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The Work of the Kitchen

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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.

Servants One to Another

Saint Benedict's monks are servants one to another, and not just theoretically, but concretely in deeds and in toil. Much of the servanthood in a monastery revolves around the kitchen, the refectory, and the scullery. Men have to eat. The preparation of meals, the service of the refectory, and the wash-up are a necessary part of daily life. No one is excused from serving in the kitchen, apart from those weakened by illness or occupied in other important tasks. The fruit of work in the kitchen, says Saint Benedict, is an increase of charity. Charity dilates the heart, making one who is faithful in little things capable of self-sacrifice in greater things.

Banish Sadness

In the middle of this chapter Saint Benedict inserts another of the great over-arching principles of the Holy Rule: "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." Saint Benedict doesn't want his monks to be crushed by too great a labour or stressed by their inability to get everything done. Acknowledging that there are weaker brethren, he orders that they should be given help. And why? So that they may not do their work in sadness. If there is sadness in the kitchen of the monastery, the community will begin to taste it in the food! Sadness quickly degenerates into bitterness, and bitterness turns to hostility and resentment. Quite apart from affecting the charity and unity of the monastery, these things also adversely affect one's appetite and digestion.

Help As Needed

A cheerful atmosphere in the kitchen makes for appetising food, and appetising food makes for a happy community. When the preparation of meals becomes burdensome, a spirit of crankiness begins to prevail in the kitchen, and from there it spreads quickly throughout the monastery. If it is true that "too many cooks spoil the soup", it is equally true that "many hands make light work". The Abbot will, therefore, take care to provide the kitchen master and cooks with all the help necessary.

The Liturgy of Eating and Drinking

Eschewing the culture of fast foods and eating on the run, Saint Benedict's sons understand that the kitchen is to the refectory what the sacristy is to the Oratory. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) Benedictines honour the liturgy of eating and drinking in the refectory, and see the refectory as a kind of mirror of the Oratory. Even the disposition is same as in the choir: the tables facing each other; the Prior's table with the crucifix behind it; the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and the reader's desk. Twice daily the refectory resounds with the chanting of psalms and prayers. Like the Oratory, it is a place of silence.

The Mandatum

Saint Benedict organizes a weekly rota for the kitchen service. In small communities, such as our own, it is not possible to have more than one kitchen team. At least for the moment, the same brothers are affected to the wash-up every day. The Mandatum (or washing of the feet) no longer takes place weekly; instead it is done at the reception of novices and on Maundy Thursday. The Mandatum is a kind of sacrament of humble service and of charity. Although the liturgical rite is carried out less frequently now, the grace that it impresses on the soul and expresses outwardly is necessary at every moment if a community is to thrive in holiness.

Cleanliness in the Kitchen

Saint Benedict insists on the cleanliness of the kitchen: "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." A clean, orderly kitchen is a delight to work in. Monks must be as diligent about keeping the kitchen clean and in good order as they are about caring for the sacristy and the appurtenances of sacred worship. With Saint Benedict, all of life is steeped in the praise of God; there is no thing that cannot be ennobled and invested with sacredness. "For all things are yours . . . and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (I Corinthians 3:23).


CHAPTER XXXIV. Whether All Ought Alike to Receive What is Needful

12 Mar. 12 July. 11 Nov.
As it is written: "Distribution was made to every man, according as he had need." Herein we do not say that there should be respecting of persons - God forbid - but consideration for infirmities. Let him, therefore, that hath need of less give thanks to God, and not be grieved; and let him who requireth more be humbled for his infirmity, and not made proud by the kindness shewn to him: and so all the members of the family shall be at peace. Above all, let not the evil of murmuring shew itself by the slightest word or sign on any account whatsoever. If anyone be found guilty herein, let him be subjected to severe punishment.

All Originals

Just as in a family, no two children are alike, so too in a monastery, no two monks are alike. Saint Benedict would have his monks be treated as individuals. In Benedictine life there is no stultifying regimentation, no attempt to squeeze every man into the same mould, no requirement that all be satisfied with the same things, in the same quantity, at the same time.


Saint Benedict makes consideration for infirmities a grand principle of the Rule. Infirmities constitute a claim on the charity and forbearance of the Abbot and the brethren, and on the all-sufficient grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In this, Saint Benedict resonates with what the Apostle writes:

There was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Fewer Needs

The monk who can get on with less -- with less of anything -- must not become self-sufficient and inflated with pride. Rather, he must give thanks humbly to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who as so provided with health, or energy, or physical strength, or intellectual acumen, or with any other gift. The strong are to be humble.

Greater Needs

The monk who needs more of anything -- more food, drink, rest, affection, quiet, conversation, affirmation, work, or time -- must, for this reason, be very humble, and recognize that he is the object of a special solicitude. Thus, will he be, always and everywhere, grateful. The weak are to be grateful.

Humility and Gratitude

Humility, then, and gratitude; thus does Saint Benedict say, "and so all the members of the family shall be at peace." A monastery where the strong are humble and the weak grateful will be the abode of charity. There will be unity among the brethren, reverence for one another, and a great interior freedom of spirit.


The one thing that will trouble a peaceful cloister is murmuring. Murmuring is toxic. It poisons the minds both of those who indulge in it and those who listen to it. Murmuring is not only verbal. One can complain, tear down, diminish, and sow the seeds of discouragement, suspicion, and disobedience not only by words, but also by attitudes, so-called body language, and non-verbal inferences. The murmurer is a troubler of the pax benedictina. "God," says Saint Paul, "is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Benedictine Poverty

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CHAPTER XXXIII. Whether Monks Ought to Have Anything of Their Own

11 Mar. 11 July. 10 Nov.
The vice of private ownership is above all to be cut off from the Monastery by the roots. Let none presume to give or receive anything without leave of the Abbot, nor to keep anything as their own, either book or writing-tablet or pen, or anything whatsoever; since they are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power. But all that is necessary they may hope to receive from the father of the Monastery: nor are they allowed to keep anything which the Abbot has not given, or at least permitted them to have. Let all things be common to all, as it is written: "Neither did anyone say that aught which he possessed was his own." But if any one shall be found to indulge in this most baneful vice, and after one or two admonitions do not amend, let him be subjected to correction.

The Vice of Proprietorship

The drive to acquire things, to possess and claim them as one's own is a vice to be cut out of the monastery by the roots. What is a vice? A vice is a sinful disposition reinforced by the repetition of concrete actions to the point of becoming habitual and pervasive. The inclination to stand over something and call it "mine" is incompatible with the monastic way of life.

Our Constitutions say this:

"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).
136. The poverty of the Son of God on earth that Saint Matthew describes in so few words, exemplifies religious poverty. Our holy patriarch honours this poverty by enjoining his sons to claim personal ownership of nothing. Freedom from personal possessions cannot but please one whose life is a sacrificial oblation, and who must live in this world as one already dead to it, constrained by necessity to make use of things with detachment, and in a holy indifference with regard to ownership. The monk who embraces this precious poverty will find himself filled with riches, knowing that the emptiness of creatures makes for a plenitude of God.

Radical Disappropriation

To the vice of a proprietary spirit Saint Benedict opposes the virtue of a radical disappropriation: "Let none presume to give or receive anything without leave of the Abbot, nor to keep anything as their own, either book or writing-tablet or pen, or anything whatsoever; since they are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power." The monk renounces ownership even over his own body and his own will. This is the profound meaning of the Suscipe (Psalm 118:116) that, with hands raised towards heaven, and standing before the altar, the monk sings on the day of his profession:


Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum , et vivam;
et non confundas me ab expectatione mea.

Take me up, even unto Thyself, O Lord, according to thy word, and I shall live:
and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

Sacrificial Victimhood

For Saint Benedict, the monk is a man offered, an oblation, a victim made over to God in sacrifice. By monastic profession, a man places himself upon the altar together with the oblations of bread and wine. Doing this, he becomes, according to the teaching of Saint Augustine a sacrificium.

A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God's sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God. For this is a part of that mercy which each man shows to himself; as it is written, "Have mercy on your soul by pleasing God." (Sirach 30:24) Our body, too, as a sacrifice when we chasten it by temperance, if we do so as we ought, for God's sake, that we may not yield our members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but instruments of righteousness unto God. (Romans 6:13) Exhorting to this sacrifice, the apostle says, "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." (Romans 12:1) If, then, the body, which, being inferior, the soul uses as a servant or instrument, is a sacrifice when it is used rightly, and with reference to God, how much more does the soul itself become a sacrifice when it offers itself to God, in order that, being inflamed by the fire of His love, it may receive of His beauty and become pleasing to Him, losing the shape of earthly desire, and being remoulded in the image of permanent loveliness? (The City of God, Book X, Chapter VI)

Configured to the Lamb

The highest expression of Benedictine disappropriation (poverty) is found, then, in that sacrificial victimhood by which a monk is mystically (that is really, but in a hidden way) configured to Christ, the Lamb of God, "the pure victim, the holy victim, the immaculate victim" (Roman Canon)


CHAPTER XXXII. Of the Iron Tools and Property of the Monastery

10 Mar. 10 July. 9 Nov.
Let the Abbot appoint brethren, on whose manner of life and character he can rely, to the charge of the iron tools, clothes, and other property of the Monastery; and let him consign to their care, as he shall think fit, the things to be kept and collected after use. Of these let the Abbot keep a list, so that as the brethren in turn succeed to different employments, he may know what he giveth and receiveth back. If any one treat the property of the Monastery in a slovenly or negligent manner, let him be corrected; and if he do not amend, let him be subjected to the discipline of the Rule.

The Tranquility of Order

Saint Benedict sees the real value of tools and of other equipment. He eschews the dreamy-eyed, romantic notion that monks can get by without working. For Saint Benedict, things are important. Monks require clothing, shoes, and bedding. Work requires tools. Study requires books. Whenever men begin to live together, they need tools, clothes, and other property. The care and good order of these things becomes a task of primary importance. When everyone is assumed to be responsible for the care and good order of things, in the end, no one is responsible. Then disorder sets in, and things become misplaced, broken, and neglected.

A Place for Everything

The old domestic adage, "A place for every thing, and every thing in its place," sums up an indispensable principle of life together. This principle applies to every thing in the monastery, beginning in each monk's cell and work space, and extending to the kitchen, refectory, library, sacristy, storage rooms, linen closets, guesthouse, bookshop, laundry, and toilets. This of course is an ideal that one cannot achieve overnight in a newly founded monastery such as ours.


The organisation of a new monastery will take time and much patience. Organisation is, in itself, a gift not given to all. For this reason the Abbot shall appoint brethren "on whose manner of life and character he can rely, to the charge of the iron tools, clothes, and other property of the monastery."


The observance of six practical precepts can, however, facilitate the achievement of good order, efficiency, and responsible stewardship:

1. If you borrow something, return it.
2. If you open something, close it.
3. If you take something, put it back.
4. If you soil something, clean it.
5. If you break or lose something, own up to it.
6. If you need something, ask for it, in the proper way and at the suitable time.

All of this being said, good organisation begins in one's own cell and work area. It is good to sort through one's things regularly and eliminate all that is superfluous: weekly, monthly, and in a major way at the Embertides.

In Our Constitutions

The Constitutions of Silverstream Priory contain the following declarations on Chapter XXXII of the Holy Rule:

131. The monastery and all it possesses and contains is the patrimony of Jesus Christ, by which He sustains those who have left all things to follow Him, and to pour out their lives, in adoration before Him, like an ointment of great price.
132. Every member of the community, therefore, is responsible before God and his brethren for the respect and care of the fabric of the monastery; of its land, forest, streams, and other natural resources; and of its furnishings, machinery, and tools.
133. Each monk will cultivate a personal sense of responsibility for the cleanliness, good order, and beauty of the natural and material environment of the monastery.
134. The rapid development of new technologies obliges even monks to participate to some degree in the larger digital world. It is necessary, then, that, from the time of their initial monastic formation, they learn how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by the unchanging ascetical principles of separation from the world, silence, and the love of truth.

Every age and understanding

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Photo: Abbazia di Praglia

CHAPTER XXX. How the Younger Boys Are to Be Corrected

7 Mar. 7 July. 6 Nov.
Every age and understanding should have its proper measure of discipline. As often, therefore, as boys or others under age, or unable to understand the greatness of the penalty of excommunication, commit faults, let them be punished by severe fasting or sharp stripes, in order that they may be cured.

Proper Measure of Discipline

Monasteries no longer have little oblates: boy-monks offered to God by their parents and thus enrolled in the school of the Lord's service. This chapter cannot however, for this reason, be discounted. It contains two important principles. The first principle is that, "every age and understanding should have its proper measure of discipline." Men come to the monastery with various degrees of emotional maturity and experience. Not all can grasp the value and significance of the whole observance immediately. It takes time -- a lifetime -- to make a monk. In Benedictine life there is a readiness to adjust objective standards of discipline to the age and understanding of individuals. It is not a question of one size fitting all.

That They May Have Life

The second principle is that any disciplinary measures are taken for the sake of a monk's inner healing: in order that they may be cured. Monastic discipline is curative and, in the noblest sense of the word, therapeutic. It is not merely punitive. It is at the service of life, and of life in abundance. "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

When a monk runs away

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CHAPTER XXIX. Whether the Brethren who Leave the Monastery Are to Be Received Again

6 Mar. 6 July. 5 Nov.
If any brother who through his own fault departeth or is cast out of the Monastery, be willing to return, let him first undertake to amend entirely the fault for which he went away; and then let him be received back into the lowest place, that thus his humility may be tried. Should he again depart, let him be taken back until the third time: knowing that after this all return will be denied to him.

