6 things I learned from living on a monastery prayer schedule

June 28, 2010 | 40 comments

One of the old church bells at Mt. Angel Abbey

One of the most transforming aspects of this trip to Mt. Angel Abbey has been living according to the monks’ schedule of prayer. They pray the Liturgy of the Hours and have Mass every day, so every few hours the grand church bells start ringing to announce prayer time. The weekday schedule is:

5:20 AM: Office of Readings
6:30 AM: Morning Prayer
7:00 AM: Breakfast
8:00 AM: Mass
12:00 PM: Midday Prayer
12:20 PM: Lunch
5:15 PM: Evening Prayer
5:45 PM: Dinner
7:30 PM: Night Prayer

I admit that I haven’t made it to the Office of Readings, but I’ve tried to attend all the other prayer times each day. Though our household has a pretty solid schedule, it’s entirely different to have the “hard stops” of those church bells ringing. At home I can push back meal or prayer times if I’m into something, but I can’t very well call up the Abbot and tell him to hold off on Evening Prayer because I’m on Twitter. It’s been a fascinating experience. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

6 things I’ve learned from living on a monastery prayer schedule


1. It makes it less tempting to procrastinate

The big blocks of time around here are the four hours between Mass and noon prayer, and the five hours between lunch and evening prayer. Because I know that I have a hard stop coming up in a few hours, I’m less likely to waste time on useless activities. This morning, for example, I went down to the lounge area to use the internet and check email, and started meandering aimlessly around the internet, as I often do when I get online. But then I remembered that when those prayer bells ring in a few hours, I’m done — I have to put away what I’m doing, whether I want to or not. The first couple days we were here I got caught completely off guard by prayer time and had to stop right in the middle of something I was interested in, which was painful. After that experience I’m much less tempted to procrastinate.

2. You use your time more purposefully

Similar to #1, because I know that I only have a finite number of minutes until I’ll be back in the church for the next prayer time, I approach each chunk of time much more purposefully than when I’m at home. Here’s an example of the way I might approach my morning in my normal routine at my house:

Before lunch I guess I should sweep the floor, and at some point I’ll take the kids to the park. I’ll try to get around to decluttering those toys, and maybe make those two phone calls. But maybe I’ll get online for a second and surf the web first…

…And all of that would be thought with a blasé attitude that if I don’t get that stuff done by 12:30, our usual lunch time, I’ll just push lunch back to accommodate whatever procrastinating I did. For contrast, here’s the way I approached my block of time this morning between Mass and noon prayer:

I only have a few hours until the bells start ringing to announce noon prayer, so I’d better make sure I get the highest priority things done first. As soon as I get back to the retreat house, I will:

  • Take an hour for private prayer in the guest house chapel
  • Do online check-in for our flights tomorrow
  • Return my friend’s voicemail and let her know I’m out of town
  • Buy a few souvenirs for our parents and my grandfather

And I’ll use whatever time I have after that for relaxation.

What’s amazing is how much less stressed I am when I approach each block of time with clarity and purpose — and it’s not just because I’m naturally more relaxed because I’m on vacation. It’s such a good feeling to examine the possibilities of what I could do, prioritize them, and then push through to get them taken care of. It really helps me enjoy my free time and live in the moment without lingering stress that there are other things I need to be doing.

3. It gives you a new appreciation for meals

This is an odd one, but I’ve noticed that mealtime is really special here, and not just because of the fantastic food and great company. Eating meals at the exact same time every day involves sacrifice: the meal takes precedence over whatever else you may have wanted to do with that time — i.e. lunch isn’t pushed back by 20 minutes because I wasn’t finished writing a blog post. The result has been that I approach the table each day with a renewed sense of gratitude, my small sacrifice reminding me that this is something special.

4. It makes you surrender your life to God at the micro level

I always try to better surrender my life to God, but I often think of it at the macro level alone: e.g. I’ll work on trusting him with what I’ll be doing 10 years from now, my children’s vocations, my writing projects, etc. But living according to a rule of prayer involves even deeper surrender. There have been quite a few times since I’ve been here that I was really into whatever I was doing, and the last thing I wanted to do was set it aside and go back to the church to pray. To let go of my activities requires an act of trust: trust that God will give me the grace to pick up where I left off if whatever I was doing was important in his eyes, that this “interruption” won’t irreparably derail whatever I was doing, etc. I find myself taking these little leaps of trust at almost every prayer time, whereas back at home I simply push back my prayer or meal times to accommodate whatever it was I was doing — no trust necessary.

