16 Feb. 17 June. 17 Oct.
The Office of Lauds and Vespers, however, must never conclude without the Lord’s Prayer being said aloud by the Superior, so that all may hear it, on account of the thorns of scandal which are wont to arise; so that the brethren, by the covenant which they make in that prayer when they say “Forgive us as we forgive,” may cleanse themselves of such faults. But at the other Offices let the last part only of the prayer be said aloud, so that all may answer, “But deliver us from evil.”
Saint Benedict’s treatment of the oratio dominica, the Lord’s Prayer, gives it a heightened significance at the two great Hours of the Divine Office. First, it is never omitted. The Lord’s Prayer is an essential element of the Office’s structure; in some way, Saint Benedict presents the Pater Noster as the summit towards which both Lauds and Vespers converge. It is chanted by the abbot, omnibus audientibus, that is, with all giving ear, with all listening attentively. Audio, audire means to hearken or to listen, but it also means to accept and to agree with what is said. When the abbot chants the Pater Noster, the brethren bow profoundly to indicate that they are submitting to the prayer, that they are receiving it, and that they accept and agree with what is said. Tertullian calls the Pater Noster the breviarium totus evangelii, “the abridgement of the whole Gospel.” The profound inclination during the Pater Noster is a submission to the whole Gospel, a voluntary placing of oneself beneath the sweet yoke of Christ, who is meek and humble of heart.
Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
Saint Benedict, with his experience of daily life in the monastery, knows that it is well nigh impossible for a monk to get through a day without being wounded by the thorns of the words, deeds, and attitudes of those closest to him. You will recall the episode of the youthful Saint Benedict’s fierce temptations against chastity as recounted by Saint Gregory.
A certain woman there was which some time he had seen, the memory of which the wicked spirit put into his mind, and by the representation of her did so mightily inflame with concupiscence the soul of God’s servant, which did so increase that, almost overcome with pleasure, he was of mind to have forsaken the wilderness. But, suddenly assisted with God’s grace, he came to himself; and seeing many thick briers and nettle bushes to grow hard by, off he cast his apparel, and threw himself into the midst of them, and there wallowed so long that, when he rose up, all his flesh was pitifully torn: and so by the wounds of his body, he cured the wounds of his soul, in that he turned pleasure into pain, and by the outward burning of extreme smart, quenched that fire which, being nourished before with the fuel of carnal cogitations, did inwardly burn in his soul: and by this means he overcame the sin, because he made a change of the fire. From which time forward, as himself did afterward report unto his disciples, he found all temptation of pleasure so subdued, that he never felt any such thing. (Saint Gregory, Second Book of the Dialogues, Chapter II)
It is worth remarking, I think, that Saint Benedict uses the image of thorns in speaking of the temptations that come from living alongside others. Was he thinking of his own experience of rolling in the briars and nettle? Just as there as different varieties of roses, so too are there different varieties of thorns. There are, to be sure, the thorns of temptations to impurity, but are also the thorns of temptations to pride, rash judgment, impatience, contentiousness, stubbornness, anger, greed, violence, laziness, and vindictiveness. And there stinging nettles besides; these are a very apt image of the annoyances and discomfort that brothers may inflict on one another in the course of the day.
The Pater Noster at Lauds and Vespers is a healing unguent that the abbot spreads over the wounds, burns, rashes, and abrasions that each brother brings with him to choir. For this reason, the Pater Noster is said over the brethren, after the manner of the traditional oratio super populum of the Roman Rite. The Pater Noster is the sacerdotal prayer par excellence. It is the prayer that Our Lord Himself pronounced and that the apostles received from Him. Saint Benedict would have us not forget that the Pater Noster remains a prayer received from the mouth of Our Lord and the handing on (traditio) of a gift.
It is a mistake and a great pity that in some monasteries, following the reforms of the 1970s, the Pater Noster at Lauds and Vespers became a prayer said by the whole community in imitation of the change introduced with regard to the Pater Noster in the new order of the Mass. The whole sense that Saint Benedict gives to the Pater Noster is thereby compromised and even lost. It is at these two key moments of the day that the abbot “holds the place of Christ in the monastery” (Chapter II) in a kind of iconographic way. He becomes the image and voice of Christ responding to the petition of His disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Saint Benedict says that when the brethren hear the Prayer of the Lord, the prayer of Christ the Abbas, accept His prayer, and submit to it, they make a covenant that binds them to forgive one another and also to cleanse themselves of such faults as wound, sting, and irritate their brothers.
I should like to add one more thing, by way of a footnote: it pertains to the Eucharistic finality of the Pater Noster. At the Holy Sacrifice, the Pater Noster both concludes the Canon of the Mass and is sung in preparation for Holy Communion. The singing of the Pater Noster by the priest alone, with the hearers joining only in the last petition, Sed libera nos a malo, is very ancient at Rome. Saint Gregory the Great speaks of it as an established practice. In other places—in the Gallican liturgy before Charlemagne, for instance—all the people chanted the Pater Noster. In the Mozarabic Liturgy, the faithful respond Amen to each petition of the Pater Noster, except after the fourth, that is Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie; to this petition the faithful respond, Quia Deus es, “Because Thou art God.” This Mozarabic practice makes of the Pater Noster a prayer of preparation and of desire for Holy Communion, in accord with Saint Jerome’s rendering of Saint Matthew’s version: Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie, “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.” I relate all of this because, for us, the Pater Noster of Lauds is oriented towards the summit of the monastic day, the Conventual Mass; it is fulfilled at the altar. Similarly, the Pater Noster of Vespers is oriented towards the Holy Communion of the following day.