Horarium (1): Holy Cross Abbey

In college, I spent many weekends, winter and summer breaks at Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Berryville, VA. The monks were cloistered, meaning the only two brothers you might meet and speak with were the Guest Master and the priest who met you for confession and spiritual direction.

The Horarium at Holy Cross Abbey:

Mornings began at 3:30 with Matins, after which I regularly walked back to my room and returned to sleep. The office of Lauds at 7am was followed immediately by Holy Mass (7:25am). Throughout each day, I would pray, read (often New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton), and write in my journal in my guest room. I would return to the chapel for Sext (12pm) and Nones (2pm). The evening ended with Vespers (5:30pm), silent dinner, save the Guest Master reading from Imitation of Christ (6pm), a rosary walk (6:30pm), Compline (7:30pm), and then we would return to our guest rooms to read and sleep (8pm).

This monastery is one of the places where my conversion to the Catholic faith was solidified. The hours of silence, reading, hearing Holy Mass, and prayer with the monks made sense to me. During those visits, I seriously contemplate a religious vocation — to live and pray with these brothers for the rest of my life.

Because the Catholic thing was already asking a lot of my lovely Protestant mother, my father equally discouraged me from becoming a monk. “Perhaps this vocation would be a waste of your talents.” Perhaps he was right.

Even still, amid the domestic vocation of married life with my wonderful wife and beautiful daughters, I still feel strongly that the monks have it right and the rest of us are either faking the Christian life or simply treading water — something akin to living paycheck-to-paycheck, spiritually speaking.

It’s been some time — over 15 years since I was last in Berryville at Holy Cross. The monastery seems to have undergone a few changes: pictures reveal that the brothers are less cloistered and that the old choir seats have been updated, but I’d still like to return as a pilgrim to the place that was for me a Bethlehem. Perhaps, save my own horarium here at the house and at the school where I teach, retreats will be the best I can must as far as a monastic occasion.


Before silent dinner in the retreat house (source)



The Horarium

And he waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.

I enjoy studying how individuals and groups apply rules and systems to the passage of time. This rule of hourly time I join with others and call an horarium (horaria, pl.).

I was first introduced to this idea of the horarium when I spent time at a Trappist monastery, Holy Cross Abbey, in northern Virginia (more on a future post). The time throughout the day was structured around the recitation of the Divine Office. The following is their Sunday horarium:

Vigils 3:30 AM
Lauds 7:00 AM
Terce 9:50 AM
Mass 10:00 AM
Sext 12:20 PM
None (in private) 2:00 PM
Vespers with Benediction 5:30 PM
Compline 7:30 PM

Horarium (or sometimes horary) is, of course, also a useful word to describe the ordering of daily time into hours of prayer, which is why the Church now calls the Divine Office the Liturgy of the Hours.

This system — of rising early with the monks, praying with them throughout the day on a set schedule, in between which, the monks attended to their labor — was deeply influential on my thinking of how the Christian life was meant to be lived.

The time at Holy Cross Abbey was rich and well ordered, which I, as a twenty-year-old college student, desperately needed. Now, as a husband, father of three young children, and a Catholic schoolteacher, I still need a system — for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly order.

This horarium of reciting the Office for most monks and other religious rarely changes daily but can differ weekly and seasonally, in accordance with the Church’s liturgical practices. I am interested in these systems of liturgical time as well. Therefore, a focus of this online space will be given over to my reflections on how time is rightly ordered.