CHAPTER XIV. How the Night-Office is to Be Said on Saints’ Days17 Feb. 18 June. 18 Oct.
On the Festivals of Saints, and all other solemnities, let the Office be ordered as we have prescribed for Sundays: except that the Psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said. Their number, however, shall remain as we have appointed above.
Festivals of the Saints
Saint Benedict distinguishes the festivals of saints from “other solemnities”, presumably those of the Lord. In Saint Benedict’s day there were far fewer festivals of saints than there are in the present liturgical calendar. Saint Benedict’s monks would have known the most ancient festivals of the Mother of God on January 1st and August 15th. They would have celebrated the feast of Saint John the Baptist, of the Apostles, of the greater martyrs and of local ones, and of some confessors such as, for example, Saint Martin of Tours.
Oratories and Relics
Saint Benedict’s first act upon arriving at Monte Cassino in 529 was to destroy the idol and altar that he found in the there in the temple dedicated to Apollo. On that site he built a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and an oratory dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. This indicates that Saint Benedict already celebrated the liturgical cultus of these two monastic saints. Saint Benedict’s liturgical devotion to the saints appears in Chapter LVIII, on the reception of new brethren, where he alludes to “the saints whose relics are in the altar.”
Ordering the Night Office
Saint Benedict orders that the Night Office of the festivals of saints be celebrated with proper psalms, antiphons, and lessons, while keeping the order established for Sundays. This detail reveals a keen sensitivity to the liturgical cultus of the saints, and to the already high development of the choral Office celebrated by Saint Benedict and his monks. With the progressive enrichment of the sanctoral cycle, it became necessary to devise various ways of ranking the festivals of saints, and of ordering their celebration. Over time this gave rise to the current practices by which certain greater festivals are marked by a complete proper Office, or by one taken from the Common suited to the particular saint, whereas on other days, only the invitatory antiphon, hymn, lesson, responsory, and collect would be of the saint.
Benedictine Devotion to the Saints
Our Lord would not have us journey on earth without heavenly companions. First of all, through the liturgical calendar and, then, through an interplay of affinities and attractions, Our Lord engages us in conversation, in spiritual exchanges, and in real friendship with the saints. More often than not, it happens that, by circumstances that appear random or coincidental, a saint presents himself or herself to us to offer us friendship and assistance. Know, too, that there exist in the communion of the saints what I can only call families of souls; these are marked by a shared affinity, by the distinctive traits of their spiritual physiognomy. Our Lord would have us find in the saints a true friendship, a friendship that is all pure, a friendship that does not disappoint. Through the saints and by their intercession for us before the glorious Face of Christ, we can hope, at length, to make our way through this valley of tears to be with Him in glory. Our Lord asked this for us on the night before He suffered:
Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world.(John 17:24)
Benedictine piety has long been characterised by an affective and effective devotion to the saints. For a taste of this one has only to read the prayers of Saint Anselm addressed to Our Lady, Saint Mary, to Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist, Stephen, Nicholas, Benedict, and Mary Magdalene. (See The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, translated by Benedicta Ward, Penguin Books, 1973). In her introduction to The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, Benedicta Ward writes: “What Anselm honours in each of the saints is what God has done in them, and that is the basis on which he asks their prayers”. Later, one finds Saint Gertrude the Great addressing the saints and living the daily round of liturgical prayer in their company. In the nineteenth century, Dom Guéranger’s Liturgical Year is rich in prayers to the saints of the day. By writing some prayers in the form of the popular Italian supplica, I have tried, from the beginning of our monastery, to make the invocation of the saints and the veneration of their relics and images a characteristic element of our life. God forbid that any one of us should hold himself aloof from the companionship of the saints. Invoke the saints frequently, seek from them the help you need in your struggles. You will, in this regard, want, first of all, to make use of the liturgical collect of the saint. In heaven the saints will be glad for having helped us make our way to the throne of God and of the Lamb.
The Companionship of the Saints
An authentic Benedictine piety delights in the cultus of the saints, of their relics, and of their altars. I remember being moved, in my monastic youth, by the simple devotion of monks who, inspired by the old Cluniac devotion, would go, either before Matins or after Compline, in pilgrimage, as it were, from altar to altar, and from image to image, honouring the saints and seeking their intercession. One does well, from the very beginning of one’s monastic life, to develop the habit of never passing before the image of a saint without asking, however briefly, for that saint’s intercession.
And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)