Our Office is a simplified version of the monastic office as found in the Rule of Benedict. We find that it is much more quiet and fruitful to follow an ancient Egyptian monastic custom as regards the psalmody. One person reads the psalm and the others present sit and listen. Then at the end there is a space for silent prayer followed by a collect. This gives more space in the Office.
All the offices, except Compline, begin with a hymn.
At Vespers there are two psalms separated by a sung responsorial psalm and silent prayer follows with the collect, reading and final prayers.
Compline has an opening versicle and response and its own pattern of psalms, followed by a short lesson and verse and response. The hymn and blessing is followed by an anthem of Mary the mother of Jesus.
The Rule of Benedict calls the Hours of Prayer 'the Work of God'. This phrase had originally been used to describe the whole of the monk's life in his effort to attain to unceasing prayer. Nothing in the monk's life was done without the deepest prayer of the heart accompanying and informing it - in reading, working, eating, sleeping; in temptation, in failure, in penitence, in joy, thanksgiving and peace. The words of Scripture were as a sacrament on his lips and engraved on his mind, so that, in the Spirit, he may become more aware of the living word of the Father addressed to him by Christ. Emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, the Work of God engrossed him.
When there came to be set times in the day for prayer in common, the ethos of this total Work of God was retained in the way the monks approached each Office. The inner freedom and spontaneity reappeared in the silent prayer after the psalm. Vocal and mental prayer were combined with the inner gaze of the eyes of the heart to Christ who is always in the midst of his brethren gathered together in his Name.
The Office has been through a great many phases in history. Hymns and chants were introduced from the 'cathedral' tradition and, in its turn, the clerical Office absorbed the psalmody of the monks. In our simplified form of the monastic Office we have had in mind the need to let the Spirit of God flow into the structure of the service and to allow it to become a living part of the Work of God in the community's life. At the set times in the day, the prayer of the Spirit - which informs the entire Body of Christ - bursts into flame, as it were, and the monk's desire for unceasing communion with Christ is strengthened and purified. There is no division, still less opposition, between the prayer of the Hours in common and the prayer of the individual in solitude. The combination of music and words and the simple gestures of sitting to listen, standing to pray and bowing deeply in worship, all assist the inner prayer of union and love in the corporate worship, answering the deep desire of all who have heard the call to a life of adoration and obedience to the Father.
The moments of silence before and after the Office allow us to become aware of the unceasing work of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ and in the world, as in each one of us. In the silences for prayer after the psalms we are able to respond with our whole being to God. The psalms are not prayer as such but they are the material for prayer, expressing man's universal experience of life in relation to God - his longing for God and of joy in him, as well as his doubts, fear, anger and hate. In Christ, all these attitudes are met and in him there is reconciliation and love and peace. Here, at the heart of the Hours of prayer, Christ takes hold of us in answer to our attentive worship and we are prepared anew to hear his Word until once again he leads us out to the action and repose of our living prayer throughout the day and night.