The Cistercian Monastic Style

The basis of formation in the Cistercian-Benedictine tradition is the Rule of St. Benedict. For persons who choose to adapt to a contemplative spirituality according to the Cistercian tradition, it is suggested that they become familiar with this Rule. In doing so, they may attain a general knowledge of Cistercian history and develop an understanding of Cistercian monastic spirituality. There are three major elements in our way of life.

1. Prayer

Prayer is essential for spiritual growth. Prayer must be valued as an expression of our relationship with God, a relationship that is nurtured by a transformed consciousness of the presence of God in our inner depths.

1.1. Eucharistic Liturgy

Mass is the center of our daily life. We listen to the Word of God and receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Our daily Mass is not reserved solely for the monks but for everyone that wishes to prepare more attentively for the Lord¡¦s graces in their life.

1.2 Liturgy of the Hours

The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 12, says that, ¡§the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions, and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the Eucharistic mystery,¡¨ are extended throughout the day by those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours focuses the celebration on the mystery of Christ as present in every moment of time, modeling and encouraging that ceaseless prayer which must be the concomitant of lives caught up in that mystery. In our monastery, the schedule for the Liturgy of Hours is as follows:

Vigils                 3:45AM
Lauds                6:00AM
(Daily Mass and Sunday Mass follow Lauds)
Terce              11:45AM
Sext                 12:20AM
None                  2:00PM
Vespers             5:20PM
Compline           7:00PM

2. Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina refers to a ¡§Sacred Reading¡¨ of the Scriptures (almost always), or writings of the Fathers of the Church, or other spiritual writing requiring prayerful reflection on the text leading to communion with God in prayer.

We find this prayerful reading spoken of in the monastic tradition from as early as the forth century. Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict begins with the general instruction: ¡§Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading¡¨ (Lectio Divina).

Throughout the centuries monks and nuns seeking an intimate relationship with God developed this pattern of prayer based on sacred reading. Lectio Divina is a process and is expressed in the formula: Lectio (reading), Meditatio (meditation), Oratio (prayer), and Contemplatio (contemplation).

The first part of the process is Reading. We enter Lectio Divina with heartfelt reverence. Through the words of the sacred text, we are listening to what God tells us in His inspired words. We allow His words to have an impact on us and we reach deeper into the depth of its meaning by reading it slowly.

The second part of the process is Meditation. Sacred Reading includes not only the actual reading but also meditation on the words. Meditation means the memorization, repetition, and prayerful rumination (chewing over) of texts as a stimulus to personal prayer¡]Rule of St. Benedict 8:3, 48:23). The meditator draws upon a passage from the sacred text and seeks to enter into it using thoughts and images, hoping to experience what is within it.

The third part of the process is Prayer. We further respond to the word of God through our prayer. Reading invites us to meditate so that the words can call forth true prayer within us. This response comes forth from us from our heartfelt interior. Our prayer may be one of thanksgiving, praise, adoration, repentance, petition, and so on.

The fourth part of the process is Contemplation. When we respond with our whole being, then we are in contemplation. We leave our thoughts or ideas behind and bring one word or phrase to sense the presence of God in our heart in this contemplative prayer. We give God our very selves by worshiping Him and entering into union with Him.

3. Manual Labor

Manual Labor is defined as physical or mental effort exerted to do or make something; as purposeful activity; as a work in which one¡¦s knowledge and skills are utilized.

The Desert Christians of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, manifested a healthy and deeply insightful appreciation of work. One of the great wisdom figures of this Desert tradition was St. Antony (251¡V356), who, though obviously valuing manual labor, linked it with the important work of meditation and prayer.


Among the wisdom sayings associated with St. Antony is one in which he advises: ¡§When you sit in your cell, be perpetually solicitous of these three things, namely, the work of your hands, the meditation of your psalms, and prayer.¡¨


In the Benedictine monastic tradition, the prayer of the monks was called the Opus Dei, meaning, ¡§the Work of God.¡¨ This prayer of praise to God throughout the day and night was considered the chief work of the monks, as well as the place where God worked on the monks themselves. Within this context of individual prayer and communal singing of the Divine Office, manual labor and intellectual activities formed an overall rhythm of life in the monastery. The Rule of St. Benedict affirms a basic tenet regarding work from Christianity¡¦s earliest days: ¡§Work is an important antidote to idleness.¡¨ As the Rule expresses it: ¡§Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading¡¨ (RB 48:1). The Rule of St. Benedict offers an example of a Christian spirituality that sees work, prayer, study, and contemplation as intertwined, all directed to praising God. It also contains a guiding principle that eventually made Benedictine spirituality one of the most popular of the Middle Ages and from which we might learn: ¡§All things are to be done with moderation ¡K¡¨ (RB 48:9), including one¡¦s work.

At the monastery of Shuili, we carry out various types of work. You will find us working in our orchard, library, kitchen, retreat house and so on. We support ourselves and improve our circumstances through the work of our hands.