From the Revd Sister Teresa Joan White CSA
Sir, - Contemplative prayer is only one crucial aspect of the
ministry of religious communities (Letters, 11 April).
They also are called to liturgical prayer, hospitality, work, and
even leisure. The Benedictine Rule (for beginners) prescribed work
and leisure (hours for sleep) as well as the Divine Office.
Morning and evening prayer in the cathedrals (less so in
parishes) means that the Anglican version of the Divine Office is
alive and well. Compared with the early 19th century, the
liturgical prayer of the eucharist is flourishing. The retreat
movement, although now also challenged, brought not only
contemplative prayer, but also hospitality into the lives of many
of the laity.
Community life, which was continued in colleges of many forms,
however, is now being challenged by the extra high price of
residential education. The monastic work was both manual and
intellectual, namely, "reading". Medieval monks' farming work fed
and clothed not only themselves, but many others.
In the Middle Ages, their work of copying manuscripts preserved
much of Western civilisation's literature. The term "contemplative
prayer" was unknown to St Benedict. The nearest to it in his Rule
probably is "reading". As silent reading was a new discovery for St
Augustine, it may be that silent prayer was unknown to
Although the laity and society as a whole have assumed many of
the works of the Religious, there still is need for communities
that aspireto a holistic Christian life. As the freedom to practise
Christianityin the public sphere is gradually eroded, will more
people be calledto form intentional holistic incarnational
TERESA JOAN WHITE
St Andrew's House
16 Tavistock Crescent
London W11 1AP