Thou hast helped me and consoled me (XXXV:2)

CHAPTER XXXV. Of the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen
14 Mar. 14 July. 13 Nov.

Let the weekly servers take each a cup of drink and a piece of bread over and above the refection, that so they may serve their brethren, when the hour cometh, without murmuring or great labour. On solemn days, however, let them forbear until after Mass.* On Sunday, as soon as Lauds are ended, let both the incoming and the outgoing servers fall on their knees before all, in the Oratory, and ask their prayers. Let him who endeth his week, say this verse: “Blessed art Thou Lord God, Who hast helped me and comforted me;” which being thrice repeated, he shall receive the blessing. Let him that beginneth his week follow, and say: “O God, come to my assistance: O Lord, make haste to help me.” Let this likewise be thrice repeated by all; and having received the blessing, let him enter on his office.

Saint Benedict’s solicitude for the weekly servers is altogether fatherly: he would have them take refreshment before the meal, and this in addition to the food and drink that they will have after serving, sine murmuratione et gravi labore, “that so they may serve their brethren, when the hour cometh, without murmuring or great labour.” Saint Benedict insists that the service of the brethren be done with a cheerful and serene attitude. Murmuring is a terrible vice, sowing the seeds of discontent among the brethren and troubling the peace of the house of God. Murmuring is what the Apostles calls the radix amaritudinis, the “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15).

The weekly service of table has a ritual quality about; rather like the turns of service of the priests and levites of the temple. Saint Benedict raises the service of the brethren at table to the dignity of the liturgical service of the altar. It becomes a priestly action, an offering made to God, in the spirit of the Apostle’s admonition:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)

The rite that Saint Benedict prescribes must be understood in the light of the law of the Council of Nicaea (325) that forbade kneeling on the Day of the Lord. Omnibus genibus provolvantur, “bending their knees before all” indicates a profound inclination.

The verses chosen by Saint Benedict for the beginning and the end of the weekly service inculcate two of the fundamental attitudes that he would see in his sons: an utter reliance on the grace obtained humble supplication; and the blessing of thanksgiving addressed to God who helps and consoles those who rely on him, according to the word of the Apostle:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation. (2 Corinthians 1:3)

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