Of those who make mistakes in the Oratory

CHAPTER XLV Of those who make mistakes in the Oratory
25 Mar. 25 July. 24 Nov.

If any one make a mistake in the recitation of Psalm, responsory, antiphon, or lesson, and do not humble himself by making satisfaction there before all, let him be subjected to severer punishment, as one who would not correct by humility what he did wrong through negligence. But children for such faults are to be whipt.

The monk is God’s “own workman in the multitude of the people” (Prologue); his work is the Opus Dei, the Work of God. To this work, the monk prefers nothing whatsoever (Chapter XLIII). The Divine Office is a specialised work. Not only does the Divine Office require a real preparation, which consists, principally, in the study of the psalms; it also requires a constant attention to detail, and and willingness to learn and always to review the various texts and ceremonies of the Divine Office, so as to enter with body, mind, and heart into the prayer of Christ and of His Spouse, the Church. Thus will we fulfil what Saint Benedict says in Chapter XIX: “Therefore let us consider how we ought to behave ourselves in the presence of God and of His angels, and so assist at the Divine Office, that our mind and our voice may accord together”.

The study of the Psalter is not like a university course, something that a man completes in order to move on to the next level. A son of Saint Benedict will never finish studying the Psalter. The monastery is, according to  Saint Benedict, the “school of the Lord’s service” (Prologue). As such, it is in session seven times a day and once in the night, seven days a week, and every day of the year without exception, and this over a lifetime. Application to the study of the Psalter bears fruit in every area of a monk’s life.

And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season. And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3)

To be a monk is to be a man of the Psalter. The psalms are a monk’s daily bread, his manna in the desert. A monk rises in the morning and falls asleep at night with the psalms on his lips. The chant of the psalms constitutes the regular heartbeat of the monk’s day. Semper in Ore Psalmus, Semper in Corde Christus. Always a Psalm on the lips, always Christ in the heart.

The psalms were inspired by the Holy Ghost and given to the children of Israel in view of the day when the Eternal Son, having become man, would stand in need of a human language of prayer in which to express His ineffable dialogue with the Father. In coming into the world, the Son of God had, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, the words of a psalm (39:7–9) on His lips:

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:5–7)

When His hour came, the Son of God again found in the psalms the words by which He would pray to the Father from the altar of the Cross:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

The Son of God, whom Saint Gertrude calls the Cantor Patris, the Cantor of the Father, intones from the high place of the Cross the psalm that he knows will be continued by the little nucleus of the Church, gathered at His feet: His Mother, Saint John, his dearest friend, and Saint Mary Magdalene, the lamb whom He rescued and filled with an astonishing love. In intoning this psalm, Our Lord leaves His Church with the prophecy of His resurrection, His universal kingship, and the gift of His adorable Body and Blood until the end of the age.

I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee. Ye that fear the Lord, praise him: all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him. Let all the seed of Israel fear him: because he hath not slighted nor despised the supplication of the poor man. Neither hath he turned away his face from me: and when I cried to him he heard me. With thee is my praise in a great church: I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear him. The poor shall eat and shall be filled: and they shall praise the Lord that seek him: their hearts shall live for ever and ever. All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord: And all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight. For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he shall have dominion over the nations. (Psalm 21:23–29)

Then, in the supreme expression of His filial piety towards the Father, Our Lord utters a verse from Psalm 30, changing but one word of it. In place of “Lord”, Jesus says “Father”. There is in this detail a sweetness that is altogether divine.

And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. And saying this, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:45–46)

The Psalter is the tabernacle of the prayer of Jesus to the Father. The monk who makes of the psalms his daily bread will readily make satisfaction, reverently kneeling when he trips over an accent, or mispronounces a word, or sings a wrong note, not out of a morbid scrupulosity, but because he is inhabited by an immense reverence for the words by which the Word, during His life on earth, addressed His Father, and by which His Spouse, the Church, is united to His perfect prayer by day and by night.

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