Prayer and Our Benedictine Heritage

One of the great leaders of the Catholic Church in Pre-Reformation England was Saint Anselm, a Benedictine monk who, beginning in 1093, served as the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a Benedictine, one of his most important contributions to England would have been Benedictine spirituality, including the daily practice of praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

Beginning in the sixth century, Benedictine monks prayed all 150 Psalms every week during eight distinct hours of prayer every day:

  • Vigils (Office of Readings)
  • Lauds (Morning Prayer at Dawn)
  • Prime (Mid-Morning Prayer 1 — omitted by the Second Vatican Council)
  • Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer 2 — retained by Vatican II)
  • Sext (Mid-Day Prayer)
  • None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer)
  • Vespers (Evening Prayer)
  • Compline (Night Prayer)

Over time, this weekly Benedictine cycle of Psalms evolved into a four-week cycle, and over time different religious communities have adopted various ways of praying or combining the original eight hours.

Following the English Reformation, Archbishop Cranmer simplified the prayer cycle by combining these eight hours into two: Morning and Evening Prayer. Evening Prayer for example can be seen to be a combination of the Office of Readings with Vespers and Compline.

Whether one chooses to pray the traditional hours at their appointed times (as many Catholic clergy and lay people do today) or the two Anglican hours may be a matter of personal preference. One will spend about the same amount of time in prayer either way. What matters most is that we pray. It is not for nothing that Saint Benedict called prayer the “work of God.”

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