5. It helps you put your plans in perspective

I do not handle being interrupted well. I have this tendency to hyper-focus on whatever it is I’m doing, and if something arises that tears me away from it, my reaction is something along the lines of, “If I step away from this project THE FABRIC OF THE UNIVERSE WILL TEAR ASUNDER AND ALL CREATION WILL CEASE TO EXIST!” I keep thinking that’s going to happen every time I hear those bells: I can’t go to prayer now! I think. I should just skip this one and finish what I was doing, you know, so that the world doesn’t fall apart.

Surprisingly enough, I keep setting aside my plans in order to go to prayer, and so far the earth still seems to be spinning, the planets seem pretty steady in their orbits — I’m even calm and happy. By living according to the monastery’s prayer schedule, I get five reminders per day that my little projects aren’t the center of the universe.

6. It helps you put God at the center of your life

Back at home, I do feel close to God much of the time: simply by being surrounded by the blessings of my husband and children I get regular reminders of God’s goodness. But I’ve also noticed that having regular blocks of time set aside specifically for focusing on him with 100% of my attention is incredibly helpful for keeping my priorities in proper order and putting God at the center of it all. It’s made me think even more about how I can include small pockets of silence into my weeks.

I haven’t put much thought into what, if any, elements I can incorporate into my life when I get back home tomorrow. Obviously my vocation is quite different than that of the brothers up here, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect to life a monastic life with four young children. The overarching themes I see in all these lessons is that the monastic schedule naturally brings order and obedience to daily life, so I’ll be thinking and praying about what I can do to increase those elements in my daily schedule. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!


  1. happygeek

    Another blogger (I think it is Ann from Holy Experience) sets a timer to remind herself of when to pray. I have been doing a protestant version of morning and evening office and it has greatly helped me to start and end my day with order and prayer. (Not that I get to it every day, but when I do, I notice a difference.)

  2. scmom (Barbara)

    It seems that the bells are very freeing. There is no choice in the matter. Just stop what you are doing, no choice. That is how obedience actual frees you to be God-centered.

  3. Emily

    I LOVE monastery schedules. Since I'm preparing to visit the Dominican Nuns in Summit, who are cloistered, I've been trying to follow their horarium as best I can. And I love it! No wasted time, everything with purpose, and it's a balanced day!
    I joke that I'll lose all this weight when I go into the convent–and no one will ever know, because I'll never wear pants again!

  4. chanceofbooks

    have you ever read Holly Pierlot's "Mother's Rule of Life"? It's all about applying monastic style life centered on prayer to your domestic church. Your post reminded me so much of her book.
    It's not about just a schedule, but really about ordering your life with the awareness that at each moment you are doing what God is asking of you. A time for prayer, a time for internet, a time for cleaning…

  5. Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith

    Thank you for this post. I really needed to read it today. I have been trying to set aside time for mid-day prayer when my children take naps, but I am ashamed to admit, sometimes I forget or say, I just need to finish (fill in the blank). Your post has inspired me to do better.

  6. SAHMinIL

    I also have read Holly Pielot's book A Mother's Rule of Life. Just like chanceofbooks I was reminded of her book while reading your post.

  7. Laurie

    Wow. I just want to say "thank you" for sharing. I can sense that this is going to sink deep… and that I'll be more grateful for it a year from now.

  8. Kim

    I'm a Benedictine Oblate through one of the "daughter Monasteries" of Mt. Angel. I completely agree with you on this post – the last time I was at my Monastery it was so freeing to know that prayer is at this time and meals are at that time. 🙂

  9. Tina Fisher

    I too was immediately reminded of Holly Pierlot's, "A Mother's Rule of Life".

    What you the two of you have wrote are very similar.

    I have started a few times to put this into practice myself. But when I attempt, I too feel calm & peace.

  10. Anonymous

    If you're interested in the Benedictine way of life as applied in the everyday world, I would recommend "A Life-Giving Way" by Esther de Waal. It's her personal commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, and how it has impacted her life. I had it recommended to me. Another is "The Family Cloister: Benedictine Wisdom for the Home" by David Robinson.

    I'm glad you're having a restful retreat! I spent a weekend at a Benedictine monastery earlier in the year and found the rhythm of life there very much the same as you do! It all revolves around community and coming together.

    Have a safe return journey!

    Jen G

  11. Curious

    Do Roman Catholics not fast before receiving the Eucharist?

  12. A Grouchy Editor

    Great, post, and I love reading about your retreat, but:

    Surprisingly enough, I keep setting aside my plans to go to prayer…

    This sounds like you're saying exactly the opposite of what you meant. I had to read it three times to parse it correctly. Better would be: "Surprisingly enough, I keep setting aside my plans in orderto go to prayer…"

  13. Beth West www.northernskyart.wordpress.com

    Your post is very inspiring. I'm looking forward to reading about how you work some of these concepts into your life at home.

