Ut non cum tristitia hoc faciant (XXV)

CHAPTER XXXV. Of the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen
13 Mar. 13 July. 12 Nov.

Let the brethren wait on one another in turn, so that none be excused from the work of the kitchen, except he be prevented by sickness or by some more necessary employment; for thus is gained a greater reward and an increase of charity. But let assistance be given to the weak, that they may not do their work with sadness; and let all have help according to the number of the community and the situation of the place. If the community be large, let the Cellarer be excused from work in the kitchen, and also those, as already mentioned, who are occupied in more urgent business. Let the rest serve each other in turn with all charity. Let him who endeth his week in the kitchen, make all things clean on Saturday, and wash the towels where with the brethren dry their hands and feet. Let both him who goeth out and him who is coming in wash the feet of all. Let him hand over to the Cellarer the vessels of his office, clean and whole; and let the Cellarer deliver the same to him who entereth, that he may know what he giveth and what he receiveth.

Fratres sibi invicem serviant. Let the brethren serve one another. We are all, no matter our age or rank in the community, servants of one another. A servant is alert and quick to see what must be done, even as the psalm says:

Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters, As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us. (Psalm 122:2)

As is Saint Benedict’s custom, he sets forth the great principle—ut nullus excusetur a coquinae officio, let none be excused from the work of the kitchen—and then, straightaway, he admits of exceptions: nisi aut aegritudo, aut in causa gravis utilitatis quis occupatus fuerit, unless for sickness or because he is taken up in some business of importance. The infirmarian is the judge of a brother’s sickness. It is the infirmarian who informs the Father Prior or the Father Master of a brother’s incapacity to carry out kitchen duties. The Prior or, for novices, the Father Master, determine what constitutes importance business. What underlies this chapter is the injunction of Saint Paul:

Bear ye one anothers burdens; and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

We are to look after one another and to work together in such wise that no one brother is crushed by a burden too heavy to bear. By this I do not mean that we are to act like the proverbial “snowflakes” born after the Millennium. We are to cultivate the manly virtues of responsibility, generosity, and readiness to shoulder the burden at hand. Saint Benedict says that work in the kitchen is especially profitiable because there comes from it an increase of reward and of charity: quia exinde maior merces et caritas acquiritur. The Benedictine kitchen is a place of grace and of growth in charity. Work in the kitchen calls up the practice of many little virtues.

There follows a characteristically Benedictine consideration: Imbecillibus autem procurentur solacia, ut non cum tristitia hoc faciant; sed habeant omnes solacia secundum modum congregationis aut positionem loci. “But let assistance (relief, solace) be given to the weak, that they may not do their work with sadness; and let all have help (relief, solace) according to the number of the community and the situation of the place.” Saint Benedict never loses sight of the imbēcillī of the community, that is, of the weaker brethren, of those who are impaired, or feeble. The etymology of the word imbecillus means without a bacillus, that is, a walking stick. The meaning suggests that such a person cannot get around without help. Such brethren are to be given solacia, that is, relief, solace, and assistance. Saint Benedict’s fatherly concern is that no brother do his work in sadness. Sadness has no place in the house of God. The cloister is the abode of joy, and this because it is the abode of charity wherein all practice the consideratio infirmorum, consideration of the infirm and weak.