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Distinctive ministry of religious communities

by
17 April 2014

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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 Benedict.

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 Christian communities?

TERESA JOAN WHITE
St Andrew's House
16 Tavistock Crescent
London W11 1AP

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