June 10, 2006

I have posted a homily for this Sunday's Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

Click HERE for it.

June 09, 2006

The REAL “Opus Dei”

St. Benedict (who died in A.D. 547) called the daily schedule of official Church prayer at fixed hours “the work of God”— opus Dei in Latin. He also called it the “Divine Office” (“office” in the sense of “duty”).

What is it?

First of all, a striking affirmation!

The Church's “canonical hours of the liturgy” make up a “prayer/worship system” that, beyond the Mass, constitutes the Church’s OFFICIAL AND PUBLIC prayer life. In fact, the Church regards the “hours” as an extension of the “Liturgy of the Word” that makes up the first “half” of the Mass. Because of this the Church obligates deacons, priests, bishops (including the pope) and members of religious orders to offer up daily the canonical hours.

So, in union with the Pope, the Bishops and the priests, the order of obligation and devotion is: (1) the Mass, (2) the Liturgy of the Hours, (3) all other forms of personal, private devotions, prayers, reading, etc.

Many laypersons take up the canonical hours privately. It unites them to the Church’s formal, public mission of both worship offered to God and intercession offered for the world.


Questions I’ve received.

How closely do modern-day monasteries follow the classical forms of worship based on the canonical hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Compline, Vespers, etc.)?

And more specifically— it's been my impression … that the services of the canonical hours are primarily prayer services with closely prescribed orders of worship, such that most of what happens is scripted reading/response.

Therefore, two questions. In general, how much discretion would a monastery's religious leader have over the Scripture readings used in a given service (i.e., do monasteries typically adhere to liturgical calendars prescribed by central authority)? And in which of the daily services— if any— would the presiding priest typically give an original or personally drafted homily or sermon?


Now, some answers.

First of all, a little explanation of the “hours.”

Although the history of the liturgical hours of worship is older than St. Benedict, most of that history since he died has been dominated or at least influenced by his arrangements for monks.

St. Benedict arranged to have his monks gather in church to pray (by singing or reciting) certain Psalms at certain hours of the day. His arrangement provided for all 150 Psalms to be recited within the course of one week. Together with the Psalms, he provided for other “song-type” passages of Scripture to also be prayed. Sections of the singing or recitation would be interrupted by shorter or longer readings by a lector. There would also be responsories, hymns, intercessions.

Certain Psalms, because of what they say, fit certain times of day better than others, so they are deliberately scheduled for those times of day. Other Psalms are just distributed for the sake of distribution.


Here is the schedule of the classical hours together with some of the various names for them throughout history).

2 or 3 A.M., MATINS (also called Vigils or Office of Readings). This is the longest liturgical “hour” of the day.

A shorter or longer break (shorter in summer when the night is shorter, and longer in winter when the night is longer).

Around sunrise, LAUDS (Morning Prayer). Psalms 148, 149 and 150 all begin in Latin with “Lauda” (Praise!). These three psalms always concluded the Psalm section of this hour and are the source of the name “Lauds.”

Shortly after Lauds: PRIME (first hour after sunrise).

Midmorning: TERCE (from the Latin for “third”, since it is roughly three hours after sunrise).

Midday: SEXT (six hours after sunrise; the Latin for “sixth hour” is “hora sexta”). This is followed by a scheduled rest or nap. You would do the same if you had arisen at 2 or 3 A.M. The Spanish word “siesta” comes from the Latin “sexta.”

Midafternoon: NONE— rhymes with “bone”. Comes from “hora nona”— “ninth hour” in Latin. The Latins reckoned the day in rough three-hour shifts; they called the period from midday to midafternoon “nona”— from which English gets “noon.”

Sundown: VESPERS (Evening Prayer). “Vespers” is from the Latin for “evening.”

Bedtime prayers: COMPLINE (Night Prayer). The Latin is “completorium” for this service that completes the hours.


The longest service among those hours is Matins (Vigils or Office of Readings). In St. Benedict’s arrangement it is basically: six Psalms, a long reading from Scripture, a responsory, six more Psalms, another long reading from Scripture, a responsory, a few Scriptural canticles, a reading from the Fathers of the Church, a responsory, a reading of the Gospel, two hymns.

Lauds (Morning Prayer): Several Psalms and canticles, a short reading from Scripture, a responsory, a hymn, the Benedictus canticle, intercessions, Our Father.

Vespers (Evening Prayer) has the same structure as Lauds, except it has the Magnificat instead of the Benedictus.

The other hours (prime, terce, sext, none, compline) are all basically three psalms each, with a few other elements. These hours are usually called “The Little Hours.”


The monastery’s work periods, the meals, the times for solitary prayer and reading are woven in and out of the basic framework of the liturgical hours.


There are not enough Psalms to fill out the one-week structure that St. Benedict arranged. So, he provided that for Wednesday through Saturday, at the hours of prime, terce, sext and none, the monks would repeat at those hours the same Psalms they had used at those hours on Tuesday.

