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


TO THE WORK OF GOD OR TO MEALS

 

March 22, 

At the hour of Divine Office let each one, as soon as he hears the signal, lay aside whatever he may be engaged with and respond with all speed, yet also with gravity, that no occasion be given for levity. Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God.

Should anyone come to the Night Office after the "Glória" of the 94th Psalm - which for this reason we wish to be said very deliberately and slowly - let him not stand in choir in his usual place, but in the lowest place, or in a place which the Abbot may have set apart for such negligent ones, until at the completion of the Office he may do penance by public satisfaction.  We have thought that these should stand in the lowest place, or apart from the others for this reason, that, being seen by all, they may be brought by very shame to a sense of duty.  Moreover, if they should remain outside the oratory, there might be someone who would either return to bed and sleep, or else sit outside and give himself to idle talk and thus furnish occasion to the Evil One.  Let him enter, therefore, that he may not miss the entire Office, and may amend for the future.

At the day hours, if one should come to the work of God after the Verse and the "Glória " of the first psalm that is said after the Verse, let him stand in the last place, as we have ordered above; and let him not presume to join himself to the choir in their chanting until he has made satisfaction, unless, perhaps, the Abbot may give him permission to do so; but even then, he is to make satisfaction for his fault.

 

Before addressing late-comers, St Benedict begins this chapter by urging his monks to hasten to the work of God, the liturgy of the hours, communal divine worship.  Here he is defending the office from a certain activism; at the sound of the bell, the monk drops what he is doing, drops his own work, to attend to God’s work.  “Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God.”  If we are mindful of God, a signal to go to the Divine Office is not an interruption.  We are not the work we do; we are children of God and to stop work is to recall this. The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the hours, prayed seven times a day, is like the Sabbath, the seventh day, for the Hebrews.  It is a reminder of God’s lordship. One who believes in God’s providence and presence is able to let the world go for one day every week, to rely on God to maintain the world and take care of his people.  Benedictines are able to leave work, even work of importance to the monastery, several times a day to appear with the community gathered in God’s presence. 

“Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God”: This formula also echoes one of the tools of good works in Chapter 4: “Let nothing be preferred to Christ.”  For the Benedictine, our love of Christ is expressed by our life of continual prayer of which the Office is the principle act and most sure support.  The liturgy makes present the mystery of Christ  


CHAPTER 42:  

THAT NO ONE MAY SPEAK AFTER COMPLINE

March 21, 

Monks ought to have a zeal for silence at all times, but especially during the hours of the night.  Therefore at all times, whether on days of fasting or on other days, let this be the rule: if it is not a fast day, as soon as they have risen from supper, let them all assemble together and let one read the Conferences or Lives of the Fathers, or indeed anything else that may serve to edify the hearers; but not the Heptateuch, or the Books of Kings, for it would not be of profit to those of weak understanding to hear those parts of Scripture at that hour; at other times, however, they may be read.

If it is a fast day, then shortly after Vespers let them assemble for the reading, as we have said.  Four or five pages are to be read, or as much at the time allows, so that during the time consumed by this reading all even such as may be occupied in some work assigned them - may come together.  All, therefore, being assembled, let them say Compline; and on coming out from Compline no one shall be allowed thereafter to speak to anyone.  But if one is found to have violated this rule of silence, let him be subjected to severe punishment - unless the presence of guests make it necessary, or, perhaps, the Abbot give one a command.  But even this must be done becomingly and with all gravity and moderation.

The night silence, or great silence, after compline is as old as monasticism itself.  Already we find St Pachomius in the early 4th century prescribing it in his rules. Night is a time of particular intimacy with the Lord.  Indeed in Scripture  there exists a sort of genealogy of nights, from the night of Abraham  (Gen 12-21) which revealed his future descendants, to Jacob’s night (Gen 28) when he wrestled with God and  Solomon’s night  when the Lord visited him in a dream right up to the night of the nativity (Lk 2:8) and the O vere beata nox night of Easter and the eschatological night which will be broken by a great cry: “At midnight, behold the bridegroom comes, go out to meet him” (Mt 25:6).  Night is a privileged time for silence in monasteries, a privilege moment when the monk is more turned towards God, a moment of God’s special nearness and presence.