  14. Kelly the Kitchen Kop


    Good question! Yes we do fast one hour before receiving Jesus. So breakfast was at 7:00, I'm assuming they're done by 7:30, and if mass starts at 8:00 that puts the Eucharist at 8:30. 🙂

    Wow, like others have mentioned, I also thought of the Mother's Rule of Life and JUST mentioned that in my post today where I was lamenting about my helter skelter days. Then THIS post – crazy…the Lord may be giving me the answer to my big question lately… (how to balance my day). The problem, though, which I also mentioned today, is how do we stick to schedules when kids are involved? The interruptions are constant. I know this is part of mothering (dealing with and even embracing those interruptions), and maybe I need to read that book again, but what good is a schedule if it's thrown off every 10 minutes, ya know?


  15. John

    Wonderful ideas. My wife and I have similar experiences when we visit St. Leo Abbey, a Catholic Benedictine monastery for monks in Florida. We have tried to make our home quiet and with the feel of being at a monastery. Here's is a list of easy-to-do tips for bringing that monastic spirit into the home.

    Blessings to all on the journey to dwell with God.

    Tampa, Florida

  16. Valerie

    🙂 God's funny bone. I haven't checked your blog in months (I'm getting better at not indulging in the blogosphere). Your post here encourages me as I try to embrace a more "monastic" domestic life, which started a couple of years ago by reading the "Mother's Rule" (and your posts on hard stops/LOTH) and now as a part of my homeschooling path with the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. They provide a free Weekly Guide to praying the Liturgy of the Hours that is geared at helping families pray it together. You may find it a blessing. http://www.classicalliberalarts.com/loth/guide.htm

    God bless you as you STRIVE for holiness. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and grace.

  17. Claire

    All I can say is, "wow". I discovered this blog through a Catholic link in FB.

    I do believe that the Holy Spirit led me here to help me get my life under control.

    I am an orthodox Catholic…extremely introverted (some are surprised to learn this about me)….I can procrastinate *anything* for any amount of time.

    I have few schedules, unless someone else requires me to follow the rules. Then I do what I am supposed to do. On my own, I waste hours on the internet while my house falls apart and my laundry piles up. Let's not talk about the projects for work for which I am completely overwhelmed and cannot figure out how to tackle them.

    This blog and your readers are refreshing, and I am slowly seeing that there is hope for me yet.

    Thank you and God Bless.

  18. Erin D.

    Great post, I may just have to try out a prayer schedule of my own. I feel like it would add a lot more structure to my day, and it would make me more inclined to pray.

  19. Anonymous

    When I was checking out different religions, one thing that intrigued me about the Muslim faith was the idea of everyone stopping five times a day to face the same direction and pray. I was happy to learn that the Catholic faith also has a "prayer schedule" – it would be neat to be surrounded by a society, or even community, that is following that schedule.

    I can't wait to hear how you incorporate these ideas into your home life since I, too, am home with four littles.

  20. Sarah

    My brother is a Benedictine. On more than one occasion I have visited him and decided I was going to be more structured. I was determined to plan my day, and my prayer time, and everything was going to be great. No sooner than I put this into place, my kids started throwing up, or running fevers, or both. LOL! This has happened more than once. God likes to laugh at my plans. I am not trying to discourage you. Just warning you to have a sense of humor when applying these changes when returning to real life. I really enjoy your posts. You have a great perspective on life, and the faith.

  21. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    God used you mightily in my life with this post, Jen.
    *Thank you*….

    All's grace,

  22. Margie

    It's been a while since I commented, but still can't recommend enough (especially since you've had this recent experience) The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. It's a thoughtful and beautifully written story about her stay in a monastery.

  23. Anonymous

    Monastic prayer life is not for everyone since lay people are expected to live life in the world. Monastic leave the world in order to serve God. Lay people don't unless your a hermit like some who actually live lives devoted to prayer.

  24. nuntym

    Hi Jennifer! I'm glad to hear that you had a wonderful spiritual vacation.

    I understand that you are interested in incorporating scheduled prayers into your life, right? Let's start small first =)

    The Angelus is a devotional prayer that is traditionally said at 6am, 12nn, and 6pm. In the Philippines (where I came from), churches still either ring their bells or play recordings of church bells ringing over PA systems. Also, certain TV and radio stations broadcast the prayer at those times. The Angelus is also played at 12 noon and 6 pm in PA systems of Catholic schools, offices, and even in some malls!