Since the hour of prime really just sort of got tacked on at the end of Lauds, the Vatican (after Vatican II) directed the entire Church to set aside the obligation to pray prime.

Monasteries are free to still arrange to pray all 150 Psalms over the course of one week.

The Vatican’s official publication of the “Liturgy of the Hours” is a four-volume set with the Psalms basically spread out over the course of four weeks. Since it is spread out over four weeks instead of one, the individual hours (particularly Matins and Lauds) are not as long as St. Benedict had them. Diocesan priests, members of religious orders, all monasteries, deacons, etc. may all legitimately make use of this publication. Religious orders, including those that usually live in monasteries, have some legitimate permission to restructure somewhat their own procedures of the Liturgy of the Hours.


Monasteries adapt the universal liturgical calendar to legitimately approved usages proper to the monastery. For instance, the universal calendar has July 11 as the memorial of St. Benedict. However, Benedictine monks also observe March 21 (as a feast or even a solemnity that supercedes Sunday), since it is the day St. Benedict died.

Monasteries may use the readings the Vatican published for the calendar of the hours, or they may select other Scripture readings. Some religious orders, with legitimate permission, have assembled their own selection of readings into an outright Lectionary.

As for homilies preached during the canonical hours … this may be done … but it practically never is.

The correct places for a homily: after the Gospel during Matins (Vigils); after the short reading at Lauds or Vespers.


It is legitimate to incorporate the hours into the Mass. This is regularly done in many monasteries and even at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

For instance, say a monastery is going to incorporate Lauds into the morning Mass. The priest vests as for Mass. The entrance song is sung. Lauds begins— but just the psalms. Then, the priest offers the Opening Prayer of the Mass, and then the Mass proceeds as normal from there. At communion, instead of the communion song, the Benedictus for Lauds is sung. (The same structure for Vespers with evening Mass, with the Magnificat for Vespers sung at communion.)

One occasion when Vespers is always incorporated into the Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome: the annual Papal Mass for the Opening of the Academic Year.


Final comments about the personal advantage of using the “Liturgy of the Hours.”

It unites you to the official, round-the-world prayer and worship of the pope, all bishops, priests, deacons and religious orders.

The themes expressed in the Psalms and throughout the Liturgy of the Hours don’t necessarily line up with your own concerns and moods and moments. So, if you let it do so, the Liturgy constantly calls you to a bigger picture than your lonely only. It is to be offered up as a sacrifice of praise and a sacrifice of intercession.

It can ground you in the two major movements of EVERYTHING: (1) the worship of God, (2) the world’s salvation (in all matters big and small). You end up praying God’s Word about himself, and praying God’s Word for the world and yourself.

“GLORY TO GOD in the highest … and on earth PEACE TO MEN on whom his goodwill rests!” (That does cover EVERYTHING, folks.)

June 07, 2006

Why I Blog and What I Blog

I’ve been blogging since March of this year.

I blog in two places:
here — monkallover.blogspot.com —
and at 1monk.blogspot.com.

I use 1monk.blogspot.com to post my daily homilies so that whenever people ask me for a copy of a homily I have preached I can refer them to the blog. It frees me from having to put out a printed copy to each person who might request one. I dedicate that blog to homilies only.

The other blog — "monkallover.blogspot.com" — is where I post other things that interest me. I find it especially useful for posting my ideas about questions people often ask me as a priest or monk — questions about spirituality, Church teaching, monastic life. Questions about Benedictine monasticism or other forms of religious life come up repeatedly. The blog is a place I can refer people to without having to re-write answers I've already offered.

In my blogs and the links in my blogs, I’ve tried to draw particular attention to the Eucharist. I have posted one particular permanent link to a central, but largely forgotten aspect of the Eucharist. The link is on monkallover.blogspot.com, and it’s entitled “The Eucharistic Covenant — are you REALLY doing it?”

I’ve also set up permanent links to my monastery’s website.

About one hundred and forty persons visit my blogs each day. However, only about five of them regularly post responses or comments. A few of those are questions inviting a brief answer from me. Perhaps once a week I might receive an inquiry seeking a private or confidential response. The topics that have drawn the most numerous responses have been my postings about monastic life and about Christian spirituality.

Two topics got some negative feedback. One reader seemed displeased with the news that religious orders choosing to agree with official Church teaching are the only religious orders that are attracting healthy numbers of new members and are growing. Two readers responded with insults and obscenities when I posted classical Catholic teaching on the charisms of marriage and celibacy. I’ve now set up things so that I personally see all responses from readers before those responses can pop up on the blog. I don’t mind disagreements. However, I delete insults and obscenities without their ever appearing on the blog.

