As soon as the signal is heard (XLIII:1)

CHAPTER XLIII. Of those who come late to the Work of God, or to table
22 Mar. 22 July. 21 Nov.

At the hour of Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let every one, leaving whatever he had in hand, hasten to the Oratory with all speed, and yet with seriousness, so that no occasion he given for levity.

Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God. And should any one come to the Night-Office after the Gloria of the ninety-fourth Psalm (which for this reason we wish to be said very slowly and protractedly), let him not stand in his order in the choir, but last of all, or in the place set apart by the Abbot for the negligent, so that he may be seen by him and by all, until, the work of God being ended, he have made satisfaction by public penance. The reason why we have judged it fitting for them to stand in the last place, or apart, is that, being seen of all, they may amend for very shame. For, if they were to remain outside the Oratory, some one perchance would return to his place and go to sleep, or at all events would sit down outside, and give himself to idle talk, and thus an occasion would be given to the evil one. Let him therefore enter, that he may not lose the whole, and may amend for the future. At the day Hours, let him who cometh to the Work of God after the Verse,* and the Gloria of the first Psalm which followeth it, stand in the last place, as ordered above, and not presume to join with the choir in the Divine Office, until he hath made satisfaction: unless perchance the Abbot shall permit him so to do, on condition, however, that he afterwards do penance.

The first principle of Chapter XLIII is one that every man must practice, and sometimes struggle to practice, from his first day of life in the cloister until his last. Immediate response to the signal for the Divine Office is a monk’s best preparation for the hour of his death. A monk lives in constant watchfulness for the signal that announces the advent of Christ. Concretely, this means that a monk quit whatever he has in hand—pen, keyboard, shovel, paintbrush, broom, or spoon—and that he stop ilico (there and then, on the spot) whatever conversation he may be holding, eager to go to the Oratory for the Divine Office.

And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. (Matthew 25:6).

It is easy to justify delaying one’s immediate response to the sound of the bell, but all such justifications contribute to a slow descent into slackness and to a weakening of the practice of the virtue of religion. The virtue of religion informs all of Benedictine life. The etymology of the word religion has long been the subject of discussion. Saint Thomas adverts to three etymologies of the word: from relegere, which means to “ponder over, and, as it were, read again [relegit], the things which pertain to the worship of God; from reeligere, which means to choose again; and from religare, which means to bind together (Summa II:II, Q81). The monk who responds immediately to the sound of the bell calling him to the Divine Office relates at once to all three etymologies. He goes to choir to read again (relegere) the Word of God and to to allow the Word of God to impress itself upon his heart. Every time he responds to the bell calling him to the Divine Office he renews the fundamental choice of his life for God (reeligere). And every time he hastens to choir for the Divine Office, he binds up (religare), as if in a single sheaf, the virtues of justice, faith, hope, charity, humility, obedience, and piety, to present them to God as the offering of his heart.

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