Church of the Holy Cross
St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA
My wife and I went to vespers at St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, today. We arrived at 4:00 pm for the evening prayers in the church with the monks at 5:00 pm.
In the hour before the monks arrived in person we read and prayed. I read a portion of St. Augustine's sermon on "A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit." (scroll down in this Office of Readings.) My wife read Cassian's Conferences.
Although a man was praying in the church when we arrived, he left before the start of vespers. My wife and I were the only people to pray with the monks at evening prayer and to watch as they entered and left the church. My wife commented after we arrived back home after 6:00 pm that she had the thought while in the abbey church that it was good that there was someone in the church for vespers. Today it happened to be us.
The monks processed into the church in silence. The monks were wearing their long, white choir robes that make them seem to glide across the floor. There is a rhythm about the way they enter, take their places, sing the divine office, and leave the church. A flow and movement connects all the parts. The monks appear at the entrance — each pair of monks two-by-two — each making the Sign of the Cross together, walking to the front of the church, making one step up together onto the platform, taking a few more steps, and then bowing to each other before they go to sit in the choir stalls. They sing the divine office and then process out to complete this liturgy (public worship). And like the other hours in the divine office, this evening monastic prayer constitutes and joins with the Catholic (universal) Church at prayer.
The architecture of the Church of the Holy Cross makes the St. Leo Abbey vespers a beautiful part of the Church at prayer. The abbey church is well suited to show the cadence of the procession into the church as the monks take their places in the mirror-image choir stalls. The series of arches along both sides of the church moves the eye toward the front of the church, the rows of pews are markers as each pair of monks moves along the way, and the step onto the choir-stall platform is a physical step up anticipating the monks lifting their hearts and voices to God.
Even though we are not able to visit the abbey often, being able to pray with the monks is a major part of our lives. We will think about the prayers for days. And we know that we are blessed by God to be able to have a monastery close to our home.
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