Perhaps once a week I’ll post a picture of some religious habit, that is, the clothing of members of religious orders. I’ll often do that with my own amateurish attempts at humor. I recently posted a detailed description of the Benedictine habit together with drawings and photos.

I often call attention to things I spot on Catholic online news sources. However, readers sometimes ask me questions that I think other readers might be interested in. If it’s not something personal or confidential, I’ll post my thoughts for all my visitors to read.

June 06, 2006

Vocation alert! Vocation alert!

The worthy U.S.A. Western Province of the Discalced Carmelite Friars has a revamped website.
Click HERE for it.

The Vow of Stability

Benedictine monks make a vow of "stability"--a commitment to one specific monastery for life.

I've already posted an explanation of life in a Benedictine monastery at monks.blogspot.com for which you'll find a link entitled "One Monk's Monastery" over there in the right hand column.

Otherwise . . .
Click HERE for it.

June 05, 2006

What's an "oblate"?

One of my visitors has asked about "oblates".

Benedictine monasteries have "oblates": people who spiritually enroll with a particular monastery, but don't actually become monks or live at the monastery. Oblates usually attend periodic group meetings (with other oblates) at the monastery lasting an hour or so, or they may spend a few days as guests of the monastery from time to time. Oblates of a monastery are men and women, single or married, who try to observe in their own lives, jobs and relationships some of the priorities and practices of monks.

The first priority is the practice of daily worship in the form of the "Liturgy of the Hours" (or "Divine Office"). St. Benedict calls this the "work of God" that is to take priority over everything else.

The published "Liturgy of the Hours" is available as a four-volume set. There is also a much-abridged version in one-volume entitled "Christian Prayer". Unless you have someone to physically guide you in the use of these books, it can be quite a challenge to learn how to use them. (Much flipping of pages in various sections of the book!) One very convenient alternative is to subscribe to "Magnificat" magazine which offers daily parts of the "Liturgy of the Hours" in an easy-to-follow format.

No matter which of these publication you may use, two of the daily services of worship are the "hinges" of the entire day: Morning Prayer (about sunrise) and Evening Prayer (around sundown). Each of these can take just about 10 minutes without rushing. For a sample:

"The Liturgy of the Hours" is observed as an OBLIGATION by all of the world's monasteries, convents, and religious orders, but also by the Pope, all bishops, priests and deacons. Offering up the "Liturgy of the Hours" is seen and proposed by Church teaching as the primary form of prayer and worship immediately after the Mass itself. Even when someone prays the "Liturgy of the Hours" by himself, he does so in union with the entire Church.

The second priority is what St. Benedict calls "lectio divina", literally "divine reading". This is the reflective reading of Scripture first of all and above all, but does not exclude other "spiritual reading". St. Benedict includes the reading of the Fathers of the Church; however, much of the writing of the Fathers focuses on Scripture. Lectio divina does not aim at academic familiarity with the Scriptures. It aims instead at familiarity with God. I think of it as an ongoing, daily conversation. Sometimes there are even arguments. Lectio divina does not aim at quantity of text. If one phrase strikes you, then stop and let it strike you ... hard. St. Benedict schedules between 2 and 4 daily hours of lectio divina (depending on the season). That doesn't work for non-monks. The "Magnificat" publication offers some convenient selections that non-monks could use for daily spiritual reading.

Other Benedictine Principles for the Daily Lives of Oblates.

St. Benedict names the abbot (superior), guests and visitors, fellow monks and the sick as persons to be revered as Christ himself. For people living outside a monastery, I'd say the Ten Commandments and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy take care of much of the same reverence in relationships. (See my previous blogpost below on spiritual direction.)

Work--whether at one's place of employment or in one's housework--is likewise to have a spirit of reverence. St. Benedict says the physical tools of the monastery should be treated with the same respect as the Eucharistic vessels of the altar. For the glory of God and the good of the world!

Food. St. Benedict aimed for simple sufficiency and for frugality; he also regulated the days and seasons of fasting according to the disciplines of the Church of the sixth century. A Catholic today would do well to maintain Fridays throughout the year as days of self-denial in matters of food.

Clothing. In the sixth century, the items of a monk's clothing were not very different from that of laypersons. The one distinctive item was the monk's hood. St. Benedict did not prescribe any one color for the clothing of monks. He did say that the clothing should be made inexpensively. Nonetheless, St. Benedict wanted the clothes to physically fit, and, if the monk was out of the monastery on business his clothes were to be somewhat better than what he wore at the monastery--I would offer my opinion that his aim was simple decency and dignity.

There isn't much that is complicated about Benedictine spirituality, either for the monk inside the monastery or the oblate living out in the world. Searching for a few final words to stick onto my description of Benedictine spirituality, I come up with: clarity, regularity, practicality.

