As our readers realize, we are considering the shape of our liturgical life and this can be an opportunity to review the monastic tradition of prayer. We can see it rooted in the Gospels, the Letters of the Apostles and find it expressed in the Acts of the Apostles which we happen to be reading at Vigils right now. It was from this ground that the monastic tradition developed its particular way to come together in community prayers as the ecclesia orans, the praying Church, taking our special place in the Body of Christ.
We have the witness of Old and New Testament, the teaching of the Church Fathers–and especially the monastic Fathers– which St. Benedict recommends at the end of his Rule for monasteries. It’s worth quoting:
…for him who would hasten to the perfection of that life there are the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leads a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not a most unerring rule for human life? Or what book of the holy Catholic Fathers does not loudly proclaim how we may come by a straight course to our Creator? Then the Conferences and Institutes [John Cassian] and the Lives of the Fathers, as also the Rule of our holy Father Basil–what else are they but tools of virtue for right-living and obedient monks?
We have a rich distillation in the teaching of our monastic fathers on how their life of prayer formed them as monks. We don’t have to re-invent this; it is there for all who seek it. But we will also see how each period of the Church’s evolving life found its own expression of prayer. The way of prayer is not static or inflexible: prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit, living and life-giving in each individual’s soul and in the whole Body of Christ, the Bride with her Bridegroom. Who we are, as monks, is what we do in prayer. We are the life of the ecclesia orans, the praying Church. God’s gift to us of our vocation, our duty and our salvation through Christ our Lord, is to be this life of prayer. We pray in the Mass, every day; we pray in the Liturgy of the Hours, our Divine Office.
Our vocation is one with our salvation: men of prayer, living members of Christ’s Body, alive with the life of the Holy Spirit indwelling in each of us. And this monastic life is, in fact, lived for the salvation of the whole world. I believe it is helpful to remind ourselves of this, to be fully conscious of what we are doing as we work together to review how we realize the Work of God, the opus Dei.
from a Chapter Talk of Abbot Robert, 6 September, 2015