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39 - The Mass in Monastic Practice: Nuns and Ordained Monks, c. 400–1200

from Part III - The Long Twelfth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2020

Alison I. Beach
Affiliation:
Ohio State University
Isabelle Cochelin
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
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Summary

The earliest monasteries were founded in fourth-century Egypt, Syria, and Palestine as communities of lay men and women, who withdrew to the desert to pursue lives of asceticism and devotion to God. Inspired by the command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), early monks and nuns devoted themselves to prayer and the chanting of the Psalms, whether in their cells (in eremitic communities) or in groups (in cenobitic communities). Early monastic liturgy almost certainly drew on the traditions of urban Christian churches, which had begun to develop public prayer rituals following the conversion of Constantine in 312 and the ensuing legalization of Christianity. Evidence for at least six of the eight hours of the medieval divine office can be found in Eastern sources as early as the fourth century. Prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, and the recitation of the Psalms formed the core of early monastic practice. Celebration of the mass—an essential part of monastic life during the high Middle Ages—does not feature prominently in these early sources.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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