That His Humility May Be Tried

It sometimes happens that monks "run away from home." It is the old story, so often recounted by the Desert Fathers, of the monk who misses his old haunts amidst the lights and glamour and action of The Big City, or of the monk who thinks that the solution to his melancholy and distaste for prayer (class symptoms of accedia) is elsewhere, anywhere, but in his monastery. More often than not, the monk who runs away from the monastery -- after coming to his senses in the world -- wants to run back to it. Saint Benedict is patient and wise. The monk, humbled and chastened by his rash behaviour and instability, is to be received back into the community, and this up to three times.

A Gentle Mercy

Outwardly, there is no killing of the fatted calf, no fine new clothes or shoes for his feet, nor sounds of high merriment; but there will be the gentle mercy of the Abbot manifested with a quiet, manly restraint, and there will be the charity of the brethren who recognize in their wayward brother the runaway in themselves, and are moved to compassion for him. The returning brother is welcomed into the lowest place in order to try his humility. Has he really learned something about himself and about God from this unfortunate escapade? Will it become for him an occasion of grace and of compunction?


After three episodes like this, however, Saint Benedict would have the Abbot help the runaway brother to understand that his comings and goings are not helpful to himself, nor are they good for the community. He will need to make a final choice and if that choice is for life in the world and separation from the monastery, the Abbot will ratify his choice; the necessary canonical procedure will be followed; and a new chapter will begin in the man's life. There will always men who love the idea of monastic life but who, for one reason or another, cannot adjust to living it day in and day out. Such men can go on to live holy and fruitful lives in the world but they must keep in mind that the nostalgia for certain aspects of monastic life does not constitute a vocation to it.

The Cure of the Sick Brother

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Icon of the Prodigal Son courtesy of Patheos.

CHAPTER XXVIII. Of Those Who, Being Often Corrected, Do Not Amend

5 Mar. 5 July. 4 Nov.
If any brother who has been frequently corrected for some fault, or even excommunicated, do not amend let a more severe chastisement be applied: that is, let the punishment of stripes be administered to him. But if even then he do not correct himself, or perchance (which God forbid), puffed up with pride, even wish to defend his deeds: then let the Abbot act like a wise physician. If he hath applied fomentations and the unction of his admonitions, the medicine of the Holy Scriptures, and the last remedy of excommunication or corporal chastisement, and if he see that his labours are of no avail, let him add what is still more powerful - his own prayers and those of all the brethren for him, that God, Who is all-powerful, may work the cure of the sick brother. But if he be not healed even by this means, then at length let the Abbot use the sword of separation, as the Apostle saith: "Put away the evil one from you." And again: "If the faithless one depart, let him depart," lest one diseased sheep should taint the whole flock.

Affection for Sin

It is clear from the tone of this chapter that our father Saint Benedict had a firsthand experience of the things he describes. There have always been Christians, even within the cloister, who resist the grace of conversion. One can easily develop an affection for one's sin. One convinces oneself that a particular indulgence makes life with all its hardships less unbearable. One talks oneself into believing that one cannot change when, in truth, one no longer wants to change. How easy it is to grow old in one's sins the way one grows used to wearing a comfortable pair of slippers.


God forbid that, in the monastic life, patterns of sin should become so routine as to blind a monk to the point of not seeing that his habitual offenses are alienating him from God and will precipitate his descent into hell. The offender, deluded by pride, can even begin to rationalise his attachment to sin. The Abbot, therefore, is obliged to intervene before occasional faults metastasize into the systemic faults (vices) that are much more difficult to excise from one's life, and from the life of the community.

The Process

Saint Benedict orders the interventions of the Abbot in five incremental steps. These five steps are:

1) Fomentations and Admonitions. These are remedies that any wise physician would employ. A fomentation (or poultice) is the application of a hot compress, with or without some medicinal herb, to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It is not uncommon that certain vices are merely an attempt to treat an underlying emotional pain. Repeated sin causes spiritual inflammation. What sort of fomentations would the Abbot use? Kind words capable of opening the heart, words of light and of hope, strong words to quick the will and spur it in the right direction. Very often a few honest, heart-to-heart conversations are sufficient to bring about an opening to grace and a fresh beginning.

2) The medicine of the Holy Scriptures. The Word of God is a powerful cleansing agent, a mighty disinfectant, a healing balm. The Abbot will direct the wayward brother to certain passages of Sacred Scripture --especially to those given in the Holy Mass and the Divine Office-- enjoining him to read them, to repeat them, to pray them until, at length, they effect an inward conversion. Certain patterns of sin can be traced back to the neglect and, then, abandonment of lectio divina.

3) Excommunication. By excommunication a brother is excluded from the choir and from the common table. He is given time out, time to think, time to be alone with himself. Excommunication is an opportunity to enter into the desert. "Therefore, behold I will allure her, and will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart" (Osee 2:14). Time apart can be a salutary thing.

4) Corporal Punishment. Saint Benedict does not shrink from the use of corporal punishment; he knows that man is a composite of body and soul. One will remember that "caning" was practiced in many schools right up into the 1960s and, in some places, even later. While there is no question of reviving such practices today, the underlying principle is that the physical may be engaged in the process of conversion, so as to dispose one hardened in sin to yield to the gentle and powerful action of divine grace. While beatings are no longer administered to this end, some form of corporal participation in the labour of conversion remains salutary. This may be as simple as depriving a brother of his portion of wine (a classic remedy, especially in Italy!), or of sending him to weed an overgrown patch of garden.

5) The Prayer of the Abbot and of All the Brethren. It may surprise some to find that Saint Benedict puts this remedy last. He is referring here, not merely to a private supplication on behalf of the erring brother, but to a full-scale mobilisation of the entire community's intercessory prayer that God, Who is all-powerful, may work the cure of the sick brother. In Saint Benedict's day this may very well have taken on a public quasi-liturgical character. Today, an Abbot may direct his community to join him in making a novena for a brother in dire spiritual straits, or he may gather his community around him in a confident prayer of intercession, trusting in Our Lord's words: "Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:19-20).


When all of these remedies have been brought to bear upon a sick brother, the Abbot may be obliged to act in the best interest of the monastic family, by using the sword, or scalpel, of separation. It is clear that, for Saint Benedict, this is a last resort. The monk hardened in sin remains a son of the monastic household; it is a wrenching and terrible thing to have to send him away, analogous to sending away one's own troubled adolescent in order to protect the younger siblings of the family. In our day, an Abbot cannot proceed with separation from the community without following strictly the procedure required by Canon Law.

The Charge of Weakly Souls

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CHAPTER XXVII. How Solicitous the Abbot Should Be of the Excommunicate

4 Mar. 4 July. 3 Nov.
Let the Abbot exercise all diligence in his care for erring brethen, for they that are in health need not a physician, but they that are sick. He ought, therefore, as a wise physician, to use every remedy in his power. Let him send senpectae, that is old and prudent brethren, who may as it were secretly comfort the troubled brother, inducing him to make humble satisfaction and consoling him, lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Let charity be strengthened towards him, and let everyone pray for him.
For the Abbot is bound to use the greatest care, and to exercise all prudence and diligence, so that he may not lose any of the sheep entrusted to him. Let him know that what he has undertaken is the charge of weakly souls, and not a tyranny over the strong; and let him fear the threat of the prophet, wherein God saith: What you saw to be fat, that ye took to yourselves: and what was feeble, ye cast away. And let him imitate the merciful example of the Good Shepherd, who left the ninety and nine sheep in the mountains and went after the one sheep that had strayed; and had so great pity on its weakness, that he deigned to place it on his own sacred shoulders and so bring it back to the flock.

To See as God Sees

Rarely does God call men of dazzling qualities, spotless integrity, and perfect health to the monastic life. A monastery is not a stadium for ascetical performances; it is an infirmary for souls in various stages of spiritual convalescence and recovery. Saint Benedict confirms this in Chapter LXXII, where he says, "Let them most patiently endure one another's infirmities, whether of body or of mind." And in today's Chapter, Saint Benedict says, "Let him [the Abbot] know that what he has undertaken is the charge of weakly souls." God does not see as men see. Where men read failure, crisis, and instability, God reads scope for the deployment of His mercy, His power, and His faithfulness.

Salvaging from the Scrap Heap of Unsuitables

"Jesus saith to them: Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? By the Lord this has been done; and it is wonderful in our eyes" (Matthew 21:42). The master-plan of the Father by which the Son, rejected by the builders of this age, became the head of the corner in the building of the Kingdom of God, is continued through the ages in the saints, known and unknown, in the lives of those canonized by the Church and in the obscurity of lives totally unknown to men. It pleases God to make use of those whom the wise and clever reject. God is forever salvaging men from the scrap-heap of unsuitables to which the world (and the worldly in the Church) have consigned them.

Saint Peter

On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, I reflected much on Our Lord's choice of these two men as the very foundations and pillars of His Church. When Our Lord called Simon Peter, He knew in advance that Peter would prove to be a cracked and unreliable element in the foundation of His Church. He knew that Peter would deny Him. He knew that Peter would show more cowardice than courage in the face of suffering. He also knew that, after the Resurrection, a fallen Peter would make this splendid confession of confidence and of love, this perfect act of reparation: "Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:17).

Saint Paul

When Our Lord called Saul of Tarsus, He saw a man marked by pride, spiritually arrogant, excessive in word and in deed, sunk deep in self-righteousness, and tormented by an inward unrest. He also saw Paul the Apostle, profoundly humble, with entrails of mercy for sinners and compassion for the weakest among men, capable of great heroism in the service of the Gospel, totally abandoned to His all-sufficient grace, and capable of radiating the peace of the Holy Ghost.

See your vocation, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his sight. But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption: That, as it is written: He that glorieth, may glory in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

The Flawed and the Broken

An Abbot must accept the family of flawed and broken men that God has entrusted to him, fearing the threat of the prophet, wherein God saith: What you saw to be fat, that ye took to yourselves: and what was feeble, ye cast away. This is not to say that all comers are to be taken in. Vocations must be carefully discerned; some men will have to be sent away as being unsuited to the claustral life. Belief in the power of grace and reliance on the healing work of the Holy Ghost do not dispense one from exercising common sense, prudence, and due diligence.

Utterly Dysfunctional by Any Human Standards

This being said, once a man has been adopted into the monastic family by profession, he is to treated as a son of the household. By the vow of stability a monk binds himself to a particular monastic family, to its father, and to his brothers. After simple profession, the new relationship is recognized and affirmed; and the decision to go forward is made public. With solemn profession, the adoption is complete.

A monastery is not a business in which employees can be fired on grounds of unsuitable performance. It is not a university from which those who prove to be dullards can be dismissed. It is not an exclusive club denying full membership to those lacking the desirable prerequisites. A monastery is a family, utterly dysfunctional by any human standards and, at the same time, functioning by grace as a living organism of the Body of Christ.

What It Takes

Other religious Orders can reject, and rightly, men lacking in the qualities and talents needed for their specialized or characteristic apostolates. A Jesuit needs a quick brain, a readiness for abnegation, and the ability to move comfortably in the world without becoming worldly. A Dominican has to be able to preach and to demonstrate the splendour of the truth, praising God all the while. A Franciscan has to be able to live on very little, in the total renunciation of ownership, and in a joyful and carefree abandonment to Providence. A Redemptorist has to be able to evangelise the poor in the remotest places, using a language that is simple and capable of touching the heart.

Simply Monks

We Benedictines have no distinctive apostolate, no specialized ministry, no specific goal except ceaseless prayer and purity of heart. In Chapter LVIII of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict requires but three things of a man seeking admission to the monastery: 1) that he truly be seeking God; 2) that he be zealous for the Opus Dei (the Divine Office); 3) that he embrace obedience and humiliations readily. In men having these three requisites, an abbot will find sons ready for adoption into the monastic family. If any one of the three requisites are missing, a man cannot be said to have a Benedictine vocation.

While it is true that monasteries may undertake certain works, those works do not define the monastic life. When the works undertaken by Benedictines fail, or go bankrupt, or are suppressed by a hostile government, nothing of the essence of Benedictine life is affected. Monks are not about making jellies, or cheese, or fruitcakes, or beer, though they may do all of these things, and do them very well. Monks are not about designing vestments and sewing them, or about writing icons, or about writing learned treatises, or about running excellent schools, though they may do all these things and make a success of them. Monks are not even about singing Gregorian Chant, although one might dare hope they do, and do it well!

Physician, Father, Shepherd

All of this is by way of background to Chapter XXVII. It is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful Chapters of the Rule; it reveals Saint Benedict's paternal heart. The Abbot is a physician dedicated to the care of sin-sick souls; he is a father concerned lest any one of his sons fall into too great a sadness; he is a Good Shepherd, ready to pursue the one sheep gone astray, to take pity on its weakness, and to carry it on his own shoulders over terrains that are rough and treacherous The duty of the Abbot is to keep his family together, holding as strongly and as tenderly to the feeble and fragile as to the healthy and strong.

The Weekly Psalter

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CHAPTER XVIII. In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said

24 Feb. ( if it be leap-year; if not it is added to the preceding day). 25 June. 25 Oct.
The order of psalmody for the Day-Hours being now arranged, let all the remaining 25 Psalms be equally distributed among the seven Night Offices, dividing the longer Psalms among them, and assigning twelve to each night. Above all, we recommend that if this arrangement of the Psalms be displeasing to anyone, he should, if he think fit, order it otherwise; taking care in any case that the whole Psalter of a hundred and fifty Psalms be recited every week, and always begun afresh at the Night Office on Sunday. For those monks would shew themselves very slothful in the divine service who said in the course of a week less than the entire Psalter, with the usual canticles; since we read that our holy fathers resolutely performed in a single day what I pray we tepid monks may achieve in a whole week.

