Saint Augustine's House

Lutheran Monastery and Retreat House

Saint Augustine's House

Lutheran Monastery and Retreat House

Monastic Life

Following the Benedictine Rule, seven separate liturgical offices plus the Eucharist are observed each day. The time spent in these activities in the chapel totals about three hours, not including the times set aside for personal reading and meditation each morning. The following schedule is typical of the daily usage for many years, although it is adjusted for special circumstances. The Office of Vigils begins at 5:10 a.m. and is followed by a time of personal meditation until Lauds at 6:00. Silence is observed after Lauds when one may get some breakfast and/or read. Terce at 8:15 is followed by the Eucharist at 8:30. The “great silence” ends as the work of the day and other matters of concern are discussed during the “Chapter,” held in the retreat house lower level. “Chapter” is so named for the ancient monastic practice of reading a chapter of St. Benedict’s Rule each day. Sext, None, and Vespers are at noon, 2:30, and 6:00 respectively, with Compline at 8:30. Each office consists of psalms (read or chanted), scripture lessons and at least one hymn or canticle.

The liturgical practice of the monastery has an immediate familiarity to those who worship within the American Lutheran churches and is recognizable to anyone in the Western Church’s liturgical tradition. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the basic hymnal in the chapel. Monastic prayers are different from many other kinds of worship, however. They have special characteristics that yield special benefits. Many psalms are recited or chanted at each office. Plainsong or Gregorian tones and hymns are sung. The slower, deliberate pace and the sheer length of the time devoted to prayer have an effect of their own. This kind of calm, regular practice helps develop a disposition toward reflection and meditation.

The observance of the offices and the Eucharist are the heart of St. Augustine’s House. They are the primary activities for which people come and the center of the community life. All other activities are subordinated to prayer and to giving one’s attention to God. Mundane matters such as sleeping, eating, and conversation are conducted in a different way in a monastery. All the changes from normal behavior are beneficial in signaling and accompanying the deeper reformation of life for which the monastery is a school. Just because it is different, not spontaneous but self-conscious, the monastic way of doing ordinary things helps one to reflect on their role and place in one’s life.

Silence is one of the practices which seems strange to some people. The great period of silence starts with the end of Compline and lasts until the end of Terce or the Eucharist. Another period of silence is observed after the noon meal until None. Sleep, reading, and meditation are private activities which certainly should be preserved from all but the most necessary interruptions. During the rest of the monastic day, however, silence should be preferred to talk, thus encouraging one to reflect on the need to speak. There are plenty of times for conversation, usually after the Eucharist, siesta, and supper. Of course people do talk at any time when it is clearly needed. There is no sense in being rigid about this or any other regulation.

Silence is a mechanism for turning the attention toward God and self. Social interaction is wonderful but demanding. One becomes even more aware of the claims people can make on time and attention when they are limited and distanced temporally. Silence stops the flow of self outward and makes people more aware of their selves.

After the essentials of food, sleep, and worship are taken care of, the monk or guest still has time left for work and leisure. The work periods for any resident may involve a task in service of the community (house maintenance, tending the garden, preparing a meal, putting labels on mail, shelving books in the library, mowing the lawn, cutting and hauling wood, snow removal, shopping and other errands). The work periods can include study and further reflection beyond the appointed time for meditation, but it is desirable that they involve some physical labor. There is religious value as well as health benefit in the activity of the body. This work should be fitted into the pattern of ritual activity and subordinated to it. One must avoid work which robs time from the offices of prayer or times for reading and meditation. It is so easy for us to be consumed by work when there is a sense of accomplishment and pride in it. The monastic custom helps us to put work in its place, again in a middle position, between the ease of the playboy and the disease of the workaholic.

It has been beneficial, if not exactly planned, therefore, that the community has never taken on a specific service or work. One does not come to the house in order to do anything other than the fundamental monastic activity of prayer. Even pressures to use the facilities as a conference center must be resisted. The community must be on its guard against attempts to adopt a program or activity that could vitiate its essential purpose. Individuals and groups are, nevertheless, constantly welcomed and incorporated into the daily life. As their various projects are pursued at the House, its framework of prayer and meditation surrounds and blesses such endeavors.