But from Easter to the aforesaid calenders, let the hour for celebrating the night office (Matins) be so arranged, that after a very short interval, during which the brethren may go out for the necessities of nature, the morning office (Lauds), which is to be said at the break of day, may follow presently." - Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 8.
I am a night person. But I am NOT a morning person. My spouse and children will attest to this fact. Left to my natural schedule I would be up until the time of Vigils, the service of prayer held by many Benedictine abbeys in the middle of the night. But if I were up at Vigils, I would not be up at Lauds, the first prayer of the new day; the time when the great silence is broken by the words, "O Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise."
Over the years I have adapted to being up early. Lauds, in fact, is now my major time for prayer. But until recently the idea of doing both Vigils and Lauds, was beyond my comprehension. That is, it was beyond my comprehension until I was hospitalized several years ago.
Due to what eventually was revealed as an incorrect diagnosis, I was placed in a cardiac step down unit. During the middle of the night my roommate, a person who really did need the care provided by the hospital, began to hallucinate. He would repeatedly talk to nurses who were not there. I might add these conversations continued at length. By the middle of the night, I had quite given up hope of finding a time for sleep. At first I was simply annoyed. But then I began to actually listen to my roommate's conversations with the imaginary nurses. I discovered he was asking them for help to relieve pain. Upon realizing that, I pushed the call button and told the nurses that my roommate needed help. Help came quickly. But by that time I was very awake. And instead of inducing a desire for sleep, I sat up in bed and began to pray the Psalms.
The Psalms stayed with me for several hours until at last, with my roommate's pain relieved, I was able to go to sleep. I groggily awoke the next day and was sent home. But I was sent home with a new understanding of Vigils. While most of us are sleeping, abbeys across the world are arising from their rest to pray. They are praying for us! They lift us up to God in prayer while we slumber unaware of their efforts. Perhaps their prayers draw God's attention to us who are in need, just as I drew the attention of the nursing staff to my hospital roommate.
As you go to bed tonight, realize that around the world, women and men are arising from sleep and lifting your needs up to God in prayer. In gratitude for that ministry, I pray Vigils with them. I admit I do not pray at this hour as frequently as our sisters and brothers in abbeys pray. But when I awake in the middle of the night, I join them in prayer. I hope you will join them too.