One Non-Negotiable

With this section of Chapter XVIII, our father Saint Benedict completes his distribution of the 150 psalms over the course of the week. This being done, he shows his humility and reasonableness by allowing for a different arrangement of the psalms, but under one condition: that the whole Psalter of a hundred and fifty Psalms be recited every week, and always begun afresh at the Night Office on Sunday. So clear is Saint Benedict on this particular point, that one cannot depart from the principle of the recitation of the whole Psalter of a hundred and fifty psalms over the week, without stepping outside the margins of the Holy Rule. The distribution of the Psalter over one week is one of the very few non-negotiables laid down by Saint Benedict.

We Tepid Monks

Why is Saint Benedict so insistent on this principle? He explains: "Those monks would shew themselves very slothful in the divine service who said in the course of a week less than the entire Psalter, with the usual canticles; since we read that our holy fathers resolutely performed in a single day what I pray we tepid monks may achieve in a whole week." It is clear, then, that Benedictines are bound to pray the Psalter in its entirety weekly.


Wonderful benefits accrue from the weekly repetition of the Psalter: the psalms become familiar, sometimes to the point of being memorised; the taste of them lingers for a long time on the palate of the soul; they become the ground of an authentic Christian contemplation, for by them, the prayer of Christ passes into us, and we pass into His prayer to the Father.

The Example of the Maurists

Given that Saint Benedict does allow for other distributions of the Psalter, the Benedictines of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, In the 17th century, produced a masterful one week cursus of the psalms for their own Maurist Breviary. The one week distribution of the psalms that we use at Silverstream Priory is based on the Maurist template.

Dixit Dominus Domino meo

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CHAPTER XVIII. In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said

23 Feb. 24 June. 24 Oct.
Vespers are to be sung every day with four Psalms. And let these begin from the hundred and ninth, and go on to the hundred and forty-seventh, omitting those of their number that are set apart for other Hours - that is, from the hundred and seventeenth to the hundred and twenty-seventh, the hundred and thirty-third, and the hundred and forty-second. All the rest are to be said at Vespers. And as there are three Psalms wanting, let those of the aforesaid number which are somewhat long be divided, namely the hundred and thirty-eighth, the hundred and forty-third, and the hundred and forty-fourth. But let the hundred and sixteenth, as it is short, be joined to the hundred and fifteenth. The order of the Psalms at Vespers being thus disposed, let the rest, that is, the lessons, responses, hymns, verses and canticles, be said as already laid down. At Compline the same Psalms are to be repeated every day: namely the fourth, ninetieth, and hundred and thirty-third.

Christ, Priest and King

Saint Benedict begins the weekly cycle of psalms at Vespers with Psalm 109 on Sunday evening. Psalm 109, a mysterious revelation of Christ as Priest and KIng, holds a place of choice in our traditional Benedictine cursus of the Psalter.

When Our Lord Jesus Christ looked into the psalms He saw His own face as in a mirror. So too, does His Spouse, the Church see the Face of Christ, her Bridegroom, her King, and her Priest in the psalms. Jesus quotes Psalm 109, saying, "David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.' David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?" (Mark 12:36). An allusion to the same Psalm 109 recurs at the very end of Saint Mark's gospel: "So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19).

Both Lord and Christ

On the morning of Pentecost, Saint Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, preaches the mystery of the risen and ascended Christ saying, "David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:34-36). Psalm 109 is the ground of some of the most important Christological doctrines of the New Testament. Saint Paul alludes to it in Romans (8:34), Ephesians (1:20), and Colossians (3:1). We discover Psalm 109 four times in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Sit on My Right

From the time of the Apostles, Psalm 109 has been a mirror wherein the Church contemplates the mystery of Christ in His suffering and triumph. The use of Psalm 109 in the sacred liturgy continues in the Church Jesus' own understanding of it passed on to the Apostles. Deep in her collective memory the Church cherishes the incomparable seventh mode antiphon that, for centuries, has opened the evening sacrifice of praise on Sunday: Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Dede a dextris meis (Psalm 109:1). She hears the voice of Christ repeating for her what the Father said to Him on the day of resurrection: "Sit at my right" (Psalm 109:1).

Psalm Titles

The medieval monastic Psalters place a Christological title at the beginning of each psalm. These old titles of the psalms -- there are many series of them -- say, in some way, "Here is the mystery of Christ in this psalm. Contemplate His Face as in a mirror, and hear in this psalm the sound of His voice." One ancient series of psalm titles has this for Psalm 109: "Of the divinity, the humanity, the kingship, and the priesthood of Christ."

The Whole Mystery of Christ

Going through the psalm, verse by verse, we see in verse 1 Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Father, an image that recurs in the Gloria of the Mass and in the Te Deum. In verse 3 we hear the voice of the Father saying, "From the womb before the daystar I begot thee" (Psalm 109:3). Verse 4 is the declaration of Christ's eternal priesthood: "Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech" (Psalm 109:4). Verses 5 and 6 describe the triumph of Christ over the powers of death. In the last verse of the psalm the whole mystery of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection is summed up: "He shall drink of the torrent in the way -- the torrent of His bitter sufferings -- therefore He shall lift up his head -- in the glory of the resurrection and ascension" (Psalm 109:7).

Drinking of the Torrent

How does all of this relate to our life? When we begin to see the Face of Christ in the psalms as in a mirror, we can begin to relate them to our own monastic journey as well. We are all of us called, in some way, to "drink of the torrent [of humiliation and suffering] in the way" (Psalm 109:7). At the same time, our indefectible hope is that, like Christ and with him, we too shall "lift up our heads." All that is said to Christ by the Father is spoken to us. All that was accomplished in Christ our Head must fulfilled in his Body and in each of his members. And so so we sing the psalms of David, the psalms of Christ, as we advance day after day and week after week.

Little Hours

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CHAPTER XVIII. In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said

22 Feb. 23 June. 23 Oct.
At Tierce, Sext and None on Monday are to be said the nine remaining parts of the hundred and eighteenth Psalm, three parts at each Hour. This Psalm having thus been said through in two days, that is, Sunday and Monday, let the nine Psalms from the hundred and nineteenth to the hundred and twenty-seventh be said on Tuesday at Tierce, Sext and None - three at each Hour. And these Psalms are to be repeated at the same Hours every day until Sunday; the arrangement, moreover, of hymns, lessons and versicles remaining the same throughout, so as always to begin on Sunday from the hundred and eighteenth Psalm.

Condensed Moments of Prayer

The so-called Little Hours are intense and condensed moments of prayer occurring more or less every three hours throughout the day. Each of the Little Hours is associated with a mystery in the Passion of Our Lord, and with an even in in the life of the early Church related in the Acts of the Apostles. In recalling these mystery-events, the Church experiences anew the grace that they signify, and this, day after day.

At Silverstream Priory we hold to the four Little Hours: Prime, Tierce, Sext, and None, as I explained in a previous commentary. They constitute the rhythmic pulsation of a prayer that, in obedience to the word of the Lord in the Gospel (Luke 18:1) and the teaching of the Apostle (1 Thessalonians 5:17), we endeavour to make ceaseless.

Before and After

The post-Conciliar reform of the Divine Office (the Liturgia Horarum) effectively discouraged the prayer of the Little Hours by making two out of three of them optional on any given day, and by presenting them in a confusing manner. Paradoxically, before the post-Conciliar renewal there was, even among lay Catholics, a certain enthusiasm for the Little Hours, due in large part, to the beautiful pastoral presentation of them in the Collegeville editions of the Roman Breviary and the Short Breviary, with explanatory notes by Dr. Pius Parsch.

A healthy liturgical piety, based on the Missal and the Breviary, flourished -- especially among thriving lay movements such as the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Worker, Madonna House, and the Grail -- in the years between the Second World War and the Second Vatican Council; only after the Second Vatican Council did this liturgical piety begin to wane and, in some places, shrivel up and disappear. Private devotions, revelations, and extraneous pious practices, some of a charismatic stamp, soon swelled to fill the void left by a shrinking Liturgical Movement. But all of that is matter for another discussion on another day.

Tierce: The First Station in a Daily Via Crucis

The Hour of Tierce recalls Jesus being charged with the wood of the Cross. It is the beginning of the Church's daily liturgical via crucis condensed into three stations.

And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him who for murder and sedition, had been cast into prison, whom they had desired; but Jesus he delivered up to their will. And as they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country; and they laid the cross on him to carry after Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry? And there were also two other malefactors led with him to be put to death. (Luke 23:24-32)


We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness. (Pope Leo XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, 9 May 1897)

The Third Hour Pentecost

The Hour of Tierce also recalls, as I have explained in a previous commentary, the mystery of Pentecost. Each morning, at the Hour of Tierce the Church invokes the Holy Ghost. Those who would argue that traditional Catholic piety gives scant attention to the Holy Ghost have little knowledge or experience of the daily liturgical Pentecost, that is the Hour of Tierce. It is sufficient to meditate the hymn of Tierce, given here in Blessed John Henry Newman's translation, to grasp something of the Church's intense traditional "devotion" to the Holy Ghost.

Come, Holy Ghost, who ever One
Art with the Father and the Son;
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls possess
With thy full flood of holiness.

In will and deed, by heart and tongue,
With all our powers, thy praise be sung;
And love light up our mortal frame,
Till others catch the living flame.

When the Church, in her liturgy, evokes a particular mystery of Christ, that mystery is rendered present in an efficacious and penetrating way. It is, in some way, renewed in the souls of the those who, surrendering to the prayer of the Church, allow the liturgy to possess them and carry them, like feathers on the wind, ad Patrem, towards the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Ghost.

And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. (Acts 2:1-4)

Sext: Christ Lifted Up from the Earth

The Hour of Sext, the second station in the Church's daily via crucis, recalls the crucifixion of Jesus. Nailed to the wood of the Cross, He is fixed in a position of offering to the Father as the Redeemer of Men. "Now is the judgment of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. Now this he said, signifying what death he should die."

For the Salvation of All Nations

At the same time, the Hour of Sext recalls the revelation to Saint Peter that the salvation wrought by Christ upon the Cross is open to every nation on earth. "And Peter opening his mouth, said: In very deed I perceive, that God is not a respecter of persons. But in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh justice, is acceptable to him." (Acts 12:34-35)

None: The Blood and the Water

The Hour of None recalls the saving death of Jesus upon the Cross; it recalls His sacred side opened by the soldier's lance, and the blood and water that flowed out from His pierced Heart. By celebrating the Hour of None, the Church has always kept the memorial of what modern devotions, building upon a tender medieval piety, rightly present as The Hour of Mercy.

Source of Healing

At the same time, the Hour of None recalls the healing of the crippled man by the Apostles Peter and John, that Saint Luke relates in the Acts of the Apostles:

Now Peter and John went up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer. And a certain man who was lame from his mother' s womb, was carried: whom they laid every day at the gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful, that he might ask alms of them that went into the temple. He, when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said: Look upon us. But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them. But Peter said: Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise, and walk. And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength. And he leaping up, stood, and walked, and went in with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. And they knew him, that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened to him" (Acts 3:1-10).

Immense in Their Implications

The so-called Little Hours are immense in their implications for a truly Catholic piety. One who prays them daily, whether within the cloister, or amidst the noise and chaos of the world, will experience the healing effects of the Passion of Christ and the operations of the Holy Ghost who is, at every hour, active and working in the Church.

Via, Veritas, et Vita

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CHAPTER XVIII. In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said

21 Feb. 22 June. 22 Oct.
First of all let this verse be said: "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me," and the Gloria, followed by the hymn proper to each Hour. At Prime on Sunday four parts of the hundred and eighteenth Psalm are to be said. At the other Hours, that is, Tierce, Sext and None, let three parts of the same Psalm be said. At Prime on Monday let three Psalms be said, namely, the first, second and sixth and so in the same way every day until Sunday let three Psalms be said at Prime in order, up to the nineteenth; the ninth and seventeenth, however, being divided into two Glorias. It will thus come about that at the Night-Office on Sunday we shall always begin with the twentieth Psalm.

A Litany of Praise

Saint Benedict reserves Psalm 118 (Beati immaculati) to Sunday, the Day of the Lord, the day par excellence of lectio divina, with the overflow of verses being chanted on Monday. Psalm 118 is a long, rapturous litany in praise of the Law. It was by means of the Law that God made known His Heart -- the splendour of His truth, the glory of His beauty, the immensity of His goodness -- to Israel. The psalmist cannot find enough words to describe the munificent self-revelation of God to Israel. With the mystical accents of a lover, the psalmist sings of the word of the Lord, of His precepts, His commandments, His ordinances, His statutes, His laws, His will, His righteousness, His justice, His mercy, and His utterances. Having exhausted all that he can say, he fails even to begin to approach the splendour of what God has revealed to Israel!

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

The rabbis of old referred to the Torah, the Law, as "the way, the truth, and the life." When the Lord Jesus applied these three words to Himself, saying, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life", He was revealing Himself as the true Torah, the fulfillment of the Law and of the Prophets, the One and Only Way to the Father. In this light, Psalm 118 becomes a litany of love addressed to the Word, a long contemplation of His Face, a confession of His holiness, His beauty, His goodness, and His mercy.

An Offering of Adoration and of Love

There is true spiritual joy in the weekly return of Psalm 118. It is an integral part of the Day of the Lord, spilling over into the feria secunda, the second day of the week. Of all the psalms, it is the one that I can pray most directly to Christ, offering Him verse after verse in adoration and in love.

Deus in adjutorium meum intende

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St Dominique qui prie.jpg

I find this image of Saint Dominic at prayer so expressive of the Deus in adjutorium that I had to use it, even though it does not depict Saint Dominic in the act of choral prayer, but rather in secret prayer. Nonetheless it shows clearly that Saint Dominic's intimate personal prayer was shaped by the liturgy, and that the embodiment of prayer in gestures accompanied him from the choir to his cell.

