Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus (XLV)

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.

Saint Benedict acknowledges that monks will make mistakes in the recitation of psalms, responsories, antiphons, or lessons. Monks are like the angels in that, according to Saint Jerome, monks do on earth what the angels do ceaselessly in heaven, but monks are not angels. The heavenly psalmody of the angels knows no defects. It is flawless. The angels, being pure spirits, praise God without suffering the weaknesses of men: fatigue, loss of concentration, distractions, headaches, poor eyesight, every manner of bodily discomfort, anxiety, emotional fluctuations, and variations in the weather. Monks, however, being men, praise God in omni tempore, “at all times” (Psalm 33:2), which means in times of sickness and health; poverty and prosperity; weakness and strength; fair weather and stormy conditions; famine and plenty; war and peace; serenity and anxiety; darkness and light. In effect, we who are men can do something that the angels cannot do: we can praise God while suffering distractions, while suffering fatigue, while suffering illness, while suffering from the cold and the heat. The angels, suffering none of these contingencies, offer God a pure and flawless praise, but they cannot praise God out of a state of infirmity, weakness, deficiency, and need. The praise of men is no less dear to God than the praise of His angels.

The Psalmist goes so far as to say that there is no tear of a man that God does not store in a flask, and of which He does not keep a count. The Latin has, Deus, vitam meam annuntiavi tibi; posuisti lacrimas meas in conspectu tuo (Psalm 55:9) Monsignor Knox renders it, “My wandering life none knows as thou; no tear of mine but thou dost hoard and record it.” Only man can praise God through his tears. This means, at certain hours, that a man’s sight may be clouded, that his voice may be choked, and that his breath may be short. A monk, being weary, or ill, or distressed, or burdened, or distracted may make mistakes in the praise of God. The important thing is that he not quit praising God, but that he praise God even while making mistakes, as Saint Benedict says, “in the recitation of psalms, responsories, antiphons, or lessons.”

How does a monk repair the defects of his praise? By making acts of humility. Saint Benedict would have his monk humble himself and make satisfaction on the spot. This act of humility and reparation is something that the angels have no need of doing. God delights in the pure, flawless praise of His angels; He is also glorified in the inconstant and flawed praise of men, insofar as they praise Him with a humble spirit and a broken heart. “Here, O God, is my sacrifice, a broken spirit; a heart that is humbled and contrite thou, O God, wilt never disdain” (Psalm 50:19). Do not think that in making satisfaction for mistakes in choir, you are spoiling the Opus Dei. Human frailty and the defects that proceed from it are part of the symphony of the Divine Praise. By making satisfaction for his mistakes, a monk offers God something that not even the angels can offer him: the sacrifice of a humble spirit and a broken heart. The satisfactions in choir that Saint Benedict prescribes do not detract from the beauty of the Opus Dei; they add to it something precious in the sight of God.

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