit of every Christian life. As Cistercian monks, we follow the customs of the Cistercian Order in the celebration of the Holy Mass. The stark, simplicity and beauty of the Mass reflects the beauty of Christ who offered himself for the entire world and upon whom our entire monastic and contemplative life is centered.
The third hour or “Terce” allows the monk to pause in the middle of the morning to call to mind the descent of God’s Holy Spirit. It is the fullness of the Spirit that allows the monk to carry on the work of the day. This is the monk’s witness even in the “hidden” life of the cloister for he is ignited by the flames of God’s charity burning in his heart.
“Sext” or the sixth hour is prayed when the sun peaks in the middle of the day. It is a time to renew the fervor with which the monk began at the start of the work day. After chanting the Divine Office of Sext, the monastic community makes its way to the refectory where the monks will eat in silence while listening to the assigned monk reading aloud a book. This simultaneous act of eating while listening is meant to suggest that food nourishes our physical bodies, reading inspired texts nourishes the mind and spirit.
“None” in Latin refers to the “ninth hour,” which would typically be around mid-afternoon. The monastic community gathers together once again to recall the hour that Jesus died upon the cross and for the grace that was bestowed on the world by his self-giving. As the day’s light begins to shift and the shadows lengthen, so we, too, start to experience a decline as the sun descends. We recall that God’s Son descends into the darkness at the moment of his death but we keep that unwavering faith in his resurrection.
In the hymn at Vespers or evening prayer, we invoke God with the title “Lucis Creator optime,” which allows us to acknowledge the creation of light. Even as the sun descends and darkness once again envelopes the earth, the monks are reminded that the entire foundation of our world had been made in beauty and harmony. It is a beautiful reminder of that pre-existing Light in which we hope will one day we all be caught up.
From the Latin “completorium,” the prayers of Compline signify the completion of the day and the petition for God’s protection for the onset of night. It is a prayer for peace and a time of blessing. Cistercian monks and nuns throughout the centuries sing the “Salve Regina” or “Hail, Holy Queen,” a final hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A replica of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Einsiedeln adorns the east end of our abbey church. We invoke Mary as an image of the Church wholly given to Christ.