Surprisingly, it was not hard to get up at 4 the next morning.  We had decided in advance that we wanted to partake as much as possible in the prayer of the Church, known as the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), and this was our chance.  So off we headed in the dark for the church which is 3/4 of a mile from the retreat center.  We entered in silence and there were a couple of nuns already there in prayer.  Then they all entered and went to their places in the “choir.”  Matins was sung acapella in simple chant.  It began with the invitatory  and included several psalms through which God is adored as faithful, long-suffering and merciful.  The theme of Saturday is the end, as it is the last day of the week.  This particular Saturday was the feast of St. Cecilia, so there were references to her in the various hours and readings of the day. 

The prayer of these Benedictine nuns is spread throughout the day.  In between the set hours of prayer, they work their farm and keep house, as well as read, study and pray privately. 

The cycle of prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours goes from Matins to Lauds in which God is praised and shown as the just Judge, to Terce in which a longing for Heaven is expressed, to Sext in which the work of creation is expressed, to None in which the last things are contemplated, to Vespers which is a thanksgiving, to Compline, which is night prayer before resting.  Vespers is one of the few hours that is still prayed outside of monasteries.  On this particular evening, Vespers was sung in Latin in preparation for the Feast of Christ the King.  All the stops were pulled for this Liturgy and the singing of the Gregorian Chant was accompanied by the organ, played by Sr. Hildegard. 

Compline was the cap on a full day of prayer and education.  I personally love this prayer of the Church.  It is a prayer of praise but also a call for help from the evil one.  It is a restful prayer in which the one praying abandons himself to the protection of God while he sleeps.  This was followed by the nuns gathering around the statue of Our Lady and singing of the Regina Coeli.  What followed had me fighting back tears, as Mother Maria Michael blessed all of us with holy water.  It was so reminiscent of the blessing my own mother always gave us as we went to bed. 

Then the nuns returned to their cloister, a place where we could not go.  The closing of the door seemed so final.  I was left pondering the life these beautiful women have chosen… door-to-the-cloister