Enlarging the Heart

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 18: IN WHAT ORDER THE PSALMS ARE TO BE SAID Feb 21, First of all, at the day hours let this verse always be said: "Deus in adiutórium meum inténde; Dómine ad adiuvándum me festína," and the "Gloria Patri." Then the hymn proper to each Hour. (O God come to my aid, O Lord make haste to help me). At Prime on Sunday four sections of the 118th Psalm are to be said. At the other hours, that is, at Terce, Sext, and None, let three sections each of the same psalm be said. At Prime on Monday let three psalms be said: namely, the 1st , 2nd, and 6th. And thus three psalms are to be said at Prime each day until Sunday, in order up to the 19th; the 9th and the 17th, however, are divided into two sections, each followed by the "Gloria Patri," so that the Night Office on Sunday may always begin with the 20th Psalm.

This chapter gives a list of the psalms to be said throughout the day. As we have seen, the essence, the substance, the heart of the divine office is today, as everywhere in the beginning, psalmody, that is the recitation and singing of the psalms. The importance given to this practice by monastic tradition cannot be overemphasised. Whether a monk lived as a solitary hermit or belonged to a monastic community, the psalms were never far from his mind or lips. The Palestinian abbot, Epiphanius, expressed the monastic ideal in this way: "It is necessary for the true monk to have prayer and psalmody always in his heart" (Epiph. 3). Cassian from his stay in Egypt insisted that the training of monks in prayer and their training in the knowledge and recitation of the psalms were one and the same thing. Memorisation of the Psalter was a virtually universal monastic requirement, one imposed on the monk as soon as he committed himself to the ascetic life (Pachomius, Praecepta 49), and many other early monastic rules. Once committed to memory the psalms were ever ready, on hand for prayer and the exercise known as meditatio, ruminatio, the constant slow chewing over of scriptural passages aloud.

CHAPTER 17: HOW MANY PSALMS ARE TO BE SAID AT THESE HOURS Feb 20, 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 Feb 19, 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.

CHAPTER 15: AT WHICH TIMES OF THE YEAR ALLELUIA IS TO BE SAID Feb 18 , From the holy feast of Easter until Pentecost, without interruption, let Alleluia be said both with the psalms and with the responsories. But from Pentecost until the beginning of Lent, on weekdays it is to be said with the last six psalms of the Night Office only. On all Sundays, however, outside Lent, let the canticles at Vigils and the Psalms at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext and None be said with Alleluia; but Vespers with antiphons. The responsories, however, are never to be said with Alleluia except from Easter to Pentecost.

One of the climaxes of the Paschal Vigil takes place when the chantress breaks into the sublime Easter Alleluia, with the choir replying; the exchange is repeated three times, each time with more joy and confidence. The Alleluia, suspended during Lent, is now solemnly restored. "Alleluia," wrote the Benedictine Abbot Rupert of Deutz, "is like a stranger amidst our other words. Its mysterious beauty is as though a drop of heaven's overflowing joy had fallen down on our earth." By taking away the Alleluia during Lent, Dom Guéranger tells us, the Church is telling us that we are in Babylon, we are pilgrims absent from our Lord, that our hearts and lips must first be cleansed before we can take up again this "song of heaven." The suspension of the Alleluia, he insists, is "one of the principal and most solemn incidents" in the Church's liturgical year (The Liturgical Year: Vol. IV, Septuagesima).

CHAPTER 14: HOW THE NIGHT OFFICE IS TO BE SAID ON FESTIVALS OF THE SAINTS Feb 17, On the festivals of the Saints and all other solemnities, let the Night Office be celebrated as we have prescribed for Sunday, except that the psalms, antiphons, and lessons be said which are proper to the day. The quantity, however, shall remain the same as already appointed.

This chapter reminds us that the liturgy is connected with holiness. One of the signs that Mass or the Liturgy of the hours has been celebrated well is that it gives rise to the desire to pray, to savour the sweetness of what has taken place, to remain without words in the presence of the living God. The goal of prayer is union with God; in the liturgy, in the sacraments, above all in the Eucharist, God gives us all the objective conditions we need for union with him, all the means we need for attainment of that end. The whole life of prayer is a deepening and realization of Eucharistic communion with Christ. On our side, of course, we must produce the necessary subjective conditions, for it is in this co-operation that union is realized. The object of this prayer is contemplation of mysteries of Christ. The liturgical year is centred on Christ and his saving mysteries that he might be formed in us. Our liturgical celebrations arise directly out of the mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ and they are part of the very means by which we enter into that mystery. The liturgy, says Dom Delatte, imprints on our souls the image of the Son who transforms us and reconciles us to the Father. St Benedict called the liturgy the Work of God, meaning not only the work we do for God but even more the work God does on us, a saving, purifying, sanctifying work. That is why the liturgy is a means of continual spiritual growth, the ever-renewed conferring of grace. "We are sanctified by our praise," wrote Dom Delatte, "and we are sanctified for praise."

 

©SBVM 2013