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


CHAPTER 11:

How the Night Office is to be said on Sundays

 

June 14,

On Sundays let the brethren rise earlier for the Night Office, in which the following order is to be observed: six psalms and a verse having been said, as we have above prescribed, and all being seated at their places in their proper order, let four lessons with their responsories be read from the lectionary, as we have said above; and to the last responsory only let the reader add the "Gloria," which when he begins, let all reverently rise.  After these lessons, six other psalms follow in order, with their antiphons and a verse as before; thereafter, four more lessons are to be read, with their responsories, in the manner above prescribed.  Next, let three canticles from the prophets be said, as the Abbot shall appoint.  These canticles are to be sung with an Alleluia.  Then, a verse having been said and the Abbot having given the blessing, let four lessons be read from the New Testament as above directed.  After the fourth responsory let the Abbot begin the hymn, "Te Deum."  Which hymn being said, the Abbot will read a lesson from the Gospel, while all stand in reverence and awe, and at the end let all answer, "Amen."  The Abbot will then intone the hymn, "Te decet laus"; and after the blessing has been given, let them begin Lauds.

This order for the Night Office is always to be observed on Sunday, in summer as well as in winter, unless perhaps the brethren rise too late (which God forbid), for then some of the lessons or responsories would have to be shortened.  Let all care, however, be taken that this does not happen; but if it should, let him through whose neglect it may have come to pass make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.

 

Apart from the celebration of the Eucharist, the oldest of the Sunday services is the Vigil.  The chief Vigil office, and the one most fervently celebrated has always been the Easter vigil. In the beginning this vigil occupied the whole night. In imitation of the Easter vigil, various churches developed the practice of beginning certain solemnities with a vigil--the Nativity of Christ and Pentecost foremost among them.  In like manner, the anniversaries of saints when celebrated at their tombs and pilgrimages were traditionally marked by vigils. Monks have always engaged in daily nocturnal prayer.

 

Each vigil is a celebration of the paschal mystery. The Easter vigil is anticipated and re-lived every day at Vigils. And the paschal Vigil and the celebration of Easter is liturgically the point of reference for everything, the meaning of the whole Christian life.  It takes place in the hours of darkness, expressing the monks' watchfulness and longing for God; the monk is awake and praying while most people in the outside world are asleep. The vigils experience is one of listening, hoping, longing for the deifying light which will illuminate us.   We are the  watchman waiting for the dawn so that we can share our hope with others who see  no sign of the sun rising.  Monks and nuns have always made the lines of Isaiah 62:6 their own. “Upon your walls O Jerusalem I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never silent.”  We watch and keep alert, praying to God so that we can live in the darkness of the night without being part of that darkness.

 

The Night Office says: even when it is dark one may encounter God and praise him; even in the dark we may meet God.  In our night praise we are claiming that even now in the night the Lord of life comes to meet us.