Let the brethren rise earlier (XI)

CHAPTER XI. How the Night-Office is to be said on Sundays
13 Feb. 14 June. 14 Oct.

On Sunday let the brethren rise earlier for the Night-Office, which is to be arranged as follows. When six Psalms and a versicle have been sung (as already prescribed), all being seated in order in their stalls, let four lessons with their responsories be read from the book, as before: and to the last responsory only let the reader add a Gloria, all reverently rising as soon as he begins it. After the lessons let six more Psalms follow in order, with their antiphons and versicle as before; and then let four more lessons, with their responsories, be read in the same way as the former. Next let three canticles from the Prophets be said, as the Abbot shall appoint, which canticles are to be sung with an Alleluia. After the versicle, and the blessing given by the Abbot, let four more lessons from the New Testament be read as before; and at the end of the fourth responsory, let the Abbot begin the hymn, Te Deum laudamus. After the hymn, let the Abbot read the lesson from the Gospel, while all stand in awe and reverence. The Gospel being ended, let all answer Amen. Then let the Abbot go on with the hymn, Te decet laus; and after the blessing hath been given,* let them begin Lauds. This order for the Night-Offices is always to be observed on Sunday, alike in summer and in winter, unless perchance (which God forbid) they rise too late, in which case the lessons or responsories must be somewhat shortened.* Let all care, however, be taken that this do not happen; but if it should, let him, through whose neglect it hath come to pass, make satisfaction for it in the oratory.

Saint Benedict begins by saying, “On Sunday let the brethren rise earlier for the Night Office.” This earlier rising, for us a matter of fifteen minutes, is nonetheless significant. It is more than a mere practical adjustment of the timetable. It is the expression of a holy eagerness, of the heart’s swift response to the summons of that mystic cry in the night: Ecce sponsus venit, exite obviam ei. “Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him” (Matthew 25:6). Anticipation is proper to lovers. You all know the passage concerning Martha and Mary of Bethany in which Martha, having made her magnificent confession of faith, runs back to the house to tell her solitary sister of the arrival of Jesus:

Et cum hæc dixisset, abiit, et vocavit Mariam sororem suam silentio, dicens: Magister adest, et vocat te. Illa ut audivit, surgit cito, et venit ad eum.

And when she had said these things, she went, and called her sister Mary secretly, saying: The master is come, and calleth for thee. She, as soon as she heard this, riseth quickly, and cometh to him. (John 11:28-29)

I have seen in some monasteries the words of Martha written over the door of the church: Magister adest, et vocat te. “The master is here, and calleth for thee.” Mary of Bethany goes to Jesus without delay. Promptness in rising quickly as soon as one is summoned to the Opus Dei is distinctively Benedictine. Saint Benedict says in Chapter XLIII:

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.

Here the virtue of alacritas, the swiftness that characterises one who loves, joins the virtue of religion. I speak here not of a sentimental feeling, but of the strong love that moves the will, independently of the waxing and waning of feelings.

Not death itself is so strong as love, not the grave itself cruel as love unrequited; the torch that lights it is a blaze of fire. Yes, love is a fire no waters avail to quench, no floods to drown; for love, a man will give up all that he has in the world, and think nothing of his loss. (Canticle 8:6-7)

Something related to this occurs in this same chapter where Saint Benedict speaks of the Gloria Patri that crowns the fourth responsory of each Nocturn:

Ubi tantum in quarto responsorio dicatur a cantante Gloria; quam dum incipit, mox omnes cum reverentia surgant.

In the fourth responsory only shall the reader chant the Gloria, and when he begins it let all rise straightaway (mox) with reverence.

Mox . . . cum reverentia. There is in these three words a kind of synthesis of Benedictine liturgical piety. It is characterised by the same alacrity and generosity that Saint Benedict describes in Chapter V in speaking of the obedience of “those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ”:

Such as these, therefore, leaving immediately their own occupations and forsaking their own will, with their hands disengaged, and leaving unfinished what they were about, with the speedy step of obedience follow by their deeds the voice of him who commands; and so as it were at the same instant the bidding of the master and the perfect fulfilment of the disciple are joined together in the swiftness of the fear of God by those who are moved with the desire of attaining eternal life.

There is a saying of the Apostle in 2 Corinthians that haunts me. I return to it again and again or, rather, it keeps returning to me:

Ego autem libentissime impendam, et super impendar ipse pro animabus vestris.
But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls. (2 Corinthians 12:15)

There is a sense in which we must go about the Opus Dei with the generosity of a spendthrift lover who never stops to calculate the cost of what he is doing. The Holy Ghost moves us to spend our time, our strength, and our breath gladly, and to be spent, not only on Sunday at Matins, but eight times a day and this over a life time. The monk who spends his time, his energy, and his very breath in this way will not regret having done so in the hour of his death.

There are, of course, seasons and days, when the Opus Dei is wearying and burdensome. So too is the labour of a father who must spend himself to support his family. So too is the daily labour of a mother spending herself in the home. We monks are not dispensed from spending and from spending ourselves. The monk who measures and calculates must heed this word of the Lord, and start afresh:

I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first charity. (Apocalypse 2:4)

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