I suppose one of the things that appeals to some about monasteries is the idea that they don’t change much. The timeless beauty and silence, the monks working quietly in their picturesque robes, that sort of thing. At least there is a sort of fantasy about it.
Well, of course, monasteries do change. For some time the monastic community here at Mount Calvary has been asking questions like, What would improve our worship life? So we decided to devote a morning to talking about how we pray together and what we might do to make it better. I thought I would report on some of those changes to readers of this blog, as there is a high correlation between the people who visit our website and the people who actually visit us. What follows may only be of interest to people who collect monastic trivia. But since you are reading this blog, I suppose you’re one of those people so here goes.
For some years the community has been gathering at 6:00 am each day for the office of Vigils. We have been using the office book of our friends the Camaldolese hermits at Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur. Unfortunately we only had 10 copies, and they had no more. We felt it wouldn’t work to invite guests to Vigils when they couldn’t participate without books. But the new edition was published recently, and now we have enough, and so you will see the addition of Vigils to our public schedule.
One of the things we like about our monastic life here is the time we have alone, for prayer, for lectio divina, for study, for work on individual projects, and for the rest that the body sometimes needs. We decided to increase that time in two ways. The first is by moving the regular daily Eucharist and the midday meal a half an hour earlier, which opens up a bit more uninterrupted time in the afternoon. This will not affect our long-standing Friday morning Lauds/Eucharist and breakfast, which continues at 7:30 am. And the Sunday Eucharist will continue at 9:00 am. The second way we hope to increase our “monk time” is by singing Compline an hour earlier, opening up more of the evening.
So beginning Tuesday, Oct. 6, Eucharist will be at 11:30 am instead of at noon, lunch (which we used to call dinner, which confused everyone, including ourselves) will be at noon, and Compline will be moved from 8:00 to 7:00 pm. Already some of our groups have told us they will welcome the earlier time of Compline, as it simplifies their evening program time. These changes are already reflected in our schedule on this website.
Our next change is to move the Lady Antiphon, which we will sing in the original language, Latin, from Vespers to the end of Compline every day, and follow that with the Asperges, in which the Prior blesses each person present with water. This together with wearing the monastic cowl at Compline (which we have for a long time omitted) will send us all off into the night with the same psalms sung by Benedictine monks at the end of the day since the time of Benedict himself, with the solemn praise of Christ’s mother, and with the reminder of our new life in baptism.
Another change is that we will begin singing the psalms side to side, half the community on one side and half on the other, instead of the cantor singing a whole psalm verse paragraph and the community singing the next. This changes the form of dialogue in recitation between the leader and the group to a dialogue from within the group, the traditional Western monastic recitation custom.
And at the Eucharist we are going to begin using more options for the sung parts of the service and for the Eucharistic prayer, to bring more variety into our daily gathering for Holy Communion. We also intend to begin using incense on Sundays and solemn feast days at the Eucharist, when we have sorted out our not very cooperative thurible.
I expect that we will creak along with these changes for a while and then decide if they do what we hope they will. I trust they will be helpful. I hope our guests will like them too!