CHAPTER IX. How many Psalms are to be said at the Night Hours
11 Feb. 12 June. 12 Oct.
In winter time, after beginning with the verse, “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me,” with the Gloria, let the words, “O Lord, Thou wilt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise,” be next repeated thrice; then the third Psalm, with a Gloria, after which the ninety-fourth Psalm is to be said or sung, with an antiphon. Next let a hymn follow, and then six Psalms with antiphons. These being said, and also a versicle, let the Abbot give the blessing and, all being seated, let three lessons be read by the brethren in turns, from the book on the lectern. Between the lessons let three responsories be sung – two of them without a Gloria, but after the third let the reader say the Gloria: and as soon as he begins it, let all rise from their seats out of honour and reverence to the Holy Trinity. Let the divinely inspired books, both of the Old and New Testaments, be read at the Night-Office, and also the commentaries upon them written by the most renowned, orthodox and Catholic Fathers. After these three lessons with their responsories, let six more Psalms follow, to be sung with an Alleluia. Then let a lesson from the Apostle be said by heart, with a verse and the petition of the Litany, that is, Kyrie eleison. And so let the Night-Office come to an end.
Chapter IX is more than an order of Divine Service; in it Saint Benedict evokes a spirit of profound reverence. The whole Chapter breathes the virtue of religion. Saint Benedict says, “Let the reader say the Gloria: and as soon as he begins it, let all rise from their seats out of honour and reverence to the Holy Trinity”. Honour and reverence in the presence of the Divine Majesty characterise the Benedictine way: no detail of our corporate worship is insignificant. Nothing is done in a routine or hurried manner. Our gestures in choir must be generous, and grand, and at the same time, humble and sober.
The first Office of the day — intoned in the pre–dawn darkness — sets the tone for the rest of day. When Matins is celebrated calmly and with recollection, the day is begun well. The atmosphere of prayer is established. Monastic prayer is not something switched on and off eight times a day, beginning with Matins. Prayer is the atmosphere of our life. One enters the monastery in response to the invitation of Our Lord to “pray always and never lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
The Hours of the Divine Office, beginning with Matins, are those moments of the day and night when the fire that glows beneath the embers blazes up. Together we tend the fire lest at any time, by reason of human weakness, or weariness, or negligence, it should be extinguished. The Divine Office is not, first of all, a service that offers hope and comfort to men, even though it does this. It is not even, first of all, an act of intercession, by which we obtain from God an outpouring of graces for the Church and for the world, even though it is this. Much less is it a kind of historical and cultural treasure, the loss of which would impoverish the world. The Divine Office is, first of all, an act of the virtue of religion. It is a corporate work by which we give God the worship due to Him alone. Rightly do we sing at the end of Matins on Sundays and feasts:
Te decet laus, te decet hymnus;
tibi gloria Deo Patri, et Filio,cum Sancto Spiritu
in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
To Thee belongeth praise, to Thee belongeth hymns,
to Thee be glory: to God the Father and the Son, with the Holy Ghost,
forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Saint Thomas reviews various ways of understanding the virtue of religion. Some hold that the word religion comes from the verb relegere, which means to go over again in reading or in reciting. Given the importance of repetition in acts of religion, this is entirely plausible. Saint Augustine suggests that the word religion comes from the verb reeligere, which means to choose over again. (The antonym of reeligere is negligere, meaning to despise or neglect. The irreligious man despises God and neglects the duty of worship.) This etymology is also plausible, given that we express our religion in choosing to repeat certain ritual actions over and over again. Others find the root of religion in the verb religare, which means to bind together. This too is fitting, given that we bind ourselves to God by acts of religion. The Angelic Doctor concludes:
However, whether religion take its name from frequent reading, or from a repeated choice of what has been lost through negligence, or from being a bond, it denotes properly a relation to God. For it is He to Whom we ought to be bound as to our unfailing principle; to Whom also our choice should be resolutely directed as to our last end; and Whom we lose when we neglect Him by sin, and should recover by believing in Him and confessing our faith. (II, II, q. 81, art. 1)
Saint Thomas also explains that the word religious is fittingly given to men who, leaving the world, vow themselves to God in the monastic life:
Although the name “religious” may be given to all in general who worship God, yet in a special way religious are those who consecrate their whole life to the Divine worship, by withdrawing from human affairs. (II, II, q. 81, art. 1)
A monk rises before dawn and makes his way to the Oratory to worship God: this is an act of the virtue of religion. This act of the virtue of religion — an act of worship directed to God alone — redounds however to the benefit of the Church and of the world. The Church and the world have a perpetual need of our prayer. A monastery is a hearth of prayer radiating fire and light. In Ireland there is a tradition that sees the hearth, wherein the fire is kept burning, as a kind of sacred place, even in the humblest cottage. Whenever the fires of ceaseless prayer are not tended, the world becomes a dark and cold place. So long as there are monks rising before dawn to tend the fire of prayer, souls will not perish in the cold of a materialistic and godless world.
Finally, the Divine Office is an act of reparation. When we assemble in choir, we represent all who have grown indifferent to the virtue of religion, or who neglect or despise the worship of God, living as if God did not exist. God, in His infinite mercy, is pleased to receive from us the worship that others refuse Him, not because we are, in any way, better than these, but because He so loves both us and them, that He allows us to supply for them, and allows them to benefit from the worship that we, out of our poverty, and only by His grace, offer in their name as well as in our own.