By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Benedictine tradition.
I grew up among German Catholics in the Midwest. Germany was evangelized by the Benedictines, and it was the Benedictines who first came to serve German American immigrants. My teachers were Benedictine nuns, and my impression of the Benedictines has been that they are very strict. Therefore, I was not surprised to read that the Order began when St. Benedict left his hermitage to reform monasteries that he viewed as insufficiently disciplined.
St. Benedict and his twin sister, Scholastica, were born in a small Umbrian town in the Apennine Mountains of central Italy. Scholastica founded the first Benedictine convent and was also made a saint. The siblings only saw each other once a year, when Scholastica went to visit her brother at a place near his abbey.
Benedict based his small group of monasteries on the early monastic traditions of the desert fathers. His Rule of Benedict, which evolved over time, guided the lives of his monks. Benedictine communities have been governed by this Rule for hundreds of years. The Benedictine umbrella includes nuns and monks of the Benedictine, Cistercian, Camaldolese, and Trappist traditions (253-54).
Although Benedict did not write specifically about prayer, he advocated a contemplative way of life. The first word in the Rule of Benedict is “Listen!” Benedict’s monasteries incorporated times and places of silence into the daily lives of the monks so that they would be able to hear God’s voice (253-54).
The Liturgy of the Hours also provided a structure for the monks’ prayer life. Indeed, twelve chapters of the Rule are devoted to it (258). The Liturgy of the Hours is comprised of the psalms of the Old Testament and the canticles of both the Old and the New Testaments (258). When chanting the Liturgy of the Hours, Benedict encouraged his monks to “stand to sing in such a way that our mind is in harmony with our voice” (260).
The practice of lectio devina also formed a significant part of the monks’ prayer life. As with the times devoted to silence, Benedict set up structures in his monastery to ensure that his monks’ commitment to lectio divina would be protected. (261)
Lectio divina has four stages: lectio, meditation, oratio, and contempaltio. In the first stage, lectio, the disciple reads a word or phrase from scripture. Then, in meditation, he goes away to ponder the word or phrase. In the next phase, oratio, the disciple returns to a spiritual elder for “holy conversation” (we now call this “spiritual direction”). In the final stage, contemplatio, the disciple incorporates the discussion with the spiritual elder into his understanding of the word or phrase.
St. Benedict challenges us to disconnect and be with God and our inner selves (255). We can follow his example by establishing and protecting times and places of silence in our homes and in our lives.
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