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 17:

How many psalms are to be said at these Hours

Oct 21

We have already arranged the order of the psalms for the Night Office and for Lauds; let us now arrange the remaining Hours.  At Prime let three psalms be said separately and not under one "Gloria." The hymn of this Hour is to be said after the verse,  "Deus in adiutorium meum intende," before the psalms are begun.  At the end of the three psalms let one lesson be recited, a verse, the Kyrie eleison, and the concluding prayer, with which the Hour ends.

Terce, Sext, and None are to be celebrated in the same way: that is, the verse, the hymn proper to each Hour, the three psalms, the lesson, the verse, the Kyrie eleison, with concluding prayer.  If the community is large, let the psalms be said with antiphons; but if small, let them be said directly.

Let the Office of Vespers consist of 4 psalms with antiphons.  After the psalms a lesson is to be recited; then the responsory, the hymn, the verse, the canticle of the Gospel, the Litany, the Lord's Prayer, and the concluding prayer, with which this Office ends.

Compline consists of three psalms, to be said directly and without an antiphon.  After these psalms follow the hymn proper to that Hour, a lesson, a verse, the Kyrie eleison, the blessing with concluding prayer.

 

 

After arranging the office of Lauds and Vigils, he now turns to the remaining hours of the day. Each office has its own special character.  Between Lauds and the evening service, called Vespers, there are four short services, known as the "little Hours" which take their names from the Roman hours of the day at which they take place, counting from the rising sun at 6..  Prime at the first hour of the day, after Lauds, at 7.30; Terce at the third hour (9.15); Sext at the sixth hour, at midday, for us at 12.45; None at the ninth hour, about 3pm.  The little hours last about ten minutes each, and they serve to punctuate the day with prayer.  But the hymns, short lessons and prayers of these hours also recall the passion of the Lord, who according to tradition was crucified at the third hour and died at the ninth.

 

As evening comes on, the monks celebrate the office of Vespers, which gives thanks for the day and calls God's blessing on all our works, and also recalls the Lord’s “evening sacrifice”.

 

When darkness falls, we pray the last office of the day, Compline; it has the quiet and intimate character of bedtime prayer. According to ancient monastic custom, the great night silence begins after Compline and lasts until Mass the next day.  The Cistercians popularised the custom of greeting the blessed Virgin Mary at the end of Compline.  In the 13th c this was widely adopted by all monastics.


CHAPTER 16:   HOW THE WORK OF GOD

IS TO BE CELEBRATED IN THE DAYTIME

Oct 20

As the prophet says, "Seven times in the day I have given praise to Thee," so we shall observe this sacred number of seven if at the hour of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline we fulfil the duties of our service.  For it was of these hours that the Prophet said: "Seven times in the day I have given praise to Thee."  Of the Night Office the same Prophet said: "At midnight I arose to give praise to Thee."  Therefore, at these times let us give praise to our Creator for the judgments of His justice: that is, at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; and at night let us rise to give praise to Him.

 

The Office is something we do for God’s sake, to praise him: Seven times a day have I given praise to you.  This is the keynote of St Benedict's conception of the Office: it is praise and we offer this praise seven times a day and once at night: media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi (In the middle of the night I rose to give you praise).

 

Seven is the number of completeness.  In the seven days of creation, the whole of God’s work is brought to perfection; the seven sacraments impart to us the whole of God’s salvation in Christ.  Praying to God seven times a day is the expression of the dedication of the whole day to God.  Seven also means many, pushing towards infinity.  The real point of the injunction to pray seven times a day is to pray always, to support continual prayer.  For Benedictines, the Divine Office, like our interior prayer, establishes a continual relationship between the human heart and God.