Monastic Lenten Practices: How Benedictine monks observe Lent

It is a long-standing tradition in the Church for Christians to commit to extra prayer, fasting, and charity during Lent. The Rule of Saint Benedict offers this guidance for the monastic observance of Lent:

Bona Opera

“Although the life of a monk ought always to have a Lenten character, yet because few have the degree of strength requisite for that, we therefore exhort that at least during Lent he live his life with scrupulous care and that likewise during this holy season he do away with any departures from strictness that may have been permitted at other times: and this is then done worthily when we restrain us from all faults and give heed to prayer with tears, to reading and to heartfelt penitence and to abstinence.

Therefore at this season let us betake to us, as some addition to the accustomed severity of our holy servitude, special prayers and abstinence from food and drink, so that each of his own free will, with joy of the Holy Spirit, may offer to God somewhat over and above the measure laid upon him; that is to say, let him deny himself in the matter of food, of sleep, of talking, of mirth; and let him look forward to holy Easter with the joy of spiritual longing.

Let each one however confide to his abbot exactly what it is he is offering and let it be done with the help of his prayer and with his consent, because what is done without the consent of one’s spiritual father will not be accounted meritorious, but presumptuous and vain-glorious. Therefore it is with the abbot’s consent that all things are to be done.” 

(Translated into English. A Pax Book, preface by W.K. Lowther Clarke. London: S.P.C.K., 1931)

Modern Application

As St. Benedict stipulates, the monks of Conception each select their own bona opera, or “good works”. Each monk reviews his proposal with the abbot in a private meeting. It may be somewhat reassuring to read that even monks can slacken in their spiritual observance at times. We can all use Lent as time of spiritual renewal and re-awakening.

Other Sacrifices

It’s also interesting to see some of the other places the Rule of Saint Benedict mentions Lent:

Delaying Meals

In chapter 41 on “At What Hours the Brethren Shall Have Their Meals,” we find: “From the fourteenth of September until the beginning of Lent let them always dine at the ninth hour [3 PM]; but in Lent until Easter let them dine at an evening hour; but let that evening hour be so ordered that when dining they may not require the light of a lamp, but may be quite finished while daylight still lingers.” So when Benedict’s early monks ate only once a day, pushing that meal later in the day felt like a sacrifice. Especially on the traditional fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, you might try pushing the one full meal which the Church allows to the end of the day. Eat less than you normally would at the other two meals of the day, or skip them if you can bear it, and avoid snacking between meals. (Please consult your pastor if you want to know more about the Church’s rules for fasting and abstinence.)

Spiritual Reading

In chapter 48 “On the Daily Manual Work,” we find St. Benedict’s daily schedule allowing an extra hour for spiritual reading each day during Lent. Furthermore, he specifies that each monk is to obtain a book from the library and read it straight through. Benedict allots additional time for reading on Sundays.  

May you have a spiritually refreshing Lent!

See the Lenten Resources category on our web site for more ideas!