Well, today has been more like what the locals might say is a typical day on the Emerald Isle, at least where the weather is concerned! It was a bit chilly, damp cold really, with bouts of rain and bursts of sunshine. I chose to wear a lighter sweater today, having been convinced that the Irish version of florida warmth would last until my departure next week! I chose poorly! This was the perfect day for bringing in some dry wood to make an embracingly warm fire in the hearth, settle back in a big wing chair while sipping hot tea and snacking on Scottish shortbread.
I say it was the perfect day for such a joy, but lacking the hearth and the wood for hearty fire in the 'gatehouse' for guests... I settled for turning up the heaters and sipping tea with shortbread, while settling into a comfy high back chair and reading an engaging and humorous little book (humorous in the way only the wartime English can be humorous), entitled 'The Mass in slow motion' by the Rev. Ronald Knox. His wit and insight intertwined like a Celtic knot, with his love of God and being God's servent, draws you into a world otherwise beyond your reach, and helps you to understand the majesty amidst the simplicity of the celebration of the Mass prior to the changes of the 1960's.
Reading and staying warm weren't the only endeavors on for today, of course. And, since it's been less than hospitable outdoors, this seems a good day to share with you all, what an average day here at the monastery tends to involve! An inside peek you might say!
Everyday, I wake up at about 4:30 am with good intentions to attend a 'private mass' of one of the monks promptly at 6 am. I accomplished that goal, once! Yet, I refuse to give up. After a time of prayer, or rather more accurate to say during the time of prayer, I am carried peacefully back into blessed sleep. I might add, my nights and ealry morning naps have been filled with dreams, in Latin! At 645 the bells are rung letting the community know that prayers will be in 15 minutes. We all gather in the Oratory for Lauds in Latin, which is to say, morning prayers which are chanted by the monks and to which I join my spirit and allow the words to soak into my soul as a soft rain nourishes a parched field of grain reaching for its life source. I should say, since you may not know, these prayer times are patterned after the Jewish practice of blessing the day at regular intervals by taking time to prayer the psalms... eventually, all the psalms! Monastic communities have been praying in this way since the 5th century, I believe, and Priests make promises to pray these same 'blessing hours' everyday.
After prayers, the 'Great Silence' of the early morning hours ends and the monks are either doing their work or having class. I of course do the same. I may have 'Mass Practice' in the morning, the afternoon or both, for about an hour or more. Before practice, I spend time learning the Latin vocabulary as well spending time studying the 'rubrics' (instructions for the actions of a priest during Mass).
There are times of the day when the Monks gather for their time of prayer, during which I would be studying or having my own time of personal prayer. However, at 1045 am we come together again for chanted prayers which are followed by Mass. It's at this time that we usually see folks from the local community come to the Monastary as well. After Mass, I read until Lunch.
Lunch and Supper are a treat! The bell rings and I emerge from my guest area where I am greeted by a cheerful monk who escorts me into the monastery dining room. We stand, greet Father Prior, who then leads serveral minutes of prayer before we all pull out our chairs and are seated. The meals end in the same way, all of us standing up behind our chairs and offering prayers of thanksgiving. During meals, one of the monks serves as the lector and one serves the meal. The lector begins with a short scripture reading, and then he continues to read to us from one of various possible books, as the other monk serves the meal. We eat in silence, savoring the gifts of the earth set before us (yes, one time there were peas and no I did not eat them... although I gave thanks to God on behalf of those who love peas)... and the lector continues to read until we have finished eating. The main meal of the day is lunch, and I assume that's because the day begins at such an early hour and so ends the same.
The afternoon is much like the morning. There are times of prayer, times of work, times of study, times of reading. Vespers are at 5 pm and Supper is at 630 pm. Compline is at 745, afterwhich 'the great silence' begins and continues until after morning prayers. On occasional evenings there are community activities, and the 'Great Silence' begins after those. I can't speak for the monks, but as for me, the day ends before the sun goes down... because good intentions inspire great expectations to be up again at 430 with plans to attend the Mass of my teacher, but if I'm being honest, with much greater anticipation of a blessed nap that includes dreaming in Latin!
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.