Chapter Sixteen

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The hours of the work of God during the day.

‘The words of the psalm are: I have uttered your praises seven times during the day. We shall fulfil that sacred number of seven if at the times of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline we perform the duty of our service to God, because it was of these day hours that the psalm said: I have uttered your praises seven times during the day. About the night Vigil that same psalm says: In the middle of the night I arose to praise you. And so at these times let us offer praise to our creator because of his justice revealed in his judgements – that is at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline and in the night let us arise to praise Him.’

 

The full round of monastic offices, as Benedict shows, is deeply rooted in the Psalms, of which we have already seen through the previous chapters how much importance the Holy Father places upon that set of texts. Benedict, for his Rule, was inheriting these times of day from earlier monastic documents, such as those laid down by S. Basil the Great as he attempted to bring some order to the early cenobitic communities.

Structured times of the day and night for prayer may, for some people, at first feel suffocating. It is often the criticism levelled at churches and communities that gather around a more liturgical structure from those that do not. Why do I need particular times and words to pray? We are creatures of habit, we form ritual because that is a natural aspect of being human – it is part of the way we order ourselves in society. If we were to rely upon our own self for a disciplined prayer life, we may well start strong, we may last for a good amount of time – but the pressures of life, the commitments we have to family, work, friends and many other things eventually take over and because prayer is not seen as quantifiable or tangible it is often, sadly, the first thing to go. Prayer on our own (although in the true understanding we are never alone in prayer) falls into second place before time spent with another person, or in a meeting or something that is concrete and solid in the diary.

Secondly, if we rely solely upon ourselves to order our prayer life without some form of structure it will vary from week to week depending upon our mood and inclination. We may well have very long dry spells where we simply don’t pray – as well as the occasional oasis where our prayer life is lush. This is not consistent and in the long term it is not sustainable or good for the soul.

The seven times of daily prayer in the monastic system punctuate the practical work of the monk – for Benedict it was the way in which prayer became something that a whole life was soaked in, not just the gathering at these times, but a life long endeavour. For Benedict and his brothers and sisters work is prayer and prayer is work – through this trellis of prayer the heart is orientated to God daily, it does not depend upon your mood or inclination, it becomes like breathing – something that you simply could not do without. Gathering at these particular times develops a habit making prayer second nature and keeping you accountable to the community that you are part of and to God Himself.

We are, as Christians, to offer ourselves fully to God, to follow Him with our whole lives and not just a part of it. These times of monastic prayer would not be enough on their own, as they would still just be a bit here and a bit there, but taken as the structure and to accompany the rest of the work of the Christian life, they are the fertile ground in which the soul may grow with the seeds that planted from the daily reading of Gods words and watered with communing with the Holy Spirit.

To pray without ceasing does not mean an endless stream of words – but a life lived in true orientation to God.

Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen

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Chapter Fourteen
The Celebration of Vigils on feasts of saints

‘On the feasts of saints and on all other solemnities Vigils should follow the order laid down for the celebration of Sunday except that the psalms, antiphons and readings that are appropriate to the day should be recited; the order of the liturgy itself remains the same as that described for Sunday.

This liturgical practice of marking saints days shows the importance attached to those that have fought the good fight and finished the race. The picture above shows some of the saints of the Benedictine order. St Benedict himself is stood at the back on the left hand side, nose buried deep in a book (probably The Rule which carries his name) and his twin sister, Scholastica, the founder of the female branch of the the Benedictine order can be seen at the back on the far right,

Using the Sunday pattern for Saints shows that they are given, for their special feast day, the honour of having the same liturgy that is used for the celebration of Christ Himself. Sundays cannot be fast days, even when they fall in Lent, and therefore the Saints days have the same rule. It is not just the Benedictine saints that would be celebrated in this manner, but all saints that have some sort of connection. It could be a saint that a monk is named after, or a saint that the monastery, chapel or convent itself is named after. It could be the saint of birth or other significant date in the life of the individual. (My birthday is on the ‘Dedication of the Lateran Basilica’ in the Roman Calendar and the mystic Margery Kempe in the Anglican Calendar) 

The saints are our example and to honour them on their special feast is a part of the devotion of the church, that we might have their prayers and assistance as we strive to become saints in our own right.

 

Chapter 15
When the Alleluia should be said

‘From the Holy Feast of Easter until Pentecost the Alleluia must always be said in the psalms and the responsories. From Pentecost until the beginning of Lent it is said only with the last six psalms in the night office. On every Sunday outside Lent, however, the alleluia is included in Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext and None, but at Vespers an antiphon is intoned instead. The alleluia is never added to the responsories except from Easter to Pentecost.’