CHAPTER XVII. How Many Psalms Are to Be Sung at These Hours

20 Feb. 21 June. 21 Oct.
We have now disposed the order of the psalmody for the Night-Office and for Lauds: let us proceed to arrange for the remaining Hours. At Prime, let three Psalms be said separately and not under one Gloria. The hymn at this Hour is to follow the verse, Deus in adjutorium, before the Psalms be begun. Then at the end of the three Psalms, let one lesson be said, with a versicle, the Kyrie eleison, and the Collect.* Tierce, Sext and None are to be recited in the same way, that is, the verse, the hymn proper to each Hour, three Psalms, the lesson and versicle, Kyrie eleison, with the Collect. If the community be large, let the Psalms be sung with antiphons: but if small, let them be sung straight forward.* Let the Vesper Office consist of four Psalms with antiphons: after the Psalms a lesson is to be recited; then a responsory, a hymn and versicle, the canticle from the Gospel, the Litany and Lord's Prayer, and finally the Collect. Let Compline consist of the recitation of three Psalms to be said straight on without antiphons; then the hymn for that Hour, one lesson, the versicle, Kyrie eleison, the blessing and the Collect.

Where Prayer Begins

Saint Benedict orders that the Hours are to begin with the first verse of Psalm 69: Deus, in adjutorium meum intende; Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina. One cannot begin to pray without a special grace of God; "No man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3). Prayer begins not in the human heart, but in the Heart of God; it is a divine initiative. When a monk, or a whole monastic choir, send heavenward the immense cry, Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina, one hears in it the urgent plea of every human heart for communion with God, the thirst of millions of souls for living water.

The Grace of the Holy Ghost

I have long had an inner awareness that the Deus in adjutorium calls down the grace of the Holy Ghost in a unique way. Does not the Apostle say that, "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God" (Romans 8:26-27)?

Beginning Well

The recollected quality or spiritual tenor of an Office is directly proportionate to the attention and devotion brought to bear upon the Deus in adjutorium. An Office well begun will unfold peacefully and in a gentle attention to the presence of God. An Office begun badly, that is to say, in a distracted manner, without having prepared one's choir books before hand, or in the rush of a last-minute arrival in one's choir stall, will be troubled from start to finish. This, at least, is my experience. It is always good to arrive in one's choir stall (or at statio outside of choir) several minutes before the Office is to begin. One's choir books should be prepared and marked in advance. One needs to take the time to breathe before attempting to chant an Office.

Embodied Prayer

The gestures that accompany the Deus in adjutorium are as important as the words. Sacred gestures are the embodiment of prayer: hands folded and held rather high in front of the breast, pointing heavenward like an arrow, with the right thumb crossed over the left. Then follows a grand, majestic sign of the cross, made slowly and with gravity. At the doxology, all turn in choir and bow profoundly in adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, rising for the sicut erat in principio.

Listening to Abbot Isaac in Cassian's Conferences

Saint Benedict's frequent use of the Deus in adjutorium reflects the ancient monastic practice related by CassIan in Conference X, Chapter 10:

"O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
This verse . . . embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one's own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand. It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender.
This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield. It does not suffer those who are in a state of moroseness and anxiety of mind, or depressed by sadness or all kinds of thoughts to despair of saving remedies, as it shows that He, who is invoked, is ever looking on at our struggles and is not far from His suppliants. It warns us whose lot is spiritual success and delight of heart that we ought not to be at all elated or puffed up by our happy condition, which it assures us cannot last without God as our protector, while it implores Him not only always but even speedily to help us.
This verse, I say, will be found helpful and useful to every one of us in whatever condition we may be. For one who always and in all matters wants to be helped, shows that he needs the assistance of God not only in sorrowful or hard matters but also equally in prosperous and happy ones, that he may be delivered from the one and also made to continue in the other, as he knows that in both of them human weakness is unable to endure without His assistance. I am affected by the passion of gluttony. I ask for food of which the desert knows nothing, and in the squalid desert there are wafted to me odours of royal dainties and I find that even against my will I am drawn to long for them. I must at once say: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
I am incited to anticipate the hour fixed for supper, or I am trying with great sorrow of heart to keep to the limits of the right and regular meagre fare. I must cry out with groans: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Weakness of the stomach hinders me when wanting severer fasts, on account of the assaults of the flesh, or dryness of the belly and constipation frightens me. In order that effect may be given to my wishes, or else that the fire of carnal lust may be quenched without the remedy of a stricter fast, I must pray: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." When I come to supper, at the bidding of the proper hour I loathe taking food and am prevented from eating anything to satisfy the requirements of nature: I must cry with a sigh: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
When I want for the sake of steadfastness of heart to apply myself to reading a headache interferes and stops me, and at the third hour sleep glues my head to the sacred page, and I am forced either to overstep or to anticipate the time assigned to rest; and finally an overpowering desire to sleep forces me to cut short the canonical rule for service in the Psalms: in the same way I must cry out: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Sleep is withdrawn from my eyes, and for many nights I find myself wearied out with sleeplessness caused by the devil, and all repose and rest by night is kept away from my eyelids; I must sigh and pray: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
While I am still in the midst of a struggle with sin suddenly an irritation of the flesh affects me and tries by a pleasant sensation to draw me to consent while in my sleep. In order that a raging fire from without may not burn up the fragrant blossoms of chastity, I must cry out: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I feel that the incentive to lust is removed, and that the heat of passion has died away in my members: In order that this good condition acquired, or rather that this grace of God may continue still longer or forever with me, I must earnestly say: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
I am disturbed by the pangs of anger, covetousness, gloominess, and driven to disturb the peaceful state in which I was, and which was dear to me: In order that I may not be carried away by raging passion into the bitterness of gall, I must cry out with deep groans: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I am tried by being puffed up by accidie, vainglory, and pride, and my mind with subtle thoughts flatters itself somewhat on account of the coldness and carelessness of others: In order that this dangerous suggestion of the enemy may not get the mastery over me, I must pray with all contrition of heart: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
I have gained the grace of humility and simplicity, and by continually mortifying my spirit have got rid of the swellings of pride: In order that the "foot of pride" may not again "come against me," and "the hand of the sinner disturb me," and that I may not be more seriously damaged by elation at my success, I must cry with all my might, "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I am on fire with innumerable and various wanderings of soul and shiftiness of heart, and cannot collect my scattered thoughts, nor can I even pour forth my prayer without interruption and images of vain figures, and the recollection of conversations and actions, and I feel myself tied down by such dryness and barrenness that I feel I cannot give birth to any offspring in the shape of spiritual ideas: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to be set free from this wretched state of mind, from which I cannot extricate myself by any number of sighs and groans, I must full surely cry out: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
Again, I feel that by the visitation of the Holy Spirit I have gained purpose of soul, steadfastness of thought, keenness of heart, together with an ineffable joy and transport of mind, and in the exuberance of spiritual feelings I have perceived by a sudden illumination from the Lord an abounding revelation of most holy ideas which were formerly altogether hidden from me: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to linger for a longer time in them I must often and anxiously exclaim: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
Encompassed by nightly horrors of devils I am agitated, and am disturbed by the appearances of unclean spirits, my very hope of life and salvation is withdrawn by the horror of fear. Flying to the safe refuge of this verse, I will cry out with all my might: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
Again, when I have been restored by the Lord's consolation, and, cheered by His coming, feel myself encompassed as if by countless thousands of angels, so that all of a sudden I can venture to seek the conflict and provoke a battle with those whom a while ago I dreaded worse than death, and whose touch or even approach I felt with a shudder both of mind and body: In order that the vigour of this courage may, by God's grace, continue in me still longer, I must cry out with all my powers "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up.
Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be turned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. This thought in your heart may be to you a saving formula, and not only keep you unharmed by all attacks of devils, but also purify you from all faults and earthly stains, and lead you to that invisible and celestial contemplation, and carry you on to that ineffable glow of prayer, of which so few have any experience. Let sleep come upon you still considering this verse, till having been moulded by the constant use of it, you grow accustomed to repeat it even in your sleep. When you wake let it be the first thing to come into your mind, let it anticipate all your waking thoughts, let it when you rise from your bed send you down on your knees, and thence send you forth to all your work and business, and let it follow you about all day long.
This you should think about, according to the Lawgiver's charge, "at home and walking forth on a journey," sleeping and waking. This you should write on the threshold and door of your mouth, this you should place on the walls of your house and in the recesses of your heart so that when you fall on your knees in prayer this may be your chant as you kneel, and when you rise up from it to go forth to all the necessary business of life it may be your constant prayer as you stand.


CHAPTER XVI. How the Work of God is to Be Done in the Daytime

19 Feb. 20 June. 20 Oct.

As the prophet saith: "Seven times in the day have I given praise to Thee." And we shall observe this sacred number of seven if, at the times of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, we fulfil the duties of our service. For it was of these hours of the day that he said: "Seven times in the day have I given praise to Thee"; just as the same prophet saith of the night watches: "At midnight I arose to give Thee praise." At these times, therefore, let us sing the praises of our Creator for the judgments of His justice: that is, at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline; and at night let us arise to praise Him.

Seven Times Daily

For Christians, nourished and illumined by the Word of God, the number seven signifies completion, fulness, and perfection. Saint Benedict's seven day Hours (or services) mean, in effect, that the whole day is steeped in the adoration of God and full of His praises. The perfection of each day lies in its total consecration to the glory of God.

The Rhythm of a Ceaseless Prayer

The seven Hours of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline mark the rhythm of an unbroken praise and a ceaseless adoration like that of the Angels in heaven. A monk is called to pray, not only when he occupies his choir stall in church, but in every place, and at every moment. Is this not the teaching of the Church expressed in the Preface of the Mass? "It is truly worthy and just, right and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God."

Lauds: At Break of Day

Each of the day Hours has its own theological significance. Lauds is suffused with the radiance of the risen Christ. The Hour of Lauds celebrates the splendour of the resurrection with repeated references to the rising of the sun, the Dayspring that visits us from high (Luke 1:78); it summons the Church and all her members to a daily spiritual resurrection and to renewal in the grace of Holy Baptism:

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop,
and I shall be cleansed:
thou shalt wash me,
and I shall be made whiter than snow.
To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness:
and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.
Turn away thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create a clean heart in me, O God:
and renew a right spirit within my bowels.
Cast me not away from thy face;
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,
and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. (Psalm 50:9-14)

The Benedicite

On Sundays, and in the festive Office, we sing the Benedicite, the canticle of the Three Young Men in the fiery furnace. The Benedicite convokes all of creation to a symphony of praise and thanksgiving. Nowhere is the doxological finality of all created things better expressed than in this magnificent offering of cosmic praise. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Benedicite also constitutes the official liturgical thanksgiving of the priest after he has offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Laudate Psalms

The daily repetition of the Laudate psalms (148-149-150) was, until the reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Saint Pius X in 1911, common to both the Roman and the Benedictine Offices. It is from these three psalms, chanted under a single Gloria Patri, that the Office of Lauds derives its name and its character of lavish and gratuitous praise. It is fitting that the very ancient and traditional daily use of these three psalms should remain alive among the children of Saint Benedict.

The Benedictus

The crown and summit of Lauds is the canticle uttered by Zacharias after the birth and naming of Saint John the Baptist: the Benedictus. In the chant of the Benedictus we pass from the shadows and pre-dawn glimmers of the Old Testament into the full brightness of the New. The Benedictus extols the grand work of redemption and recalls, at the beginning of each new day, the abiding mission of Saint the Baptist to go before the face of the Lord and prepare his ways.

Prime: The First Hour

The Hour of Prime is of monastic origin and is still celebrated in many monasteries today. Prime is a morning prayer, but unlike Lauds, which is ordered to the praise of the glory of God that shines on the face of the risen Christ, Prime is ordered to the sanctification and offering of the day's labour. At Silverstream Priory, where we hold to the weekly recitation of the complete Psalter (all 150 Psalms plus the usual Canticles), Prime is the shortest Hour of the day, having but a single psalm chosen for each day.


Tierce: The Third Hour

The Hour of Tierce has long held my personal devotion. It is, as evidenced by its hymn, Nunc Sancte Nobis Spiritus, a daily renewal of the mystery and grace of Pentecost. Here is Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman's lovely translation of the hymn of Tierce:

Come, Holy Ghost, who ever One
Art with the Father and the Son;
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls possess
With thy full flood of holiness.

In will and deed, by heart and tongue,
With all our powers, thy praise be sung;
And love light up our mortal frame,
Till others catch the living flame.

Almighty Father, hear our cry
Through Jesus Christ our Lord most high,
Who with the Holy Ghost and thee
Doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

Tierce and the Holy Sacrifice

At the same time, according to tradition, the Hour of Tierce recalls the beginning of Our Lord's blessed Passion; it was fitting, then, that very early in the development of the Church's daily round of prayer, the third hour should come to be associated with the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Christ in Holy Mass. Tierce now precedes the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Dame Aemiliana Löhr explains that, "while the faithful are praying Tierce, the oblata, --bread and chalice-- are brought to the altar, and the priest vests himself for the celebration." All this gives Tierce its very special character as a prelude to the Holy Sacrifice.

At the third hour Our Lord began His via crucis, His priestly ascent to the altar of the Cross. At the third hour His Body and Bride, the Church, received the anointing from on high, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost in a mighty wind and in tongues of fire, that filled with that Pentecostal grace, she might be made ready, through her priests, to take up take up the bread and the chalice, and so perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross until the end of time, "announcing the death of the Lord until He come" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Sext: The Sixth Hour

Sext, the sixth hour, is the Hour at which Jesus stretched out His arms on the wood of the Cross; it is also the hour at which Jesus made known His thirst to the Samaritan woman at the well and revealed the Father's desire for adorers in spirit and in truth.

He cometh therefore to a city of Samaria, which is called Sichar, near the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob' s well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus saith to her: Give me to drink. (John 4:5-7)

Finally, it was at the sixth hour that Saint Peter ""went up upon the house-top to pray" (Acts 10:9), and saw the vision revealing to him the admission of the Gentiles into the Church.

