“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
(Luke 10: 41-42)
We set out here the timetable of a cloister monk on an ordinary day during the week and point out some particularities for the converse brothers. This is a standard schedule: its structure is identical everywhere but may be slightly adapted according to the house.
Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline are the names of the liturgical offices that punctuate the day. Some are sung in common in the church, others are recited in solitude, in the oratory of the cell. Following a very old Carthusian tradition, each hour of the day’s office is preceded or followed by the office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
1. Night: The great night service
23:30 am: Rise. Matins of the Virgin Mary. Personal prayer in cell. The brothers rise at midnight.
00:15 am: In church, Office of Matins followed by Lauds. Angelus.
Between 2:15 and 3:15 am: Return to cell and sleep after Lauds of the Blessed Virgin.
In the middle of the night, whatever the season, every day without exception, the Carthusians are in church where the whole community gathers for the long office of Matins and Lauds. The Carthusians pray when people sleep. At night, like a watchman, the Carthusian stands before God to praise him, to listen to his Word, and take on the sufferings and concerns of the world. This office, more or less extensive depending on the day, represents one of the richest moments of the Carthusian’s day.
At Matins, the sung recitation of the Psalms is interspersed with biblical and patristic readings, times of silence and prayers of intercession. It can be in Latin or in the language of the country where the monastery is located. Lauds is an office of praise and thanksgiving for the coming day.
Four times a day, the Angelus prayer (in the charterhouse, it is composed of only three Hail Mary) venerates the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It recalls the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary in which she accepted to become the Mother of Christ by pronouncing this “Yes” which committed humanity and the whole of creation towards the Redemption.
Back in cell, the Carthusian returns to his oratory for a last prayer before resting: Lauds of the Blessed Virgin. Whether in ordinary days or on feast days, this short office weaves throughout the day like a thread biding the Carthusian to the prayer of the Mother of Christ, who is also his own.
When they do not attend Lauds, the brothers prostrate themselves in their cells for what we call the “maternal prayer”: a prayer in their mother tongue, spontaneous and confident, and encompassing all the great intentions of the Church and the world.
2. Morning: Holy Mass, lectio divina, study
06:30 or 06:45 am: Rise.
07:00 am: Office of Prime, followed by the Angelus. Prayer or readings in preparation for Mass.
08:00 am: Conventual Mass in the church. Then, for the fathers, celebration of Mass in solitude in a chapel. For the brothers, prayer and then work.
10:00 am: Office of Terce in cell. Then lectio divina and study.
Rested after the long night Office, the Carthusian gets up at about 6:30 am to be ready for the Office of Prime, followed by the Angelus. He does not have breakfast.
The conventual Mass brings the community together a second time in the church. It is always sung according to the Carthusian tradition of Gregorian chant. That liturgical action celebrates the mystery of our Redemption, the Memorial of the perfect offering of the Son of God to his Father on the Cross.
The Eucharist is the source of the spiritual life and the summit of the whole life of the Church. Christ makes himself present to bring us his grace and strength, he gives himself as spiritual food to sustain the walk of his disciples, to take us with him and to associate us with the offering of love and praise that he makes to his Father. In this movement the monk come with all that we have and all that we are, bringing all the moments of his life dedicated to God. This common offering, of Christ and his own, then brings about graces on all humanity.
Because Christ’s action is continually realised in the Eucharist, the priest, when he celebrates Mass, fulfils his primordial mission. This is why, before or after conventual Mass, each monk priest celebrates Mass in solitude in an even more sober rite. It is a moment of great intimacy with Christ. In this celebration the Carthusian understands, more than elsewhere, that his solitude does not place him outside the world, but at the very heart of the Divine plan.
Lectio divina is the meditative and prayerful reading of the Bible. Monastic tradition requires that at least half an hour be set aside for it every day. Normally the rest of the morning is devoted to sacred studies or spiritual reading.
The offices of Terce, Sext and None, known as the “Little Hours”, punctuate the monk’s day and bring him back to prayer about every two hours.
3. Noon and afternoon: meal, recreation, manual work
Noon: Angelus. Office of Sext. Meal.
After the meal there is a time called “recreation”, which can be used freely.
2:00 pm: Office of None. For the fathers, a time of manual work in the cell usually follows. The converse brothers return to their work in the obediences.
At noon a brother puts the monk’s daily meal in his hatch. The Carthusian eats alone after having recited the office of Sext. With the exception of meat, from which he abstains all his life in a spirit of sacrifice, everything is provided so that the main meal meets the nutritional needs of the day (vegetables, cereals, fish, eggs, cheese and fruit).
Once a week, normally on Friday, he keeps “abstinence”, that is. he contents himself with bread and water.
The time after the meal, until 2 pm, has no defined destination. Whatever he does – upkeep of the cell, gardening, resting – the Carthusian is attentive to ‘the custody of the heart’, to fixing his gaze always on the One who dwells within him…
The balance between study and manual work is proper to each one, in agreement with the Prior (or the novice master). The various activities must be adjusted to ensure the best human equilibrium for each person in the long run. The longevity of the Carthusians is proverbial.
In summer, manual work consists mainly of gardening (the monk can grow flowers or vegetables), but there is also bookbinding, woodturning, and other activities according to the aptitudes of each one. In winter, depending on the house, the monk is mainly occupied with woodcutting: chopping wood to heat the stove is vital in the harsh mountain climate. The work can also consist of helping a sick confrere or the community, for example by helping with sewing, secretarial work or any other task dictated by the necessities of community life.
4. The end of the day
4:00 pm marks the end of the activities. Vespers of the Virgin Mary in cell.
4:15 pm: Vespers in church, and then return to cell.
5 pm: Spiritual reading.Between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m.: Supper
6.45 pm: Angelus and office of Compline.Between 7:30 and 8:00 pm: Bedtime.
The office of Vespers (a word derived from the Greek “hesperos” meaning “sunset”) closes the afternoon. This is the time when activities come to an end, a time of gratitude and return to calm. This Office expresses the thanksgiving of the monastic brotherhood, rejoicing in the presence of its Lord and awaiting his definitive return.
After Vespers and before the office of Compline, the Carthusian takes a supper or light meal. During the great fast, which we call the “fast of the Order” (from 14 September, feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, to Easter) this supper is reduced to bread with a beverage, except on Sundays and solemnities. On Fridays not falling on a solemnity, it is bread and water. Returning to his oratory before going to bed, the Carthusian crowns his day with the last prayer of the day, Compline (from the Latin “complere”, to finish). One last time he presents his praise to God and the concerns of the whole world, and implores his protection for the night. After a serene but intense day, he can now rest.
In addition to the times dedicated to the liturgical prayer of the Hours, the Carthusian is invited to devote moments of personal prayer during the day, to deepen his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in order to achieve, as far as possible, continual prayer.