The right time and place (XLVIII:2)

CHAPTER XLVIII. Of the daily manual labour
29 Mar. 29 July. 28 Nov.

From the first of October to the beginning of Lent let them apply to reading until the end of the second hour. Let Tierce be then said, and until the ninth hour let all labour at the work that is enjoined them. When the first signal for None is given, let every one break off from his work, and be ready as soon as the second signal is sounded. After their meal, let them occupy themselves in their reading, or in learning the Psalms. During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour, and then, until the end of the tenth, labour at whatever is enjoined them. And in these days of Lent let each one receive a book from the library, and read it all through in order. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent. Above all, let one or two seniors be appointed to go round the Monastery, at the hours when the brethren are engaged in reading, and see that there be no slothful brother giving himself to idleness or to foolish talk, and not applying himself to his reading, so that he is thus not only useless to himself, but a distraction to others. If such a one be found (which God forbid) let him be corrected once and a second time; and if he do not amend, let him be subjected to the chastisement of the Rule, so that the rest may be afraid. And let not one brother associate with another at unseasonable hours.

Saint Benedict provides for the use of time between October 1st until the beginning of Lent, that is, through the dark months of winter. In morning, there is reading, but the whole day from Terce (the Third Hour, i.e. 9:00 a.m.) until None (the Ninth Hour, i.e. 3:00 p.m.) is dedicated to work. Saint Benedict speaks very clearly of breaking off from work when the first signal for None is given so as to be ready when the second signal sounds. Facto autem primo signo nonae horae, deiungant ab opera sua singuli et sint parati dum secundum signum pulsaverit.

Even in Saint Benedict’s day, there were two signals for the Divine Office: the first bell signified the end of work and the second bell signified that all were to hold themselves ready. Saint Benedict uses an expression that has a certain military connotation: sint parati. “Let them be at the ready.” This principle applies literally even today. A falling away from punctuality never augurs well for the life of a monastery. The monk who tries to fit in one last thing after the bell has sounded is failing in obedience and in zeal for the Opus Dei. It is permitted after the first bell to put away one’s tools, to wash, and to change one’s clothes for choir, but it is not permitted to try to squeeze in further attention to work. Learning to stop work on time is, in every way, as important as learning to begin on time.

After the one meal of the day, Saint Benedict would have his monks “occupy themselves in their reading, or in learning the Psalms.” It is noteworthy that Saint Benedict speaks of learning the Psalms. Vacent lectionibus suis aut psalmis. This studious application to the lessons and the Psalms is a preparation for the Divine Office. A monk may never leave aside the study of the Psalms. The Psalter is the book of the monk. Saint Augustine said it for us: Psalterium meum, gaudium meum! “My Psalter, my joy!” The Psalter is the joy of a monk because it gives him the very prayer of Christ. To open the Psalter is to open a tabernacle containing the human words that give us a real communion with prayer of Christ to the Father.

The rest of this section of Chapter XLVIII relates to the distribution of the Lenten books. All the same, it contains a general principle: “Let not one brother associate with another at unseasonable hours.” Debilitating disorders are introduced into a monastery when brothers begin to communicate with one another at unseasonable hours. What are unseasonable hours? First of all, there are the hours that extend from after Compline until after Prime, the time of the Summum silentium, the Great Silence; then, there is the silence between the end of the wash-up and None. Finally, it is not permitted to speak after the second bell for the Divine Office, nor immediately after the Divine Office, save in the most urgent cases, and even then one must withdraw to a place part so as not to be heard except by the brother to whom one is speaking.

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