None: The Ninth Hour

None is the hour of Our Lord's death upon the Cross, and of His descent into Hades. At the same time it is the hour of the healing of the lame man by the Apostles Peter and John.

Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar and hyssop, put it to his mouth. Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost. (John 19:28-30)
Now Peter and John went up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer. And a certain man who was lame from his mother' s womb, was carried: whom they laid every day at the gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful, that he might ask alms of them that went into the temple. He, when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. [But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said: Look upon us. But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them. But Peter said: Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise, and walk. And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength. And he leaping up, stood, and walked, and went in with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. And they knew him, that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10)


Vespers: At the Setting of the Sun

Vespers is the evening sacrifice (sacrificium vespertinum) of the Church. The Church offers the fragrant incense of her prayer to Christ, her Spouse; He takes it to His Heart, and unites it to His own prayer to the Father. "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name." (Hebrews 13:15). At Vespertide, the Church stands before the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration (James 1:17), thanking Him for the day's best gifts, and perfect gifts, and for every grace received through the succession of hours.

A Eucharistic Hour

Vespers has a singularly Eucharistic quality. It is the hour of the Mystic Supper in the Cenacle when Jesus sat at table with His Apostles and pronounced the wondrous words of consecration over the bread and over the chalice, giving to His first priests the power of making present His sacrifice from the rising of the sun even to its setting. It is the hour when the disciples, having encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, said to Him, "Stay with us, because it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent" (Luke 24:29). It is the hour when He, granting their plea, went in with them.

And whilst he was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to the other: Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in this way, and opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:30-32).

Having come to the setting of the sun, the Church is full of gratitude that, even as darkness descends over the earth, she possesses within herself a Light that will never grow faint or give way to darkness: the adorable and life-giving mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. The psalmody of Vespers soothes the troubled mind, and prepares both soul and body for the rest of the night.


The Magnificat

Just as the Benedictus is the crown and summit of Lauds, so too is the Magnificat the crown and summit of Vespers. The worthiness and dignity canticle of the Magnificat is unequalled, and this for three reasons: 1) because it issued forth from the most pure heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God; 2) because it celebrates the great things wrought by God, and glorifies His mercy that is from generation to generation; and 3) because it enshrines the humblest and highest sentiments that any human creature can express in the presence of God.

Compline: Before Sleep

Compline corresponds to Prime, and like Prime is of monastic origin. It consists of three psalms, a hymn, short lesson, versicle, collect, and blessing. Benedictine Compline does not include the canticle of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, although the Maurists, in their breviary, appended it to the psalms. Saint Benedict places Psalms 4, 90, and 133 at Compline. He makes a point of stipulating that it be chanted before nightfall. The psalms of Compline are invitation to compunction, to confidence in God, and to quietness. As a kind of postlude to Compline, we raise our voices in filial homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our heavenly Abbess and our Queen, trusting that, at the end of the day, she looks upon the weakest and neediest of her sons with eyes of mercy.


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CHAPTER XV. At What Times of the Year Alleluia Is to Be Said

18 Feb. 19 June. 19 Oct.
From the holy Feast of Pascha until Pentecost, without interruption, let Alleluia be said both with the Psalms and the responsories. From Pentecost until the beginning of Lent it is to be said at the Night-Office with the six latter Psalms only. But on every Sunday out of Lent let the Canticles,* Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext and None be said with Alleluia: Vespers, however, with an antiphon. The responses are never to be said with Alleluia, except from Pascha to Pentecost.

Not Left to Random Personal Inspiration

Readers discovering the Rule of Saint Benedict for the first time are often surprised by the Holy Patriarch's careful attention to the minutest details of the Opus Dei (the Work of God or Divine Office). He goes so far as to devote a chapter of the Holy Rule to the times of the year during which Alleluia is said. The chant of the Alleluia is not left to random personal inspiration, lest it become an element of disorder in the sacred liturgy. The Alleluia is woven into the texture of the Office in such a manner that when it is said, the Alleluia creates a holy enchantment, and when it is not said, the very ethos of the Office is changed in such a way, that the soul longs for the return of the Alleluia, as for the return of a dearly loved friend at the sound of whose voice one experiences gladness.

A Heavenly Word

Among the holy words that grace the lips of man in prayer, there is perhaps none lovelier than Alleluia. It is a word that requires the development of melody. It calls for a soaring vocal jubilation. It contains within itself a cantus obscurior, the hidden and most secret form of verbal expression that the chant o the Church brings to life. Alleluia is a heavenly word, an echo and a foretaste of the liturgy described by Saint John in the Apocalypse:

After these things I heard as it were the voice of much people in heaven, saying: Alleluia. Salvation, and glory, and power is to our God. For true and just are his judgments, who hath judged the great harlot which corrupted the earth with her fornication, and hath revenged the blood of his servants, at her hands. And again they said: Alleluia. And her smoke ascendeth for ever and ever. And the four and twenty ancients, and the four living creatures fell down and adored God that sitteth upon the throne, saying: Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out from the throne, saying: Give praise to our God, all ye his servants; and you that fear him, little and great.
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunders, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath prepared herself. (Apocalypse 19:1-7)

Father Zundel

Father Maurice Zundel (1887-1975), a master at once of the interior life and of its most poetic expression, wrote the following incomparable page on the Alleluia:

The anonymous Englishman who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing puts the following question into the mouth of the disciple he is guiding to contemplation. "Now thou askest me and sayest : How shall I think on God, and what is He? Unto this I cannot answer Thee except to say I know not." This is the traditional teaching of all the great mystics. They do not know. Words seem to them a mockery, concepts a prison, the entire apparatus of speech the shadow of a shade.
We were obliged, it is true, to start from language, to push off from the beach with our oar, turning our back to the open sea. We were compelled to utter in words full of earthly associations the supreme secrets of the Divine Life. Faith, it is true, had infused into language a new life and had, by employing the marvellous resources of analogy, expanded without limit the perspectives it is capable of disclosing. But every comparison was finally compelled to deny itself. For no perfection is ever realised in its purity within the sphere of our present experience, and this freedom from all alloy is precisely the distinctive feature which must characterise God's perfections.
The Godhead in effect cannot be distinguished as one being among others or as a being at the head of other beings, in an ascending series of which it is the highest degree. It must be distinguished as the Being absolutely transcending not only each created being taken separately but their entire series. However far we carry the excellence of the creature it is always infinitely remote from God. To find God we must leave the series to which we are too inclined to imagine that He belongs and seeking, so to speak, to undefine rather than to define Him, realise that we begin to know Him truly in so far as we recognise that He is infinitely above every concept, as He is above every word, and that the name which fits Him better than any other is the Ineffable because it is content to call Him He that cannot be uttered. "Thou art a God ineffable, incomprehensible, invisible and beyond our grasp"; as it is finely expressed in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
From this point of view, few pages give such delight to the believer, Denys excepted, as the article in his Summa which St. Thomas devotes to the relation between the sixth beatitude and the gift of understanding, where he speaks of this vision, in which though we do not see what God is, at least we see what he is not, and adds that "the more perfectly we know God in this life, the more we understand that He exceeds whatever the intellect can understand". This denial, however, is the supreme affirmation of our understanding. For it is the refusal to limit the Infinite. And the heart has the wider field for its love, and feels itself free at last to attach itself fully without being made captive. Impatient now of the oars which beat the waves to the laborious rhythm of thought, it asks that the sail be hoisted and that it be permitted to follow freely the wind of the Spirit through God's incomprehensible transcendence, far from banishing Him to an inaccessible sublimity, assures us that His relations with the universe are infinitely gratuitous and that no other bond with His creatures is possible than His goodness which diffuses itself and His love which gives. What could He expect or receive who is the fullness of being? He truly gives what He gives. He gives even what He asks, He gives twice what He receives.
Therefore, inasmuch as the Ineffable Love is His Name, He that cannot be uttered cannot be subject to any necessity in His dealings with us. Our dependence upon Him gives us being; it does not enrich Him. If He makes us the object of His power, it is, therefore, always in order to make us the object of His love. In our regard He is all heart. He is a mother. And since we have no hold upon being except His will, always in action, to give it us, we are born every moment, of His love. The sublimest theology issues without denying itself, as it is deepened by the light of infused wisdom, in the tenderest filial charity.
No longer able to hold back its rapture, and having moreover climbed above the zone of words, the jubilant soul bursts into the ecstatic vocalisations of the Alleluia. "He who jubilates," St. Augustine explains, "utters no words, but a sound of joy without words: for it is the voice of the spirit lost in joy, expressing that joy to the utmost of its power but unable to define its meaning. And who is the fit object of this jubilation but the ineffable God? Ineffable indeed is He whom thou canst not name. But if thou canst not name Him, yet may not keep silence, what canst thou do but jubilate, that thy heart may rejoice without words, and the immensity of thy joy escape the constraint of syllables."
It would be impossible to express better the mystery of the Alleluia, its sublime aspiration to utter the ineffable by the ineffable. (The Splendour of the Liturgy)

The Meaning of the Alleluia

And after Father Zundel, Saint Augustine on the Alleluia:

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.
Because there are these two periods of time - the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy - we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Pascha signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Pascha which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Pascha is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Pascha points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.
Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our Head. The Lord's passion depicts for us our present life of trial - shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die. The Lord's resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given to us in the future.
Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, "Praise the Lord!" and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all thereby doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.
We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go on our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other's voices, so do God's ears hear our thoughts. (Discourse on the Psalms, Psalm 148, 1-2: CCL 40, 2165-2166)

Subiaco apside.jpg

CHAPTER XIV. How the Night-Office is to Be Said on Saints' Days

17 Feb. 18 June. 18 Oct.
On the Festivals of Saints, and all other solemnities, let the Office be ordered as we have prescribed for Sundays: except that the Psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said. Their number, however, shall remain as we have appointed above.

Festivals of the Saints

Saint Benedict distinguishes the festivals of saints from "other solemnities", presumably those of the Lord. In Saint Benedict's day there were far fewer festivals of saints than there are in the present liturgical calendar. Saint Benedict's monks would have known the most ancient festivals of the Mother of God on January 1st and August 15th. They would have celebrated the feast of Saint John the Baptist, of the Apostles, of the greater martyrs and of local ones, and of some confessors such as, for example, Saint Martin of Tours.

Oratories and Relics

Saint Benedict's first act upon arriving at Monte Cassino in 529 was to destroy the idol and altar that he found in the there in the temple dedicated to Apollo. On that site he built a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and an oratory dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. This indicates that Saint Benedict already celebrated the liturgical cultus of these two monastic saints. Saint Benedict's liturgical devotion to the saints appears in Chapter LVIII, on the reception of new brethren, where he alludes to "the saints whose relics are in the altar."

Ordering the Night Office

Saint Benedict orders that the Night Office of the festivals of saints be celebrated with proper psalms, antiphons, and lessons, while keeping the order established for Sundays. This detail reveals a keen sensitivity to the liturgical cultus of the saints, and to the already high development of the choral Office celebrated by Saint Benedict and his monks.

With the progressive enrichment of the sanctoral cycle, it became necessary to devise various ways of ranking the festivals of saints, and of ordering their celebration. Over time this gave rise to the current practices by which certain greater festivals are marked by a complete proper Office, or by one taken from the Common suited to the particular saint, whereas on other days, only the invitatory antiphon, hymn, lesson, responsory, and collect would be of the saint.

In the Wake of the Second Vatican Council

In many places in northern Europe -- notably in France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands -- a certain Protestantisation crept into the liturgical sensibility prevalent during the years following the Second Vatican Council. This led to a suspicion of the cultus of the saints, their festivals, and their relics, and to a trend towards minimizing the role of the saints in Catholic life, and towards diminishing as much possible their place in the liturgy. This trend was fostered by the unfortunate introduction of so-called "optional memorials", by which certain saints were condemned to liturgical oblivion. It is a principle, easily observed in the recent history of the liturgy, that as soon as something is declared optional, it falls into desuetude.

Sentire Cum Ecclesia

It is noteworthy that Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his sixth rule for holding fast to the sentiments of the Church (sentire cum ecclesia) recognized the threat of Protestant hostility to the cultus of the Saints and to Catholic piety, and so wrote: "To praise relics of the Saints, giving veneration to them and praying to the Saints; and to praise Stations, pilgrimages, Indulgences, pardons, cruzadas, and candles lighted in the churches."

The Companionship of the Saints

An authentic Benedictine piety delights in the cultus of the saints, of their relics, and of their altars. I remember being moved, in my monastic youth, by the simple devotion of monks who, either before Matins or after Compline, would go, as it were, in pilgrimage, from altar to altar, and from image to image, honouring the saints and seeking their intercession. "And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Pater noster qui es in caelis

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CHAPTER XIII. How Lauds Are to Be Said on Weekdays

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."

A Benedictine Peculiarity

When visitors to Benedictine monasteries assist at the Offices of Lauds or Vespers, they are often surprised that, at the end of the celebration, the Abbot (or Prior) alone chants the Our Father, while the monks, bowing profoundly, listen to the prayer. In the reformed Roman Rite, all sing the Our Father together; in the Benedictine tradition it is not so. For centuries Benedictines have followed Saint Benedict's clear injunction in the Holy Rule. What does it signify? What does it suggest?

The Abbot: Icon of Christ

For Saint Benedict, the Abbot (or the Prior) holds the place of Christ in the monastery; he is a living breathing icon of Christ in the midst of the brethren. His function obliges him to become ever more transparent, that is, to grow in purity of heart. The Abbot is at once the friend of the Bridegroom, and the Bridegroom's authorized representative; his aspiration and his joy is to disappear, leaving to his monks only their faith's perception of the Bridegroom's Face, of His voice, His hands, and His heart.

