ENLARGING THE HEART

UPDATE:             1ST January 2015   We now begin a new series of commentaries on the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict (Series 3). We hope this will continue to be a source of spiritual nourishment for you. 


Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict

By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde


"... as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts

   shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments." 

(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)



St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago.  Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a "school of the Lord's service": a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where "authentic Gospel values prevail"(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church.  It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today.

Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.

(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996


Feb 22 , 

At Terce, Sext, and None on Monday three sections respectively of the nine remaining sections of the 118th  Psalm are to be said.  This Psalm having been entirely completed on these two days, that is, on Sunday and Monday, let the nine psalms from the 119th to the 127th be said on Tuesday at Terce, Sext, and None three at each Hour.  And these psalms are to be repeated at the same Hours every day until Sunday, with the hymns, lessons, and verses remaining the same for all these days, so as always to begin on Sunday with the 118th.

 

The psalms are that collection of sacred poetry used by Israel in her public worship and private devotions.  They consist of 150 prayer-poems collected in a single book called the Psalter. Most were probably intended to be sung or accompanied by music; many are brimming with joy and praise of God's goodness; others are full of sorrow and lament or a spirit of contrition.  Some arise from sickness, persecution or misfortune; some are used on weddings or other special occasions. So there is a great variety in the psalms, but they are unified by the fact these poems are prayers, words arising from a believing heart and carrying the events of life before God. In these prayers we are able to see a depth and breadth in Israel's attitude towards her God not present anywhere else in the Bible. In the Bible as a whole, God utters his word to man. With the psalms, it is the other way round; the psalms are man's response to God.  The Psalter is an anticipated response to the Apostle's question, “Lord teach us to pray.”

 

This response reflects the Bible itself.  Just as the Bible contains historical books, so too there are historical psalms; wisdom books and wisdom psalms, prophetic books and prophetic psalms.  Indeed the psalms are the Bible in miniature, the heart of the Bible, the resume of all it contains.  You will find the entire Bible in the psalms, but elevated to poetry and prayer.  They present the inner spiritual life of God's people and reveal to us a soul that in spite of its many imperfections is absolutely God-centred, burning with zeal for God's glory. The psalms teach us “how it is fitting to praise God and in what words fitly to confess Him" (St Athanasius).  For example, elsewhere in Scripture we are exhorted to repent, but it is in the psalms that we find suitable words which give voice to our feelings of sorrow. The psalms in other words do not simply command us to repent of our sins, to bear suffering patiently, or to praise God’s gifts; they actually give us the words by which we can say and do these things for ourselves.


CHAPTER 18:

In what order the psalms are to be said

 

Feb 21, 

First of all, at the day hours let this verse always be said: "Deus in adiutórium meum inténde; Dómine ad adiuvándum me festína," and the "Gloria Patri." Then the hymn proper to each Hour. (O God come to my aid, O Lord make haste to help me).

At Prime on Sunday four sections of the 118th Psalm are to be said.  At the other hours, that is, at Terce, Sext, and None, let three sections each of the same psalm be said.

At Prime on Monday let three psalms be said: namely, the 1st , 2nd, and 6th.  And thus three psalms are to be said at Prime each day until Sunday, in order up to the 19th; the 9th  and the 17th, however, are divided into two sections, each followed by the "Gloria Patri," so that the Night Office on Sunday may always begin with the 20th Psalm.

 

This chapter gives a list of the psalms to be said throughout the day. The essence, the substance, the heart of the divine office is today, as everywhere in the beginning, psalmody, that is the recitation and singing of the psalms.  The monk is called to a life of prayer. The traditional prayer of the monks is the book of psalms, and it has become traditional to think of the monk as one who loves to pray these psalms. This is still true.  The Psalter is the monk's prayer book, and the singing or chanting of the psalms is till basic to the monk's life.

 

The monk's education in prayer will go hand in hand with his assimilation of the psalms.  Indeed, the singing of the psalms can lead to the kind of experience of God that John Cassian in the 4th century called the prayer of fire, fiery prayer:  "Once while I was praying the psalms a verse of it put me in the way of the prayer of fire.  Or sometimes the musical expression of a brother's voice has moved sluggish minds to the most intense prayer.  I have known it to happen that the superiority and the seriousness of someone giving his voice to the psalms has stirred a great onset of zeal in those who were merely bystanders" (Conf 9,26),  Such an experience is of course the fruit of grace and the result of  our own efforts, not something automatic. Nevertheless Cassian insists that liturgical prayer fosters rather than prevents the contemplative experience of God.  The summits of his mysticism are described as a prayer of fire, and this prayer is born of psalmody.   Later on there was a tendency to oppose mental prayer and vocal prayer, or at least to find a problem in the question of their relationship.  Here on the contrary, in monastic tradition we find the most mystical prayer taking its flight from psalmody.

 

The psalmody then is important not only in the sanctification of our whole day, but also in the preparation of our hearts to receive the gift of contemplative prayer.  The singing and recitation of the psalms, the communal singing and recitation of the psalms, far from being a hindrance to contemplative prayer is its natural seedbed in which we rise to the heights of contemplation.  The psalms then are the heart of the Office; the Psalter is both our book of prayer and our school of prayer. The more we grasp the meaning of these inspired prayers, and make them our own personal prayer, the more our mind is lifted up to God and our heart opened to his working.