Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Long praying, short prayer. A Benedictine oblate blog

I went to St. Leo Abbey (near our home) for 8:00 pm Compline which is part of the divine office. The monastery’s Romanesque (massive with rounded arches) Church of the Holy Cross was very dark, but the crucifix was illuminated from high above so that all of its details could be seen.

The church’s crucifix is a large sculpture of Jesus. The face of Jesus is a replica of the Shroud of Turin — it is a focal point of the church even during the day when the church is well lit.

As I walked into the church for Compline, I could not see anyone, but I could hear some monks praying the rosary. There is a statue of Mary in a small side chapel.

I could hear only a few of the words being prayed by the monks. They were praying quietly tucked away in the light of the Blessed Virgin Mary chapel.

Silent stillness is different from complete (sound-proof) silence. (Here is my blog when I discovered this.)

Silhouettes of the church’s architectural forms, its many arches, and windows added their own soft voices.

I think people need this glorious stillness. I just sat in silence for about 15 minutes. There was plenty of silent space in the church.

For a prayer, people might need just as much silence as praying. I learned this ancient monastic principle today in a blog I read.

Today I read the Subiaco Academy blog which gives one of the easiest to understand explanations of St. Benedict’s encouragement in Chapter 20 of the Rule of St. Benedict that prayer should be short and pure:

“In St. Benedict’s time, it would have been common for monks to spend four or more hours a day in communal prayer. We may wonder what St. Benedict is talking about when he says that “prayer should be short and pure.” Early Christians, particularly the Desert Fathers and monastics, made a distinction between saying prayers and the prayer itself. In many traditions there was a period of silence following the recitation of a prayer. This silence made room for spontaneous prayer from the heart—the short, pure prayer that Benedict recommends.”


December 12, 2008 Correction to this blog.

I went to St. Leo Abbey for Compline on December 11 (after the Compline visit described in this blog) and when I sat in the very dark church again, I looked around to see if my description of the Church of the Holy Cross that I had included in the above blog was, in fact, accurate! Well, it is not. The light on the crucifix is not from high above as I wrote. The light is from below, just like it was on night written about in this blog. I thought that it was interesting that the effect on my memory showed another aspect of the artist’s work in sculpting this beautiful crucifix. And I prefer good artist to poor memory!



  1. I have been to St. Leo's and I did not know you were incorrect at first about the lighting!!
    I love times of silence. That seems to be the way I prefer to pray nowadays - silence followed by prayer from the heart. Enjoyed your post. Blessings!

  2. Colleen,

    Thank you very much for making me feel better about my powers of observation.

    God's type of still silence is very rare in the modern world, but the inside of an abbey is a good place to find it. When I hear about people wanting a more spiritual life and having trouble finding it — I think about suggesting more times of silence, even short periods of stillness — especially where God’s sounds can still be heard in that silence — like outdoors in a meditation garden, at the beach, at night under the stars, with great music — well, you know!