He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom' s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:29-30)

Christ, Head and Bridegroom

When, then, the Abbot prays the Our Father at the end of Lauds and Vespers, he does so in persona Christi capitis sponsique, in the very person of Christ, the Head of His Mystical Body and Bridegroom of His Spouse, the Church. When the Abbot chants the Our Father, he is, in effect giving his voice to Christ, so that through him, Christ might teach his monks how to pray, even as He taught His disciples how to pray, in response to the request of one among them: "Lord, teach us how to pray" (Luke 11:1).


How do the monks respond to this? By bowing profoundly in choir: a gesture of complete submission, of humility, of obedience -- and by hearkening with the ear of the heart to the words of Christ chanted by the Abbot. Nowhere else does the first phrase of the Prologue of the Holy Rule take on such significance: "Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart." What is the precept of the Master? First of all, it is this: "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation."

The Balm that Heals

But there is more. Saint Benedict presents the Our Father, that the Abbot chants twice daily over his monks, as a sacrament of healing, and as a covenant of mercy and of mutual forgiveness. Monks, like all people living together, irritate and exasperate one another, they strike the sensitive chord and, even, wound one another. Saint Benedict knew this not theoretically but by experience. When the Abbot chants the Our Father over his sons inclined in a profound silence, he is spreading over their scratches, their bruises, and their wounds, the healing balm of the prayer of Christ, and this with a supernatural delicacy and sureness of touch.

In the End: Victory

Hearing the Our Father chanted over them twice daily, the monks are drawn into a mysterious covenant: they bind themselves to forgive one another as they would be forgiven by God. They ratify the Abbot's prayer over them by saying aloud the very last sentence: sed libera nos a malo, "But deliver us from evil." The monastic life is a struggle, a spiritual combat, but it is also a triumph, the victory of mercy over sin, of pardon over every offense, of joy over sorrow and, in the end, of life over death.

Splendor paternae gloriae

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CHAPTER XIII. How Lauds Are to be Said on Weekdays

15 Feb. 16 June. 16 Oct.
On week-days let Lauds be celebrated in the manner following. Let the sixty-sixth Psalm be said without an antiphon, as on Sundays, and somewhat slowly, in order that all may be in time for the fiftieth, which is to be said with an antiphon. After this let two other Psalms be said according to custom; that is, on Monday, the fifth and thirty-fifth: on Tuesday, the forty-second and fifty-sixth: on Wednesday, the sixty-third and sixty-fourth: on Thursday, the eighty-seventh and eighty-ninth: on Friday, the seventy-fifth and ninety-first: and on Saturday, the hundred and forty-second and the Canticle from Deuteronomy, which must be divided into two Glorias. But on the other days let canticles from the prophets be said, each on its proper day, according to the practice of the Roman Church. Then let the Psalms of praise follow, and after them a lesson from the Apostle, to be said by heart, a responsory, a hymn, a versicle, a canticle out of the Gospel, the Litany, and so conclude.

Psalm 66

Having already established the pattern of Lauds for Sundays, Saint Benedict here has only to order the details that pertain to its celebration on weekdays. Psalm 66 (see my commentary in the preceding post) is said as on Sundays. Saint Benedict, knowing human frailty and providing for it even within the liturgy, would have Psalm 66 be chanted "somewhat slowly" so that the laggards and dawdlers in the community might be in their places in choir in time for Psalm 50, the Miserere. This is a characteristically Benedictine detail; it shows Saint Benedict's provision for human weakness. He knows that in every community there will be laggards and dawdlers. Astonishingly, he accommodates them . . . to a point.

Benedictine Realism

In this paternal provision for the imperfect, the less-than-zealous, and the plodder, we see one of the characteristic traits that distinguish Benedictine asceticism from other schools of perfection. Saint Benedict assumes that wheresoever men are living together one will find the usual array of little miseries and weaknesses that affect fallen human nature. Saint Benedict does not have recourse to rigidity. Rather than tighten the controls, he provides a way of integrating such weaknesses harmoniously into the rhythm of daily life and, even, into the Work of God.

Short Lesson or Capitulum

As on Sunday, after the Laudate Psalms (148-149-150) there is a short lesson from Saint Paul, such as this one:

It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day. (Romans 13:11-13)


A responsory follows the short lesson. The 17th century Maurists were brilliant at the composition of responsories for their breviary. Each lesson had a responsory perfectly assorted to it. Here is an example of a responsory to the lesson above, composed in the Maurist fashion.

R. Thou hast made the morning light and the sun. (Psalm 73:16) * To thee do I watch at break of day. (Psalm 62:1). V. I rose up and am still with thee.(Psalm 138:18) R. To thee do I watch at break of day. V. Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. R. Thou hast made the morning light and the sun. * To thee do I watch at break of day.


Saint Benedict does not exclude hymns from the Opus Dei; his preference goes to those attributed to Saint Ambrose (340-397). My favourite hymn at Lauds is the one given for Monday. The translation is by poet laureate Robert S. Bridges (1844-1930):

O splendor of God's glory bright,
O Thou that bringest light from light;
O Light of light, light's living spring,
O day, all days illumining.

O Thou true Sun, on us Thy glance
Let fall in royal radiance;
The Spirit's sanctifying beam
Upon our earthly senses stream.

The Father, too, our prayers implore,
Father of glory evermore;
The Father of all grace and might,
To banish sin from our delight.

To guide whate'er we nobly do,
With love all envy to subdue;
To make ill fortune turn to fair,
And give us grace our wrongs to bear.

Our mind be in His keeping placed
Our body true to Him and chaste,
Where only faith her fire shall feed,
To burn the tares of Satan's seed.

And Christ to us for food shall be,
From Him our drink that welleth free,
The Spirit's wine, that maketh whole,
And, mocking not, exalts the soul.

Rejoicing may this day go hence;
Like virgin dawn our innocence,
Like fiery noon our faith appear,
Nor known the gloom of twilight drear.

Morn in her rosy car is borne;
Let Him come forth our perfect morn,
The Word in God the Father one,
The Father perfect in the Son.

All laud to God the Father be;
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To God the holy Paraclete.


The versicle that follows is graced in the sung Office with a lovely little melism (vocal adornment) on the last syllable:

V. We are filled in the morning with thy mercy.
R. And we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days. (Psalm 89:14)

The Benedictus

The Benedictus or Canticle of Zacharias (Luke 1:68-79) follows. It is the high point of Lauds, a solemn praise of the Christ the Orient (the rising sun) that visits us from on high to guide our feet into the way of peace. Although Saint Benedict does not mention it, an antiphon probably accompanied the chant of the Benedictus in his day, just as it does in the Office in use today.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel;
because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people:

And hath raised up an horn of salvation to us,
in the house of David his servant:

As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets,
who are from the beginning:

Salvation from our enemies,
and from the hand of all that hate us:

To perform mercy to our fathers,
and to remember his holy testament,

The oath, which he swore to Abraham our father,
that he would grant to us,

That being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
we may serve him without fear,
In holiness and justice before him, all our days.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest:
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways:

To give knowledge of salvation to his people,
unto the remission of their sins:

Through the bowels of the mercy of our God,
in which the Orient from on high hath visited us:

To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death:
to direct our feet into the way of peace.

The Litany

Saint Benedict begins the conclusion of Lauds with the Litany, that is, "Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us." Even this short formula (Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, in Greek) is, in effect, an offering of praise to Christ, the victorious King, who dispenses the divine alms of His mercy to souls that cry out to Him.

From morning's first light.

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CHAPTER XII. How the Solemn Office of Lauds is to Be Said

14 Feb. 15 June. 15 Oct.
At Lauds on Sunday let the sixty-sixth Psalm first be said straight on without an antiphon. After this let the fiftieth Psalm be said, with an Alleluia, and then the hundred and seventeenth and the sixty-second. Then the Benedicite and Psalms of Praise, a lesson from the Apocalypse, said by heart, a responsory, a hymn, a versicle, a canticle out of the Gospel, and the Litany, and so end.

Psalm 66

Saint Benedict introduces Lauds each day with Psalm 66. In the light of dawn, Saint Benedict would have his monks perceive a symbol of the radiance that shines from the countenance of God. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

May God have mercy on us, and bless us:
may he cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us,
and may he have mercy on us.

That we may know thy way upon earth:
thy salvation in all nations.

Let the people confess to thee, O God:
let all the people give praise to thee.

Let the nations be glad and rejoice:
for thou judgest the people with justice,
and directest the nations upon earth.

Let the people, O God, confess to thee:
let all the people give praise to thee:

The earth hath yielded her fruit.
May God, our God bless us,

May God bless us:
and all the ends of the earth fear him.

The Virgin Mother's Blessed Fruit

"The earth," sings the psalmist, "has yielded her fruit." What does this fruit-bearing earth signify if not the Mother of God, the virgin earth neither tilled nor seeded by man, yet rendered wonderfully fruitful by the Holy Ghost? "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" Lluke 1:42).

Universal Confession of Praise

I have long loved this psalm at the beginning of Lauds on all days and in every season. The repeated invitation to confess God insists that all peoples are created for the praise of His glory. No man and no nation on earth will find happiness and peace apart from the praise of God. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved Son" Ephesians 1:3-6).

Psalm 50, the Miserere

People unfamiliar with the particular genius of the Benedictine Office have expressed surprise that we sing Psalm 50, the Miserere, the most poignant of the penitential psalms on Sunday. For Saint Benedict, Psalm 50 is the indispensable morning prayer, inasmuch as it is a psalm of spiritual regeneration, of resurrection to newness of life, and of confirmation in the power of the Holy Ghost. The allusions to being sprinkled with hyssop, cleansed, washed, and made whiter than snow suggest that Psalm 50 be prayed as a renewal of the graces of Holy Baptism at the dawning of the day:

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed:
thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.

To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness:
and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.

Turn away thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create a clean heart in me, O God:
and renew a right spirit within my bowels.

Cast me not away from thy face;
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,
and strengthen me with a perfect spirit.

I will teach the unjust thy ways:
and the wicked shall be converted to thee.

Deliver me from blood, O God, thou God of my salvation:
and my tongue shall extol thy justice.

O Lord, thou wilt open my lips:
and my mouth shall declare thy praise.

Psalm 117

Psalm 117, the Paschal psalm par excellence, is well chosen for Sunday Lauds. It is the very psalm quoted by Saint Peter in his witness to the Resurrection before Annas and Caiaphas, and it is repeated daily at Holy Mass during the Octave of Pascha.

Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God hath raised from the dead, even by him this man standeth here before you whole.This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12)

I will give glory to thee because thou hast heard me:
and art become my salvation.

The stone which the builders rejected;
the same is become the head of the corner.

This is the Lord' s doing:
and it is wonderful in our eyes.

This is the day which the Lord hath made:
let us be glad and rejoice therein. (Psalm 117:21-14)

Psalm 62

There follows a true morning psalm, a prayer of longing for union with God. Understandably, Saint Benedict will use the same psalm in his festive Lauds as well.

O God, my God,
to thee do I watch from morning's first light.

For thee my soul hath thirsted;
for thee my flesh, O how many ways!

In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water:
so in the sanctuary have I come before thee,
to see thy power and thy glory.

For thy mercy is better than lives:
thee my lips shall praise.

Thus will I bless thee all my life long:
and in thy name I will lift up my hands.

Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness:
and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.

If I have remembered thee upon my bed,
I will meditate on thee in the morning. (Psalm 62:1-7)

The Benedicite

The Benedicite follows, that is the Canticle of the Three young Men from the Book of Daniel. It is an invitation of all things created to the praise of God. In singing the Benedicite, one experiences the priesthood of man over creation. It is man's role to convoke all things to that for which they were created, the glory of God, and to lift them up to the Creator, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in an immense oblation of praise.

The Church prescribes the same canticle to priests as their official liturgical thanksgiving after every Holy Mass. Blessed Dom Columba Marmion never omitted the Benedicite with the customary versicles and orations after Holy Mass. The holy Irish Benedictine felt it singularly appropriate to summon all creatures to the praise of the Word indwelling him sacramentally after Holy Communion.

The Laudate Psalms

Saint Benedict treats the last three psalms of the Psalter as if they were a single symphony of undiluted praise. They are sung under one Gloria Patri, not only on Sunday, but every day. It is this final portion of the psalmody that gives to the morning Office the name of Lauds. Over and again, we chant laudate, calling upon God's good creation to enter into its doxological finality. Dom Gabriel Sortais (1902-1963), Abbot General of the Trappist Order, was, on one occasion, so enthused by the bright succession of the Laudate psalms that he commented afterwards, "Today, I danced my way through Lauds."

Thinking of Our Oblates

There are Oblates who, given the duties of their various states in life, can but rarely pray the full Office. These do well to choose one or another of the psalms of Sunday Lauds for their morning prayer. Oblates with young children at home may want to introduce them to the Benedicite and the Laudate psalms, praying them together on alternate days. Children take easily to the praise of God, and are enchanted by the opportunity to invite all things created to join in their praise.

On earth as it is in heaven

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CHAPTER X. How the Night-Office is to Be Said in Summer Time

12 Feb. 13 June. 13 Oct.
From Easter to the first of November let the same number of Psalms be recited as prescribed above; only that no lessons are to be read from the book, on account of the shortness of the night: but instead of those three lessons let one from the Old Testament be said by heart, followed by a short responsory, and the rest as before laid down; so that never less than twelve Psalms, not counting the third and ninety-fourth, be said at the Night-Office.

The Psalmody of Matins

Taking into account the shortness of summer nights, Saint Benedict reduces the Night Office (Matins or Vigils) to its essential component: the psalmody, ordering that "never less than twelve Psalms, not counting the third and ninety-fourth, be said at the Night-Office." It is clear that, for Saint Benedict, what matters, above all the rest, is faithfulness to the established rule of psalmody.