    Information about and how to pray it can be found in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelus (I am more familiar with the "Alternative English text").

    The "3 O'Clock Prayer" is also popular in the Philippines, again broadcasted in certain TV and radio stations. It is a prayer based on the Devotion to the Divine Mercy, and it is a short prayer to remember Jesus' death on the cross on Good Friday, 3pm, and ask for the great graces available at this time.

    Here is the prayer and some information about it: http://6doi.net/religion/three-3-oclock-prayer.html

    Also, you may be interested in watching the almost original (there where some additions in the visuals and in the introduction, but the whole prayer remains the same) "3 O'Clock Prayer" broadcast everyday in the Philippines since the 1980's: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FUrkNEniUc

    Both of these prayers are short and can easily be inserted into your schedule.

    God bless!

  25. Holly

    I too reccomend David Robison's book, "The Family Cloister: Benedictine Wisdom for the Home." In fact, I spent some time on my blog with his book. My intentions were good, but I lost momentum toward the end. However, if you follow the link I provide, you might get a better idea about this book (epecially some of the first posts toward the bottom of the page).

    Holly from Scattering Agates

  26. Rea

    I needed to read this today as I try to pack for vacation, squeeze in a few hours of work, clean the house, etc. I don't want the busyness of life to so overwhelm me that I don't take time to spend in prayer. (I'd say 'so that I don't forget to take time' but let's face it, I don't forget, I just don't make it a priority.) I'll have to check into some of the books mentioned.

  27. Gabriel +

    Thank you for this fantastic post. I have felt called for a long time to adopt a strict monastic personal rule of life, especially in the last few weeks. I happened to run into this blog (thanks to New Advent(dot)org) immediately after I wrote an e-mail to the Dominican friar in charge of the residence at the nearby Dominican College, where I hope to study Philosophy (and perhaps live) in the coming school year. Thank you!

  28. Anonymous

    Would also recommend Holly Pierot's "A Mother's Rule of Life". I need to reread it, but for me, my big problem is self-discipline. Need all the prayers I can get!

  29. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly

    Great, helpful post.

    I especially could relate to surrendering to God's will more in the macro way. I'm trying to sanctify every moment and to see his will in every slice of time. It's difficult to do when I'm caught up in the rush of life. Thank you for the reminder.

    I'm so glad you had a fruitful experience.

    Also, thanks again for offering to pray for others during your retreat.

    Ding-dong. My bell for evening prayers and lights out is ringing. 🙂


  30. Sister Lynn

    Jennifer – you captured the essence of the monastic schedule perfectly! I am printing out this post and will make it required reading for our new members.
    Thanks for distilling your experience so succintly!

    Sister Lynn

  31. Anonymous

    An interesting posting. How can Breakfast and Mass be less than an hour apart? What about the required 1 hour fast?


  32. LeeAnn Balbirona

    Our kids are also enrolled in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy online Catholic school. We have a software program that plays church bells at 6a, 9a, 12p, 3p, 6p & 9p each day to remind us to pray. I enjoyed reading about your experience. I would like to get to Mt. Angel myself one day. I have taken the online tour a while ago; it seems very beautiful!

  33. tim mccarthy

    Here's a link to a treasure trove of the Divine Office. It has the original Benedictine to the Council of Trent to the latest 1962 in English and Latin and all for free. It is much deeper and fuller, so enjoy.


  34. nuntym

    Here is a list of traditional Catholic daily (scheduled) prayers.


    You might like the "Little Offices & Hours," which are prayers mimicking the schedule of the Divine Office, but are much shorter and less complex. I myself started the "Little Office of the Immaculate Conception."

  35. Reggie Wagstaff

    It’s got nothing to do with a Godhead. It’s got to do with stopping the noise in your head for a short time and being able to think about something besides focusing on your hamster-wheel existence that’s crammed with trivial errands, unearned vacations, your unhealthy diet and other and self-indulgences. The monastery schedule takes you out of your banal existence for a short time and you think it’s a profound, soul-shattering experience. No, it’s just a drink of pure water, a breath of clean air, a moment of uncluttered thought. You can do it anywhere and you don’t need God as your copilot. If that’s where you’re going, however, that’s fine.

  36. richard vadnais

    I need help in my spiritual life

  37. richard vadnais

    I need help in my spiritual life am double minded ( and other short comings) and all tho i want to walk in the word i seem not to be able have the peace i used to have

  38. richard vadnais

    I need help in my spiritual life am double minded ( and other short comings) and all tho i want to walk in the word i seem not to be able have the peace i used to have and have let the devil get me depressed most of the time


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