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 59:  OF THE SONS OF THE NOBILITY

OR OF THE POOR WHO ARE OFFERED

 

Dec 13

If perchance any nobleman offer his son to God in the monastery, and the boy himself be of tender years, let the parents make the petition of which we have spoken above.  Then, together with the offerings, let them wrap the petition and the hand of the child in the altar cloth, and so offer him.  As regards their property, they must in the same petition promise under oath that they will never, either themselves or through an intermediary, or in any way whatsoever, give him anything or offer him opportunity of possessing anything.  Or else, if they are unwilling to do this, and desire to offer something as an alms to the monastery for their own merit, let them make a donation of the property which they wish to give to the monastery, reserving for themselves, if they so wish, the income thereof.  By this means every opportunity is to be forestalled for the child to come to any knowledge of how he might have been circumstanced in the world; for because of this knowledge he could be deceived and brought to ruin (which God forbid), as we have learned by experience.

Those who are poorer are to do in like manner. But those who have no property at all shall simply make the petition, and offer their son together with the oblation before witnesses.

 

Although children are no longer offered or dedicated by their parents, this chapter is precious for showing that the profession ceremony took place during Mass. The very word oblata denotes the bread and wine in liturgical language, the sacrificial elements offered by the faithful and consequently the sacrifice itself, the Mass.  The reference to the altar and the altar cloth are also significant.  Dom Delatte in his commentary of the Rule tells us that the principal characteristic of profession is that of oblation.  It is the symbol of self-surrender, sacrifice, the holocaust of oneself. 


Dec 12

Let him who is to be received make in the oratory, in the presence of all, a promise of stability, conversion of manners, and obedience, before God and His saints, so that, if he should ever act contrariwise, he may know that he is to be condemned by Him Whom he mocks.  Let him make a petition of this promise in the name of the Saints whose relics are there, and of the Abbot who is present.  This petition he is to write with his own hand; or, if he is illiterate, let him ask another to write it for him, but the novice himself shall at least put his mark to it; then, with his own hand, let him place it upon the altar.

When he shall have placed it there, let the novice himself immediately begin this verse: "Súscipe me, Dómine, secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam, et non confúndas me ab exspectátione mea" (Receive me, O Lord, as you have promised and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope (Ps 118 [119]: 116). Which verse the entire community will thrice repeat after him, adding thereto the "Glória Patri."  The newly professed brother will then prostrate himself at the feet of all, that they may pray for him; and from that hour let him be counted as one of the community.

If he has any property, let him either first bestow it on the poor, or by a solemn deed of gift make it over to the monastery, keeping nothing at all for himself, as is becoming to one who must know that from that day forward he shall have not even the free use of his own body.  Then forthwith he shall, there in the oratory, be divested of his own garments with which he is clothed and be clad in those of the monastery.  Those garments of which he is divested shall be placed in the wardrobe, there to be kept, so that if, perchance, he should ever be persuaded by the devil to leave the monastery (which God forbid), he may be stripped of the monastic habit and cast forth. The petition, however, which the Abbot receives on the altar, shall not be given back to him, but shall be kept in the monastery.

 

In placing his petition on the altar with his own hand, the novice confides his profession to Christ, gives himself to Christ.  The monk unites himself with Christ's offering.  In a Eucharistic context, monastic profession realizes its full theological significance.  It expresses symbolically the gift that the monk makes of himself to Christ when he places his petition on the altar and sings his Suscipe.  Indeed, the Suscipe recalls the priest's prayer on receiving the gifts. Thus the monk joins his personal oblation to the eucharistic sacrifice, to the Eucharistic offering of Christ to His Father, in union with the assembled community and with the whole Church.  It is to Christ, offering himself to his Father in the Eucharist, that the monk offers and unites himself, presenting his life to the Father.  The monk sacramentally assimilates his own sacrifice to that of Christ.  Associating himself in the death and resurrection of the Lord, the monk becomes "eucharist," as it were.  The Eucharist is the act par excellence of the life of Christ, and we enter into it in a special way not only daily but at our profession.

 

The daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with solemn liturgical beauty, captures the heart of the monastic vocation. St. Benedict says to prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ: where is the love of Christ more clearly shown than in his supreme gift of himself for us on the Cross? In placing his petition on the altar with his own hand, the novice confides his profession to Christ, gives himself to Christ.  The monk unites himself with Christ's offering.