Every monk (and Oblate) will, consequently, cultivate a profound attachment to the daily offering of psalms that structures the very rhythm of Benedictine life. While monasteries are bound daily, by the Holy Rule, to the fourteen psalms of the Night Office, Oblates living in the world with family obligations, will not be able to take on quite as much. There will be Oblates, for example, who will say no more than Psalm 3 and Psalm 94 for their Matins, or even Psalm 94 only. They will do this in great peace of conscience, drawing comfort from the fact that in the monastery of their Oblation the full offering of psalmody is rising to God faithfully on their behalf, by day and by night.

The Index of a Peaceful and Well-Ordered Heart

Saint Athanasius writes in his Letter on the Psalms to Marcellinus:

When . . . the Psalms are chanted, it is not from any mere desire for sweet music but as the outward expression of the inward harmony obtaining in the soul, because such harmonious recitation is in itself the index of a peaceful and well-ordered heart. To praise God tunefully upon an instrument, such as well-tuned cymbals, cithara, or ten-stringed psaltery, is, as we know, an outward token that the members of the body and the thoughts of the heart are, like the instruments themselves, in proper order and control, all of them together living and moving by the Spirit's cry and breath. And similarly, as it is written that By the Spirit a man lives and mortifies his bodily actions, [Rom 8:13] so he who sings well puts his soul in tune, correcting by degrees its faulty rhythm so that at last, being truly natural and integrated, it has fear of nothing, but in peaceful freedom from all vain imaginings may apply itself with greater longing to the good things to come. For a soul rightly ordered by chanting the sacred words forgets its own afflictions and contemplates with joy the things of Christ alone.
So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need. For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man. For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether, seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the Divine Psalms show you how to do, and in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

Fra Angelico S. Benedetto.jpg

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.

In Reverent Adoration of the Most Holy Trinity

Saint Benedict, being a practical man, advances the hour of the Night Office on Sunday by reason its length. The fundamental fourteen psalms are already in place. After the psalmody of the First Nocturn (or Watch) there are four lessons and responsories: an alternation of lectio and meditatio. Saint Benedict solemnizes the fourth responsory by concluding it with the Gloria Patri; during the chanting of the doxology the monks rise out of reverence for the Triune God and, according to the traditional practice, bow profoundly in adoration.

The Canticles and the Apostle

The Second Nocturn unfolds like the First, but it is followed by a Third Nocturn, composed of three Canticles from the Old Testament accompanied by an alleluiatic antiphon. Thus does Saint Benedict orchestrate a liturgical ascent to the proclamation of the Holy Gospel that is the culmination of the Night Office on Sunday. After the Canticles of the Third Nocturn, the Apostle Saint Paul appears as the herald of the grace of the risen Christ; there are four lessons drawn, as a rule, from his Epistles.

The Te Deum

After the fourth responsory, the Abbot intones the grand hymn of thanksgiving and praise, the Te Deum. The Te Deum serves as an immediate preparation for the right hearing of the Holy Gospel, just as the Alleluia does at Holy Mass. Praise precedes the proclamation of the Holy Gospel because praise dilates the heart with joy and elevates the mind to the beauty of God and to His perfections. Only a heart thus dilated can hear the Gospel rightly and fruitfully.

Thee God do we praise, * Thee Lord do we confess.
Thee, O Father Everlasting, * all the world doth hold in awe.
To Thee all the Angels, * Thee the Heavens and all the celestial Powers,
To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim, * proclaim with ceaseless voice:
Holy! * Lord God of Sabaoth!
Full the heavens and full the earth * of the Majesty of Thy glory.
Thine the praise * of the glorious choir of the Apostles,
Thine the praise * of the Prophets' worthy throng.
Thine the praise * of the Martys' shining army.
To Thee goeth up the praise of Holy Church * from every place in this round world:
To Thee, O Father * of immeasurable Majesty;
To Thine only Son, * adorable and true;
And to the Holy Ghost, * our Advocate and Comforter.
Thou, O Christ, * art the King of glory!
Thou, O Christ * art the Father's ageless Son.
Thou, to bear mankind upon thy shoulders, * the Virgin's womb didst not disdain.
Thou, death's bitter sting didst vanquish; * to believers heaven's kingdom opening wide.
Thou sittest now at God's right hand, * in the glory of the Father.
Thou shalt come to be our Judge; * this we do believe.
We bid Thee help Thou, then, Thine own * whom with Thy precious Blood Thou hast redeemed.
Number Thou them among Thy saints * in glory everlasting.
Salvation for Thy people, O Lord, * and blessings upon Thine inheritance!
Be Thou their King * and raise them up forever.
Day by day, * shall we bless Thee.
And praise Thy Name forever, * yea, even unto the ages of ages,
Deign Thou, this day, O Lord, * to keep us safe from sin.
Mercy upon us, O Lord, * mercy upon us.
Upon us be Thy mercy, O Lord, * for upon Thee have we fixed our hope.
In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; * let me not be put to shame in the age to come.

With Awe and Reverence

Towards the end of the Te Deum, a server brings the stole in the liturgical colour of the day to the Abbot (or Prior). If the Book of the Gospels is not carried to the Abbot (or Prior) at his place in choir, he goes to the lectern in the middle of the choir to chant the appointed Gospel there while, as Saint Benedict says, "all stand in awe and reverence." The importance given here to awe and reverence is characteristically Benedictine; it is an expression of the virtue of religion.


Surely He Is Coming Soon

The liturgic Gospel at Matins is, according to the venerable Abbot Herwegen of Maria Laach, a kind of parousia, an epiphany of the risen Christ in the midst of His Church, and an anticipating of His advent in glory at the end of the great night vigil of history. It is therefore fitting that the response to the Gospel be the Amen with which Saint John concludes the Book of the Apocalypse: an Amen that anticipates the return of the Lord in glory: "He that giveth testimony of these things, saith, Surely I come quickly: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen" (Apocalypse 22:20-21).

An Anticipation of Heaven

The Amen leads into yet another chant of praise: Saint Benedict is compelled to give the last word to the glorification of the Most Holy Trinity. The Abbot (or Prior) intones the Te Decet Laus.

To Thee belongeth praise, to Thee belongeth hymns,
to Thee be glory:
to God the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit,
forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Te Decet Laus perfects the climate of praise that surrounds the Holy Gospel. While the praise of the Te Deum precedes the Holy Gospel, the sacrament of Christ's presence in the midst of His Church, the praise of the Te Decet Laus follows it. This climate of praise is the very climate of heaven itself. Monks do on earth what the Angels and Saints, gathered about the Lamb, do ceaselessly in heaven.


CHAPTER IX. How many Psalms are to be said at the Night Hours

11 Feb. 12 June. 12 Oct.
In winter time, after beginning with the verse, "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me," with the Gloria, let the words, "O Lord, Thou wilt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise," be next repeated thrice; then the third Psalm, with a Gloria, after which the ninety-fourth Psalm is to be said or sung, with an antiphon. Next let a hymn follow, and then six Psalms with antiphons. These being said, and also a versicle, let the Abbot give the blessing and, all being seated, let three lessons be read by the brethren in turns, from the book on the lectern. Between the lessons let three responsories be sung - two of them without a Gloria, but after the third let the reader say the Gloria: and as soon as he begins it, let all rise from their seats out of honour and reverence to the Holy Trinity. Let the divinely inspired books, both of the Old and New Testaments, be read at the Night-Office, and also the commentaries upon them written by the most renowned, orthodox and Catholic Fathers. After these three lessons with their responsories, let six more Psalms follow, to be sung with an Alleluia. Then let a lesson from the Apostle be said by heart, with a verse and the petition of the Litany, that is, Kyrie eleison. And so let the Night-Office come to an end.

Prepare Thy Soul

Psalm 3, repeated every day, corresponds to the porch of the vast temple that is the Night Office (also called, Matins, Vigils, and Nocturns); it is an act of preparation. Does not the wise Sirach say, "Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God? (Sir 18:23)?

Why, O Lord, are they multiplied that afflict me?
many are they who rise up against me.

Many say to my soul:
There is no salvation for him in his God.

But thou, O Lord art my protector,
my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

I have cried to the Lord with my voice:
and he hath heard me from his holy hill.

I have slept and taken my rest:
and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me.

I will not fear thousands of the people, surrounding me:
arise, O Lord; save me, O my God.

For thou hast struck all them who are my adversaries without cause:
thou hast broken the teeth of sinners.

Salvation is of the Lord:
and thy blessing is upon thy people.

Sleep and Rising, Death and Resurrection

Saint Benedict begins the Night Office with Psalm 3 because of its striking Christological content: "I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me" (Psalm 3:6). The holy patriarch would have his monks enter into the grace of identification -- and real union-- with Christ in the mystery of His death and resurrection. Sleep is an image of death, and rising in the morning is an image of the resurrection. All that the monk does, from lying down upon his head to standing again on his feet in the morning, is subsumed into the mysteries of Christ. "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

The New Adam in the Sleep of Death

And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself. . . . Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. (Genesis 2:18; 21-23)

Jesus, the New Adam, slept the sleep of death upon the marriage bed of the cross; it was during this sleep that His Bride, the Church, the New Eve was born of His sacred side. The monk knows that the Lord gives to His beloved in sleep. It is when the soul sleeps, dead to all things around it, that God makes her most fruitful.

Call to Adoration

Immediately after Psalm 3 comes the Invitatory Antiphon; it is, as its designation suggests, a pressing invitation to adoration. Venite, adoremus. It constitutes the narthex or vestibule of the Night Office; from the narthex the soul peers into the temple and sees, in the distance, the altar and the tabernacle of the Divine Presence, the object of all her desires.

The Invitatory Antiphon (by way of example I give one for Doctors of the Church) is sung twice before Psalm 94, and then repeated in whole or in part between the strophes of the psalm and after the doxology (Glory be to the Father).

Psalm 94

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.
In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

Come, let us raise gladsome voices unto the Lord
sing we heartily unto God, our Saviour
let us come before his face with thanksgiving,
and offer him the jubilancy of psalms!

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all the gods,
and his people the Lord wilt not cast aside:
For in His hand are the very bounds of the earth,
and the highnesses of the mountains He beholdeth.

O come, let us adore.

Yea, the sea is his, for he himself made it,
and his hands laid in place the dry land.
Come in, then, fall we down before God in adoration,
let us weep before the Lord who made us,
for he himself is the Lord our God,
and we are his people, the sheep of his pastureland.

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

Today, if ye have heard his voice, harden not your hearts,
as when aggrieved on the day of temptation in the wilderness,
where your fathers tempted me,
probed me, and beheld my works.

O come, let us adore.

For forty years did I stand by that generation;
saying, 'These are ever wayward hearts'.
Truly these men knew nothing of my ways,
and so I swore an oath in my anger,
that they shall never enter into my rest.

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

O come , let us adore.
In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.


It is customary to have two cantors sing the Invitatory Antiphon once; then the whole choir takes it up. The cantors sing the psalm by strophes; the choir repeat the Invitatory Antiphon in whole or in part after each strophe. The Church's tradition of psalmody admits strophic psalmody (i.e. four, five, or six lines) only for the Invitatory Psalm and now, in the novus Ordo Missae, for the Responsorial Psalm when, in place of the Gradual, it is sung at Mass. The usual psalmody at the Divine Office is sung by verses of two lines (mediant and ending) with an occasional verse of three lines requiring a flexus for the first line.

Lectio and Meditatio

This interplay of voices is significant; the sacred liturgy obliges us to listen (lectio) and to give voice to what we have heard. The repetition of the Antiphon is a meditatio, in the ancient sense of the word, that is, a repetition in view of the appropriation of the text by the heart.


CHAPTER VIII. Of the Divine Office at Night

10 Feb. 11 June. 11 Oct.
In winter time, that is, from the first of November until Easter, the brethren shall rise at what may be reasonably calculated to be the eighth hour of the night;* so that having rested till some time past midnight, they may rise having had their full sleep. And let the time that remains after the Night-Office be spent in study by those brethren who have still some part of the Psalter and lessons to learn. But from Easter to the first of November let the hour for the Night-Office be so arranged that, after a very short interval, during which the brethren may go out for the necessities of nature, Lauds, which are to be said at day-break, may follow without delay.

Having Inclined the Ear of the Heart

With the completion of Chapter VII, on the Twelve Degrees of Humility, the first section of the Holy Rule is brought to a close. The Prologue put us in mind of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary; it was a pressing invitation to incline the ear of the heart to the Word in faith and in obedience.

Under a Rule and an Abbot

Chapters I, II, and III dealt with the organisation of the monastic family under the authority of its father, the Abbot, reminding us, in some way of the humble submission of Jesus to the authority of Saint Joseph and of the Virgin Mother in their hidden life at Nazareth. "And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them" (Luke 2:51).

Using the Right Tools

Chapter IV presented us with the tools used in the workshop of the monastery, and in daily application to the hidden, interior life that so closely resembles that of the workman Jesus of Nazareth.

In Obedience, Silence, and Humility

Chapters V, VI,VII on obedience, silence, and humility, introduced us into the mystery of the Passion of Jesus, and into that of His real presence as the Christus Passus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. All that we contemplate in the suffering Christ, we can see also, with the eyes of faith, in the Most Holy Eucharist wherein His sacrifice is renewed, and all the states, moments, and virtues of His Passion remain actual and present.

