During the winter months, the brethren should wake up for prayer a little after midnight. The remaining time should be used to study the Bible. But during the rest of the year, let the hour for saying the night prayers be so arranged that after a very short interval (during which the brethren may step out to use the restroom) the morning prayers may follow at dawn.
Man is made for prayer. That is our primary purpose as God’s creation, and Saint Benedict devotes twelve straight chapters to it: how and when to say prayers, what words to use and where to use them, who is to lead the prayers and which order they take. So at certain times—day and night—the monks all drop what they’re doing, run to the church, and chant the psalms. Saint Benedict calls this the Opus Dei—the Work of God. In the wider Church it is often referred to as the Divine Office. Benedict begins his guide to the Divine Office with a description of night prayer, or Vigils [
from the Latin word vigilia which means “wakefulness”
]. Traditionally, this takes place around midnight, though many communities say Vigils just before dawn. The important thing is that they say it while it’s still dark. This is because the dark of night represents all that is frightening and dangerous. [
you ever heard a scary story that didn’t take place at night?
]It is the time when we are most vulnerable to our enemies, both physical and spiritual, so it is precisely then that we need prayer the most. Anger, lust, intemperance, depression…all these demons are somehow more likely to emerge at night than during the daylight hours. For this reason, monks recite this prayer from Saint Peter’s first letter before they head off to bed: “Brothers, be vigilant, for your enemy, the Devil is prowling about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat.”
But we don’t pray just because we’re afraid. In fact, strictly speaking, the Devil has no power over us at all, so there is nothing really to fear. The reason we interrupt our sleep is because we want to obey Jesus’ command to “pray without ceasing,” and by working these regular interruptions into our day and night, we hope to cultivate a greater awareness of God’s presence. [
classic work on this subject is Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the
Presence of God.” Have a look at
it. As spiritual books go, it’s a pretty
] After all, nothing human is outside the domain of prayer—not sleep, not work, not even sin. So long as we keep reminding ourselves to pray, we can, by the Grace of God, sanctify every hour of the day and night.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to pray? If not, I recommend you give it a shot. Set your alarm for two or three in the morning. Then just get up for about thirty seconds and kneel by your bed. Say an Our Father or something. Then go back to sleep. I really think you’ll be amazed at the results.