The whole man at worship (L)

CHAPTER L. Of the Brethren who are working at a distance from the Oratory, or are on a journey
1 Apr. 1 Aug. 1 Dec.

Let the brethren who are at work at a great distance, or on a journey, and cannot come to the Oratory at the proper time (the Abbot judging such to be the case) perform the Work of God there where they are labouring, in godly fear, and on bended knees. In like manner, let not those who are sent on a journey allow the appointed Hours to pass by; but, as far as they can, observe them by themselves, and not neglect to fulfil their obligation of divine service.

Saint Benedict returns today to a question related to the Divine Office. In former times and even today in some places (I think of the Sisters in Tanzania), the monks were obliged to work in fields at a distance from the monastery. In every time and place monks have had to make journeys. We know, for example, that in the 17th century, Dom Martène, Dom Durand, and others traveled extensively, visiting libraries in the interest of their scholarly research. In fact, Dom Martène and Dom Durand, in 1717 and in 1724 published at Paris a two volume Voyage littéraire de deux religieux bénédictins de la Congrégation de St Maur (Literary Voyage of Two Benedictine Religious of the Congregation of St Maur). One of the uncontestable advantages of the internet is that, used rightly, it may preserve monks from having to go out of the enclosure to work at scholarly pursuits in far-flung libraries.

Certain absences from the monastery are necessary for reasons of health, education, or family obligations. The abbot may also send a monk to preach a retreat or to participate in a scholarly conference, although rarely, and always with prudence and discretion. Participation in such events must (1) redound to the good of the monastery; (2) in no way be harmful to the monastic discipline of the brethren concerned; and (3) contribute to “the building up of the Body of Christ,”(Ephesians 4:12), that is the Church. The abbot alone is  the judge of this. Absences that are necessary and unavoidable must not in any way obscure the clear injunction of Saint Benedict in Chapter LXVI:

The Monastery, however, ought if possible to be so constituted that all things necessary, such as water, a mill, and a garden, and the various crafts may be contained within it; so that there may be no need for the monks to wander abroad, for this is by no means expedient for their souls.

Every derogation from Saint Benedict’s wise provision for the observance of enclosure leads to a weakening of the monastic spirit and practice of effective separation from the world. Laxity in the observance of enclosure leads inexorably to a loss of zeal for the Opus Dei. By beginning, little by little, to put other things before the Opus Dei, a monastery can lose the sense of the primacy of divine worship and, in the end, merit Our Lord’s reproach to the church at Ephesus:

Yet there is one charge I make against thee; of losing the charity that was thine at first. Remember the height from which thou hast fallen, and repent, and go back to the old ways; or else I will come to visit thee, and, when I find thee still unrepentant, will remove thy candlestick from its place. (Apocalypse 2:4–5)

The authorisation to work at a distance from the monastery or, exceptionally, permission to travel does not dispense a monk from the Opus Dei. A seasoned monk will, in effect, have a kind of interior body clock that, even when no bell is rung, tells him when it is time to pray an Hour of the Divine Office. I knew a monk who used to say that he always knew when it was time to pray an Hour of the Divine Office, even when he was in an airport, hospital, or train. He would sense a interior call to prayer and, looking at his watch, discover that it was, in fact, time to say of the Hours of the Divine Office.

The individual carrying out of the Opus Dei engages the whole man. It is not merely the reading of a text in the breviary. Saint Benedict insists that, even in the private recitation of the Divine Office, a monk must pray not only with his eyes, his breath, and his lips, but also by bending his knees, and from this we may also understand, by standing, bowing, and make the prescribed signs of the Cross.

We have in our library a precious little volume entitled The Whole Man at Worship; written by Hélène Lubienska de Lenval, a disciple of Dr Maria Montessori, it was published in English in 1961. Hélène Lubienska de Lenval drew the principles of her pedagogy from the monastic liturgical tradition. She insisted on the human value of silence and of the repeated and almost rhythmical gestures of solemn liturgical rites. She fostered an awakening to God in all of life by investing simple actions with solemnity. “What a child needs,” she writes, “is neither haste nor immobility.” And again, she explains her pedagogical principle: “The only unforgettable lessons are the solemn ones . . . . I made for myself a rule of solemnity: that every activity, but especially the religion lesson, ought to be a veritable celebration.” Alongside of Romano Guardini’s Sacred Signs, Lubienska de Lenval’s book must be put in the hands of every postulant so that, from the very beginning, he may be helped to understand that the Divine Office is “the whole man at worship.”

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