Why St. Benedict advised his monks to keep their prayers brief

Above all things St. Benedict wanted his monks to be authentic.

St. Benedict, known as the “Father of Western Monasticism,” formulated a specific Rule for monks to follow in the 6th century. In it, he advises his monks to keep their prayers short.

Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.

This does not imply that monks shouldn’t pray for long periods of time, as Benedictine monks pause for the recitation of the Psalms at least seven times throughout the day.

According to one Benedictine commentary, “After saying a prayer, then a person prayed in the heart and this was considered ‘prayer.’ So in some of the early traditions, after each Psalm there was a short period for this spontaneous cry from the heart to the Lord. It is this type of prayer that must be kept short and pure – and not prolonged because it really cannot be prolonged. Attempts to prolong such prayer are usually just show and not reality.”

St. Benedict wanted his monks to pray from their hearts and not to pray to gain attention from others. As he wrote in the same Rule, “We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words.”

In this way, St. Benedict’s Rule not only applies to prayers said in public, but also in our private prayers said in the comfort of our own home. Prayer should not be focused on length, but on the heart.

God desires to hear the prayers that come from the deepest recesses of our hearts. When we do this, we invite God into our lives and allow him to probe our deepest wounds. He is the “Divine Physician,” and can he heal the brokenness only when we reveal our heart to him.

Let’s take St. Benedict’s advice and focus our prayer on authenticity and not on how many words they contain.

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