die ac nocte meditantes – Meditate Day and Night
“meditating on the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers”
This is the heart of the Carmelite Rule.
. . . to meditate on the law of the Lord
. . . watching in prayers
These two phrases are really synonymous. There is a bit of parallelism in them in the way they correspond to each other. Keeping in mind the end for which the Rule was written – that is, contemplation, what does it mean “to meditate” , and moreover, “day and night on the law of the Lord”?
The law, taken literally, would be the law of Moses: the Ten Commandments. A second look, especially in considering where these phrases were taken, will give a deeper meaning and understanding as to what is being asked.
The first phrase “to meditate on the law of the Lord” is taken from Psalm 119 which praises the law of God. The psalmist expresses admiration of the law and desires to observe, to meditate and to fulfill it.
To accomplish the law which is loved
With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commands.~ Ps 119:10
To exert myself mentally on the law
Give me insight to observe your teaching, to keep it with all my heart. ~Ps 119: 34
To be occupied in keeping it
I will keep your teachings always, for all time and forever. ~ Ps 119: 44
To analyze it
I have examined my ways and turned my steps to your decrees. ~Ps 119: 59
To scrutinize it
Even at night I remember your name in observance of your teaching, LORD. ~ Ps 119: 55
and to see its moral value
May I be wholehearted toward your laws, that I may not be put to shame. ~ Ps 119: 80
To meditate on the law means to fulfill the law. How do we do this? By going to the Scriptures where the truth is found. The Scriptures make excellent matter for our prayer. Rather than going to other sources (words of men), St. Teresa of Jesus highly recommends the Word of God as a first choice for our reading (meditating). Frequent meditation on the Scriptures is a way to nourish the soul, to possess the truth and to live by it.
Now the second phrase “watching in prayers” will complete the first and will focus our attention on it -”to meditate on the law of the Lord”.
To always pray and to not lose heart (Lk 18:1-8) this was the Master’s command. St. Paul further exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1Thes 5:17). To pray and to watch – this is how we are to understand this precept of the Rule. Our Lord taught us how we are to pray- “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Mt 6:6). In silence and solitude we are to pray to our Father. Our Lord, Jesus, gives us the formula which begins with an act of love…
“Our Father in heaven…”
But the word “prayers” is in the plural, which for our Rule will be taken as vocal prayer, liturgical prayer, mental prayer, meditation and contemplation. Next, we need to consider “watching”, that would be continually. Obviously, this is not to mean a physical continuity. No one can be asked to do that not even in a convent. It would even be impossible to do so mentally, to try to do so would be mentally strenuous.
The emphasis should be to understand it as a moral continuity where one’s soul is occupied with God, recollected often. If one occupies itself with prayer faithful to the hours and times of prayer and seeks to be recollected, one will arrive at this continuity.