More Thoughts about Spiritual Direction

I've received a request for information about spiritual direction. Some weeks or months ago, I posted a few comments about the beginnings of spiritual direction. Here they are again, followed, however, by some additional thoughts about the role of a spiritual director.

- - - - - - - -

When a Catholic asks me for spiritual direction, my first response is to give the following list of essential basics..


Keep: The Ten Commandments of God.

Keep: The Five Commandments (or Precepts) of the Church.

Know: Your Faith as an Adult Member of the Church.

Practice: The Spiritual and Corporal (Bodily) Works of Mercy.

Pray daily.

Worship God at Mass every Sunday.

Catholics who are already living these basics need a much better spiritual director than me. In fact, such Catholics already have God the Holy Spirit as their personal director.

- - - - - - - -

Now . . . some continuing, NON-infallible thoughts.

A spiritual director can serve as an observer of how a Christian lives out the basics I've already described. The director's comments about what he observes (or hears from the Christian) can be tailored to the particular Christian's personality, state in life, situation, circumstances, culture, etc.

The director is not a psychotherapist; if the Christian seems to need professional psychotherapy, the director ought to encourage the Christian to seek it.

The director is not there to make decisions for the Christian.

The director, in my opinion, serves as an assistant to the Christian's discernment of what is true and good. In other words, the director accompanies the Christian in exercising the specific virtue of prudence.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

It is NOT the role of the director to exercise the virtue of prudence on behalf of (or instead of) the Christian. The Christian himself must exercise prudence. However, from time to time the director may challenge the Christian concerning what may be prudent or not.

A director is as liable to error as any other human being. However, he can serve as an "outside party" for a Christian who wants to hear more than his own voice.

Regarding Virtue.

We aren't judged by God on whether or not we became "mystics" or had "mystical experiences". Rather, he wants to know if we believe, if we serve his glory and the authentic good of others (and such service is the stuff of real love). Those concerns are the starting line and the finish line of spirituality. Without those concerns, we are self-deceived, and any so-called "spirituality" we might practice or seek is simply conceit-filled false self-inflation.

Fr. Scott Settimo, Brand New Priest of the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska

Fr. Scott, June 1, 2006 (Memorial of St. Justin Martyr), after his "First Mass" (on the day after his ordination). He and some of his clerical guests and concelebrants are standing on the steps outside of the Shrine Chapel of St. Therese in Juneau. See the blogpost below for more pictures of the Shrine.

June 04, 2006

Shrine of St. Therese, Juneau, Alaska!

I have returned from an ordination in Juneau, Alaska. I enjoyed Juneau as a place of spiritual retreat, natural beauty and plain old bourgeois tourism.

If you click on any of these photos, you'll open a larger version of it.

The ordination took place at the parish church of St. Paul the Apostle, nine miles northwest of tiny downtown Juneau. The picture above is not of St. Paul Church, but of the Shrine Chapel of St. Therese. The chapel is on a small rock outcropping a few yards offshore, and is part of a retreat or pilgrimage setting only 22 miles from downtown Juneau. It is a lovely place to make a retreat or vacation.

Newly-ordained Fr. Scott Settimo is a man I have directed for nearly ten years. His ordination, on Wednesday, brought Juneau's number of priests up to twelve. He presided over his first Mass on Thursday at the Shrine Chapel of St. Therese.

The chapel is hidden by the trees. This photo above is a view from the shore. You can see the causeway that was built from the shore to the island.

The island is to the right, and one of the onshore lodges of the shrine is on the left.

The main lodge seen from the water.

From the island you can see salmon, sea lions and orcas (killer whales). In this picture, you see on the right sea lions fleeing into the shallows to escape becoming warm-blooded sashimi for the orcas to the left.

If you'd like to visit Juneau, there are hotels and motels, or you can stay at the shrine. Things were already overbooked at the shrine for guests of the ordination, so I was in a motel near the airport. The motel was actually a great place since it was only one mile from St. Paul Church where the ordination took place. It was also only three miles from the Mendenhall Glacier. I had the use of a rented car that enabled me to visit the Shrine, the glacier and downtown Juneau on my own schedule. There are daily weekday Masses at noon at both St. Paul Church and at the Juneau Cathedral downtown.

The glacier is only about 2.5 miles from the main highway. You drive through a residential neighborhood (lucky people whose backyard is a natural wonder). There is a visitor center, trails, etc. Although you cannot walk up to the glacier itself, you can get close enough. One trail takes you nearly to the foot of a waterfall that tumbles off the mountain to one side of the glacier.

The highway has a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, and people obey it. That was a culture shock for yours truly from San Diego.

In visiting the shrine, I chose to ignore the labyrinth that is on the grounds.

However, the shrine grounds include a rosary trail, a Way of the Cross, a small outdoor columbarium (niches for cremated remains), acres and trails for prayerful walks and solitude.

A link to the shrine website . . . .
Click HERE for it.