Een broeder van de abdij van Westmalle tijdens een eucharistieviering

A day at Westmalle Abbey

The monastic life is undoubtedly the most well-ordered in the world. It is an existence of prayer and work, of introspection and commitment to the community. Every day, the monks meet at the same times to pray, in services known as ‘tides’. The Eucharist and meals are also at fixed times. All other activity at the abbey is scheduled between these events. Let’s take a look at what a typical day at the abbey is like.

Morning: an early start to pray and work

The monks’ day starts early. Very early. As early as 4.00 am – even before the first light announces the dawn of the day – they gather for the first time to pray together before the night watch or vigils. Breakfast follows an hour later and there is time for personal prayer. As at every meal, texts are read during breakfast. At 7.00 am, we pray together again. This is morning prayers – also called lauds – and is the second period of prayer for the day.

 

Guests in the abbey’s guesthouse do not have breakfast until 7.35 am. By that time, the monks’ day is already in full swing: in line with Rule of St Benedict, they roll up their sleeves and get to work early. The work they do can take many forms: some are involved in brewing or cheese-making, while others carry out administrative work or are involved in creative projects.

Later in the morning, at 10.45 am, the third prayer session of the day takes place, appropriately called terce. The Eucharist also takes place along with these morning prayers. This is when the monks commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is followed by quiet time: a set time for reading, prayer and reflection. Silence is an essential part of life at the abbey as the Word of God is only heard when it is truly silent.

Midday: peace and quiet, prayer and work

During the week, the monks take their midday meal at noon. Guests at the abbey enter the dining hall half an hour later for their lunch as the monks begin their midday rest period, which is another time of silence. Afternoon prayers – called none – follow at 2.00 pm and a little while later, it’s time to go back to work.

Evening: early end of the day and sleep

Just as the day starts early at the abbey, evening also falls early. Evening prayers (known as vespers) are at 5.15 pm. The evening meal follows at 6.00 pm, followed half an hour later by another period of silence. The day comes to a close at 7.30 pm with compline, which is the final communal prayer session for the day. At around 8.00 pm, Father Abbot blesses the monks as they leave the church. When that is done, each monk goes to his cell for the night’s rest. Each cell is a small room, simply furnished with bed, desk and washbasin.

Different schedule on Sunday

Sunday is a special day in the Catholic Church and therefore also within the abbey. The daily schedule runs a little differently. For instance, no work other than necessary tasks is done on Sundays and more quiet time is provided. As such, Sunday is devoted primarily to reading, individual reflection, meditation or personal silent prayer. At 12.15 pm, there are additional prayers – the noon prayers or sext – while there are no afternoon prayers.

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