ora et labora et lege
The Benedictine motto is generally described as “ora et labora” (pray and work). This basic statement stems from the Late Middle Ages. In its full form it reads “ora et labora et lege”. These three verbs embody the Benedictine tradition: liturgical prayer, manual labour, prayerful reading.
Ora - pray
"At the hour for the Divine Office,
as soon as the signal is heard,
let them abandon whatever they may have in hand
and hasten with the greatest speed" (RB 43)
Nothing must take precedence over prayer states the Rule of St. Benedict. In 13 chapters he lays down the order of the Liturgy of the Hours in winter, in summer and on Sundays. He lays down when and which psalms should be sung, but leaves the final decision to the head of the community. For Benedict it is important that all monks and nuns find what they are looking for. Discretion is central to the leadership of the monastic community. Therefore, the prioress “must so arrange everything that the strong have something to strive after, and the weak may not fall back in dismay” (RB 64).
The nuns in Müstair come together five times a day for the Liturgy of the Hours, recite the rosary daily and celebrate Mass. The day begins at 5.30 with Matins, the first set time of prayer in the liturgical day: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise”. At daybreak, at 7.05, the nuns celebrate Lauds (Morning Prayer), which is filled with light and speaks of the rising sun as the symbol of Christ. Lauds is followed by the celebration of Mass. At 11.00 the nuns gather for midday prayer before they eat lunch together. At 17.00 they come together to recite the rosary, followed by Vespers (Evening Prayer) at 17.30, which brings an end to the working day. In the evening, at 19.30, they pray at Compline (Night Prayer). The day finishes, the prioress gives the Benediction and the Great Silence begins and is observed until the next day after Mass.
During the summer months the Benedictine sisters in Müstair come together for the Liturgy of the Hours on the emporum in the convent church. Visitors to the church are welcome to attend these prayers and enjoy a moment of contemplation and inner peace during the recitation of the psalms.
Labora – work
The nuns’ work includes such tasks as gardening, needlework, handicraft, looking after guests and the guesthouse, as well as office work and domestic jobs. Even though there are more and more lay employees within the walls of the convent, it is still essential that the Benedictine spirit finds its way into the working day.
Benedict divides the day in such a way that periods of work are never too long; they are repeatedly interrupted by prayer, reading or gathering together. In this way it is much easier to keep up one’s concentration.
Lege – read
"Idleness is the enemy of the soul.
Therefore the sisters should be occupied
at certain times in manual labor,
and again at fixed hours in sacred reading." (RB 48)
Benedict lays down exactly how much time should be devoted to work and how much to reading. We talk about “lectio divina” – spiritual reading. This consists of uplifting texts that should be read slowly; each word should be reflected upon and the significance of each passage meditated. It is not like reading a newspaper article, where the reader often rapidly scans the text in order to find the latest news about politics, economy or sport for example. No - “lectio divina” is a more intimate reading process wherein the reader opens their heart and mind to God.
Spiritual reading is done individually, but also communally at the midday and evening meals. Meals are taken in silence whilst one of the sisters reads aloud. In this way the nuns not only absorb nourishment for their bodies, but also for their mind and soul.