The Rule makes clear how the change of words used within the liturgy reflect the rhythm of the calendar of the church, the seasons and subsequently where the focus is placed. In the celebratory season from Easter Day to Pentecost the Alleluia is used liberally in the psalms. This is the time of the year that we celebrate the risen Christ, His victory over death and the powers of darkness and our being reunited with the Father. The Alleluia repeated as frequently as it is in this part of the calendar is our victory song.

As the season shifts following Pentecost the celebration does not die away but the focus changes. It is almost as though the party has slowed down a little in order that we might get on with the work (not for a moment suggesting that the liturgical rigour of the Easter season is not the work of God) 

The Alleluia as a song of praise is best suited to the Easter season and when our minds are especially focused upon the resurrection, hence the provision that Benedict makes for Sundays outside of Lent when we gather at the altar on the Lord’s day to meet Him in word and sacrament, to recall His death and glorious resurrection again.

This is all part of the deepening of the liturgical ritual of the church so that it may soak into our very being so that in all our thoughts, words, and deeds God is praised. That our very life whispers Alleluia wherever we go as people of the resurrection.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

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Laudes on ordinary days

On ordinary days Lauds should be celebrated like this: the sixty sixth psalm should be said with its antiphon but rather slowly, as on Sunday, to make sure that all are present for the fiftieth psalm which is said with its antiphon. Two other psalms are said after that according to the usual arrangement, namely: on Monday the fifth and thirty fifth; on Tuesday the forty second and fifty sixth; on Wednesday the sixty third and sixty fourth; on Thursday the eighty seventh and eighty ninth; on Friday the seventy fifth and ninety first; on Saturday the one hundred and forty second and the canticle from Deuteronomy divided into two sections with the Gloria following each section.

On the other days a canticle is recited from the prophets on the days allotted by the Roman Church. Then comes the Laudate psalms of praise, a reading from the apostle recited by heart, a responsory, an Ambrosian hymn, a versicle, the Benedictus, the litany and conclusion. 

The precise nature of the way the office if ordered is an on going theme in these present chapters. What struck me most about this particular set of instructions for the ordinary celebration of Lauds was the command to say the first psalm (Sixty Six) slowly so that every one is present in time for Psalm Fifty. Psalm Fifty recalls the mighty acts of God and is a psalm of repentance for the people of Israel. That this psalm is said daily at Lauds indicates Benedict’s clear intention that his monks and nuns should praise God with their repentance, reminding each of them that they need to make amends for those times when they have strayed from the path.

This dovetails nicely with the sixty sixth psalm, which which Lauds begins each day, which is a psalm of praise. To begin each office of Lauds with praise is a way of recalibrating oneself toward God, to be reminded that our primary purpose (not just those in Religious Life, but all Christians) is to praise God Almighty. This daily process of recalling praise and then being drawn to confess our sinfulness in the next psalm helps to focus our lives in His Pattern.

It is important that the celebration of Lauds and Vespers should never be concluded without the recitation by the superior of the whole of the Lord’s prayer so that all may hear and attend to it. This is because of the harm that is often done in a community by the thorns of conflict which can arise. Bound by the very words of that prayer ‘forgive us as we also forgive’ they will be cleansed from the stain of such evil. At the other offices only the ending of the Lord’s prayer is said aloud so that all may respond ‘but deliver us from evil’

The Lord’s prayer is one of those liturgical elements that we know well. Those of us that are not in Religious Life but are in the habit (or duty) of praying the Daily Office will say it at least twice a day. You can also probably remember it even if you are not a regular church-goer – from those school days in big halls chanting in unison with your fellow pupils. They say that familiarity breeds contempt and I certainly think that can be the case. Because we are so familiar with these words I think they often become automatic, that we say them, but we do not often pray them. Do we mean what we say?

Here Benedict is drawing our attention to a very particular part of that prayer. We are asking God that we should be forgiven as we forgive. Just pause on that for a moment. If you truly forgive someone then you have nothing to worry about, you have asked to be forgiven in the same way. If you bear that grudge, or don’t really embrace forgiveness in anything other than lip service – is that what you want for yourself, from God? We have to mean these words – really mean them.

In community there are always going to be differences of opinion, method, lifestyle. Even when ordered and orientated around the same Rule and the same goal. The intense nature of sharing proximity and life with other people will lead to friction. You have all seen it in your families, in your friendship groups, in your churches and the monastic community is no different. Those words of the Lord’s prayer cannot simply be something that we parrot back as part of the liturgy. They must be the lived words of Jesus Christ residing within us that we may surrender to the will of God, that we may forgive our brothers and sisters (as well as those who don’t ask for or even, in the eyes of the secular world, deserve forgiveness) because that is what Jesus taught us when He was asked how we could pray.

Father forgive us – forgive our complacency, our failure, our weakness, our deliberate fault. May we, through the focus on praise and repentance in Lauds turn our lives back toward Him, each morning, afresh.