“Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).
Many are familiar with the saying, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God”. How wonderful it is when we pray, not just singly, but together with others. We put into action the words of Jesus mentioned above – and we have the honor of having Him among us.
Members of every religious community, especially monastic communities, focus their lives on prayer in common. Whatever other work they might do such as teaching, caring for the sick, aiding the poor, providing spiritual direction, opening their homes to guests, prayer in common is their priority. Their prayer is not only for themselves, but for others, that souls may be saved.
A monastic community has as its mission to pray. Not only does each day begin and end with prayer, but several times throughout the day (and, in some communities, throughout the night), the monks or nuns gather together in Jesus’ name to pray. What is this prayer?
It is two-fold. First, as is true for all Catholics, the most important prayer each day is the Eucharist, sometimes called “Holy Mass”. The Mass is both the Sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the cross and participation in the Last Supper which occurred the night before His death when He gave His Body and Blood to His disciples. The Eucharist is the highest form of prayer man can offer. It is Jesus offering Himself to His Father for us. Second, monks and nuns are committed by their vows to a life of regular prayer throughout the day and night known as the Divine Office, or Work of God. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes this pray thus: “Divine Office or the Work of God (Opus Dei) is the daily prayer of the Church, marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer. The Hours are a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ, using scripture and prayer. At times the dialogue is between the Church or individual soul and God; at times it is a dialogue among the members of the Church; and at times it is even between the Church and the world.”
What do monks and nuns think about during their times at prayer? Though distractions are always a temptation, they strive to raise their minds and hearts on God – for the sake of others. The prayer of monastics is summed up in a short meditation written by the notable Irish Benedictine, Abbot Columba Marmion, which he prayed several times each day before chanting the Divine Office: “O, Lord Jesus Christ, I adore Thee present here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and in my heart by grace. I unite myself to Thee in the praise which Thou art ever rendering to the Thy Father. I ask Thee, dear Lord, to glorify Thy Blessed Mother and the Saints – especially my patron, and those of my Community. I unite myself to Thee as Head of the Church and Supreme High Priest to plead the cause of the whole Church. I call to mind all that this earth holds of misery and pain – the sick, the dying, the tempted, the despairing, all poor sinners, and the afflicted. I take into my heart all the sorrows, the anguish and hopes of each soul.
I ask a blessing upon all works of zeal undertaken for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. I pray for the souls in Purgatory. Lastly, I make my own the intentions of all those who have recommended themselves to my prayers, of all those for whom I have been especially asked to pray, of those I love, and those united to me by ties of family and kinship. I am all Thine, my most loving Jesus, and all that I have I offer to Thee through Mary, Thy Holy Mother. Amen”
St. Benedict’s Abbey, Still River, MA