CHAPTER LII. Of the Oratory of the Monastery
3 Apr. 3 Aug. 3 Dec.
Let the Oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer: and let nothing else be done, or kept there. When the Work of God is ended, let all go out with the utmost silence, paying due reverence to God, so that a brother, who perchance wishes to pray by himself, may not be hindered by another’s misconduct. If any one desire to pray in private, let him go in quietly and pray, not with a loud voice, but with tears and fervour of heart. And let it not be permitted, as we have said, to remain in the Oratory when the Work of God is finished, except it be for a like purpose, lest hindrance be caused to others.
We read in the fourteenth chapter of Saint Mark:
And he sendeth two of his disciples, and saith to them: Go ye into the city; and there shall meet you a man carrying a pitcher of water, follow him; and whithersoever he shall go in, say to the master of the house, the master saith, Where is my refectory, where I may eat the pasch with my disciples? And he will shew you a large cenacle furnished; and there prepare ye for us. (Mark 14:13–15)
On the night before He suffered, Our Lord took His place in the Cenacle, and there, He handed over to His Apostles the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood, immolating Himself in advance of the bloody immolation that would take place the following day and, in advance, making that same bloody immolation present in an unbloody, that is, in a sacramental manner. It was there in the Cenacle that the Apostles contemplated for the first time the true Body and Blood of Jesus set before them by His own holy and venerable hands, and given them to eat and to drink. In the days and nights that followed what we may, I think, call the Dedication of the Cenacle, it became the Oratory of the Apostolic College who, in that very place, “persevered with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). The place of the Mystical Supper,of the Cœna Domini (Supper of the Lord), of the Dies Natalis Calicis (Birthday of the Chalice) becomes the place of perseverance in prayer.
Hi omnes erant perseverantes unanimiter in oratione cum mulieribus, et Maria matre Jesu, et fratribus ejus.
All these, with one mind, gave themselves up to prayer, together with Mary the mother of Jesus, and the rest of the women and his brethren. (Acts 1:13:14)
It is the same with us. The very place wherein we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the place wherein the true Body and Blood of Jesus are set before us, offered to the Father, and given us to eat and drink, becomes the place of our persevering prayer, the place wherein our unity is forged, around the Virgo Orans (the Praying Virgin) in silent adoration. The Oratory of the monastery is sanctified by the altar; the altar is sanctified by the adorable Body and Blood of Our Lord; and we are sanctified by our Holy Communion from the altar. Thus does the priest pray in the Canon of the Mass:
. . . Ut, quotquot ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus, omni benedictione cælesti et gratia repleamur.
. . . that as many of us as shall, by partaking at this Altar, receive the most sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son, may be filled with all heavenly blessing and grace.
After the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, the most sacred Body of Christ remains hidden in the tabernacle. In a mystery of unsearchable humility, silence, and hiddenness, Christ invites us to join Him there, to seek His company, to abide close to Him. It is one thing to go to choir for the Holy Sacrifice and for the Opus Dei; it is another to return there freely, spontaneously, drawn by love. What does Our Lord say repeatedly in the Gospels? “Follow me. Come to me. Stay with me. Abide in me.” The silent prayer of a monk in the Oratory of the monastery, a prayer best described as adoration, is his response to Our Lord’s insistent invitation. It is the act by which we seek to respond to that most poignant reproach, sung in the Offertory of the Mass of the Sacred Heart:
My heart hath expected reproach and misery. And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would console me, and I found none. (Psalm 68:21)
Père Jérôme of Sept–Fons taught that the practice of silent prayer in the Oratory of the monastery, close to Our Lord’s real presence is what is most decisive in a monk’s search for God. Saint Benedict will ask in Chapter 58 whether the man come to the monastery is truly seeking God. The man who truly seeks God will be drawn irresistibly to the tabernacle. He will, over time, be able to say, “I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired: and his fruit was sweet to my palate” (Canticle 2:3).