Jesus Crucified and Eucharistic

Chapter VII culminates in the image of Jesus bowing His sacred head in death, and passing over to the Father: hostia pura, hostia sancta, hostia immaculata, that is, the pure victim, the holy victim, the immaculate victim offering Himself in sacrifice. Mother Mectilde's little masterpiece Le véritable esprit (The True Spirit) is, in effect, a consideration of twenty-four "states of being" that she discovers in her contemplation of Our Lord, humble, hidden, silent, poor, and obedient in the Sacrament of His Love. Le véritable esprit is, in its own way, a kind of extended commentary on Chapters V, VI, and VII of the Holy Rule, and is best interpreted in that light. Mother Mectilde's monastic doctrine is unique in that, of all the commentators of the Holy Rule, and among all the great Benedictine doctors, she alone presents the monastic life as a state of victimhood by way of configuration to the Lamb of God offered in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and abiding in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Jesus Risen and Ascended

Chapter VIII, "On the Divine Office at Night" opens Saint Benedict's grand liturgical directory: an ensemble of thirteen chapters (VIII--XX) that treat of the Opus Dei (the Work of God). It is as if, having shown us the Jesus in the hour of His death in Chapter VII, Saint Benedict would have us pass over with the risen and ascended Christ into the glorious mystery of His priesthood in heaven. "Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).

A Good Night's Sleep -- and a Nap

After assuring that his monks will have eight hours of sleep (a little less in the short nights of summer, but made up by a good rest in the afternoon), Saint Benedict indicates that the Night Office (variously called Vigils, Matins, or Nocturns according to local usage) should begin straightway after rising. In Saint Benedict's day, when the monks said Compline while there was still daylight, and went to bed before dark, the rising time would have been close to 2:00 a.m. At Silverstream Priory, where we go to bed at about 8:30 p.m., the rising time is at 4:30 a.m., and Matins begins shortly thereafter.

Study of the Psalms

Already in Chapter VIII, Saint Benedict concerns himself with the profitable use of the time between Vigils (or Matins, or Nocturns) and Lauds. He indicates that it ought to be used for the study of the Psalter and of the lessons read at the Divine Office from Sacred Scripture and from the Fathers. For a Benedictine monk, the study of the Psalter is a lifelong work. The psalms are an inexhaustible mine from which the monk learns to extract a precious gold. The psalms are a monk's daily bread. They are to him, at the various seasons and hours of his life, like the sweetest honey, or like fresh clean water, or like an astringent vinegar, or even like the sands of the desert.

Psalm in the Mouth, Christ in the Heart

Saint Benedict's monk (and, by extension, the Oblate) is bound to this lifelong, persevering study of the psalms. The psalms give us nothing less than the prayer of Christ to the Father, uttered in the grace and sweetness of the Holy Ghost. The psalms become a kind of holy communion with all the sentiments, desires, sufferings, joys, and glories of the Heart of Jesus. An old monastic adage says: Semper in ore psalmus; semper in corde Christus. The monk who, at every moment, has a psalm verse in his mouth will, at every moment, have Christ, and the very prayer of Christ, in his heart.


At the core of the Rule of Saint Benedict one finds the open Heart of Jesus Crucified, and His most sweet Face inclined in the "Yes" of His death.

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

9 Feb. 10 June. 10 Oct.
The twelfth degree of humility is, that the monk, not only in his heart, but also in his very exterior, always shew his humility to all who see him: that is, in the work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing, with head always bent down, and eyes fixed on the earth, that he ever think of the guilt of his sins, and imagine himself already present before the terrible judgment-seat of God: always saying in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: "Lord, I a sinner am not worthy to raise mine eyes to heaven." And again, with the prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled on every side."
Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

A Via Crucis

We have, at last, come to the twelfth degree of humility. All of Chapter VII is, in effect, a via crucis; the eleven steps are like so many stations in the Passion of Christ continued in the life of the monk. When a monk reaches the twelfth degree, it is to ascend the cross; it is to yield to the embrace of the Crucified; it is press his mouth against Jesus' sacred side and drink deeply of the wells of salvation. "You shall draw waters with joy out of the Saviour' s fountains" (Isaias 12:3). At the twelfth degree of humility, the monk, after descending into the valley of his own misery, has come to believe in the loving mercy of the Father, revealed in Love crucified. "And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us. God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16).

The Bowed Head

Saint Benedict would have us understand that the monk, having attained the twelfth degree of humility, becomes configured to the crucified Jesus. He becomes a living icon of Christ in the hour of His death. "Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the Spirit" (John 19:30). When Saint Benedict enjoins his monk to go about with bowed head, he is, I think, referring to this very phrase in the Fourth Gospel. The bowed head of the crucified Jesus, and of the monk in whom the Holy Spirit is reproducing His image, signifies a total adhesion to the will of the Father. The humble Benedictine mystic, Mother Mectilde de Bar, understood that the perfection of the monastic life comes ultimately to consist in adoring God and in adhering to His will.

Churches Designed Inclino Capite

The bowed head of Jesus in the very act of passing over to the Father so captured the imagination of certain architects that they designed cruciform churches in which the choir (or sanctuary), instead of being in a straight line with the nave, veers off to the right, in symbolic portrayal of the head of Jesus inclined in death. I saw one such church a few years ago while visiting Viterbo with my friend Maria Carmen. The little 12th century church, dedicated to San Marco, had its altar situated in the "inclined head" of the cruciform plan, to signify the consummation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross when Jesus bowed His head in death. This architectural intuition is profoundly Benedictine in inspiration; it symbolizes in stone what Saint Benedict would see expressed in the living stones that are his monks.

Water Into Wine

Having arrived at the mystery of the Cross the monk finds love, love in superabundance, love flowing from the open Heart of Christ. This love makes things formerly found to be arduous -- if not impossible -- strangely easy and wonderfully possible, even in the face of every dire prediction to the contrary. Salutary prohibitions once observed by constraint, and good things once done out of fear are changed by the Holy Ghost into free expressions of a charity welling up from deep within the soul. Where formerly there was but the chilly water of a strict observance, or the lukewarm water of a not so strict one, there courses a river of new wine. It is the wine of divine love that makes all things sweet, and renders things once purchased dearly, and but fleetingly possessed, gifts freely given, gifts that the opposing forces of men and demons combined cannot take away, for they have been secured by love. "So also you now indeed have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you. And in that day you shall not ask me any thing. Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full" (John 16:22-24).

Not noisy in speech

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CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

8 Feb. 9 June. 9 Oct.
The eleventh degree of humility is, that when a monk speaketh, he do so gently and without laughter, humbly, gravely, with few and reasonable words, and that he be not noisy in his speech, as it is written: "A wise man is known by the fewness of his words."

A Preference for Quietness

For Saint Benedict, humility is closely -- I should rather say -- inseparably bound up with one's speech, and with a marked preference for quietness. First of all, he would have his monk's speech be gentle. Our Lord says: "It is from the heart's overflow that the mouth speaks; a good man utters good words from his store of goodness" (Matthew 12:34-35). So too will the gentle-hearted man utter gentle words from his store of gentleness. Thus must a Benedictine return again and again to Our Lord's sweet invitation: "Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened; I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon yourselves, and learn from me; I am gentle and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Shrill Laughter

Secondly, Saint Benedict would have his monk speak without laughter. The kind of laughter that Saint Benedict condemns is the laughter of cruel sarcasm; the mocking laughter of the worldly and the jaded; the shrill laughter of the shallow-minded and superficial; the idiotic laughter of one who makes a joke of everything, even of things sacred.

The Loud and Boisterous

Thirdly, Saint Benedict teaches that it is not fitting that a monk be boisterous and loud-mouthed. We have all, I think, at one time or another witnessed the unpleasant arrival of a loud and boisterous person in a room of people. This is the kind of demeanour often affected by certain politicians and would-be-people-pleasers. Such behaviour, while it may be thought to put people at ease, has the opposite effect. It assaults the soul and makes one want to run for cover.

Few Words

Fourthly, Saint Benedict would have his monk learn to speak with few and reasonable words. The need to expatiate on every subject is a sure indicator of unchecked pride.


Fifthly, Saint Benedict would have his monk speak quietly. The prideful man raises his voice so as to drown out every other speaker by dint of sheer volume. He seeks to impose himself in conversation by speaking more loudly than anyone else. Very often, people are so wearied by the proverbial "loud-mouth" that they instinctively recoil in his presence. A raised tone of voice is a sure indicator of pride; it is a attempt to control others and to impose oneself in a given situation.

Cristo alla colonna.JPG

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

4 Feb. 5 June. 5 Oct.
The seventh degree of humility is, that he should not only call himself with his tongue lower and viler than all, but also believe himself in his inmost heart to be so, humbling himself, and saying with the prophet: "I am a worm and no man, the shame of men and the outcast of the people: I have been exalted, and cast down, and confounded." And again: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy commandments."

The Abjection of Christ

Saint Benedict would have his monk live with the mystery of the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant, ever before his eyes. He quotes Psalm 21 depicting Our Lord in the humiliations of His Passion: "But I, poor worm, have no manhood left; I am a by-word to all, the laughing-stock of the rabble" (Psalm 21:6). Psalm 21 calls up Isaias' mysterious prophecy of the Passion of the Lord:

What credence for such news as ours? Whom reaches it, this new revelation of the Lord's strength? He will watch this servant of his appear among us, unregarded as brushwood shoot, as a plant in waterless soil; no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, as we gaze upon him, to win our hearts.
Nay, here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognize that face? How should we take any account of him, a man so despised? Our weakness, and it was he who carried the weight of it, our miseries, and it was he who bore them.
A leper, so we thought of him, a man God had smitten and brought low; and all the while it was for our sins he was wounded, it was guilt of ours crushed him down; on him the punishment fell that brought us peace, by his bruises we were healed.
Strayed sheep all of us, each following his own path; and God laid on his shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all. A victim? Yet he himself bows to the stroke; no word comes from him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; no word from him. Imprisoned, brought to judgement, and carried off, he, whose birth is beyond our knowing; numbered among the living no more!
Be sure it is for my people's guilt I have smitten him. Takes he leave of the rich, the godless, to win but a grave, to win but the gift of death; he, that wrong did never, nor had treason on his lips! Ay, the Lord's will it was, overwhelmed he should be with trouble.
His life laid down for guilt's atoning, he shall yet be rewarded; father of a long posterity, instrument of the divine purpose; for all his heart's anguish, rewarded in full. The Just One, my servant; many shall he claim for his own, win their acquittal, on his shoulders bearing their guilt.
So many lives ransomed, foes so violent baulked of their spoil! Such is his due, that gave himself up to death, and would be counted among the wrong-doers; bore those many sins, and made intercession for the guilty. (Isaias 53:1-12)

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Seek Only Christ

The monk does does not seek abjection for abjection's sake; he seeks only Christ, and in finding Christ, he is led into the unfathomable depths of a God who empties Himself out, who, as Saint Paul says, "dispossesses Himself." One cannot say to the Bridegroom Christ, "Draw me after thee where thou wilt" (Song of Songs 1:3) without being led, step by step, in to the mystery of His abjection.

Yours is to be the same mind which Christ Jesus shewed. His nature is, from the first, divine, and yet he did not see, in the rank of Godhead, a prize to be coveted; he dispossessed himself, and took the nature of a slave, fashioned in the likeness of men, and presenting himself to us in human form; and then he lowered his own dignity, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Recognize That Face

The very humility that Christ freely embraced in His Passion perdures in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. There we find Him dispossessed of Himself, hidden, unrecognized by the multitudes, silent, and covered by the fragile veil of the sacred species. Isaias' portrayal of the Suffering Servant is mystically fulfilled in the Sacred Host: "Here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognize that face? How should we take any account of him, a man so despised?" (Isaias 53:3).

A monk who spends much time before the Sacred Host will ineluctably be drawn into the divine humility that It, at once, conceals and reveals. On this point our Constitutions say;

This chapter demonstrates clearly that our blessed father possessed this virtue fully, and that the Holy Ghost, who reposed in his heart in a manner altogether divine, filled him, according to the witness of Saint Gregory, with the spirit of all the just. It was from this wellspring of light that Saint Benedict drew forth those adorable perceptions by which he guides us to the perfect emptying-out of all that is fallen in us. To this end, he enjoins us to set up a mysterious ladder, by which we descend into our nothingness and raise ourselves to God. To Him do we sacrifice the life of the senses and of the fleshly mind, so as to live no more for creatures, nor for ourselves.
This is the true humility that our blessed father Saint Benedict teaches us, and that he himself so faithfully practiced, having learned it from our adorable Saviour who tells us to learn of Him, because He is meek and humble of heart, and in Saint Paul, who says, semetipsum exinanivit. Thus did Saint Benedict learn of Christ hidden and humiliated in His life on earth, even as He is today in our tabernacles. This is the state in which monks, made over in sacrifice to Christ, must contemplate Him if they would invigorate themselves in the practice of this virtue. The Fathers assure us that humility is the ground of the perfect Christian life, and that wheresoever grace is at work, it produces humility as a certain effect of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is the principal means of abiding in His love, and of becoming true repairers of His glory.
In the contemplation of the Eucharistic mystery we will find compelling reasons for our own self-emptying, for it is not possible to see God in a kind of nothingness without casting ourselves into it after Him. For who, seeing the Divine Majesty so humbled, would be able to endure that a worm of the earth rise up in pride?

Yet, I am always with Thee

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CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

3 Feb. 4 June. 4 Oct.
The sixth degree of humility is, for a monk to be contented with the meanest and worst of everything, and in all that is enjoined him to esteem himself a bad and worthless labourer, saying with the prophet: "I have been brought to nothing, and I knew it not: I am become as a beast before Thee, yet I am always with Thee."

The Beautiful People and the Friends of God

Saint Benedict gives us the key to understanding the sixth degree of humility by quoting Psalm 72:23. He is, in effect, inviting us to open our psalter and ponder the whole psalm.* Psalm 72 expresses the bewilderment and frustration of a good man -- devout and faithful to the Lord -- who looks about him and sees that the wicked -- those who pursue their lust for power, riches, and sensual gratifications -- appear to be prosperous and happy, while he, poor wretch, struggles to get by. He sees the "beautiful people" in the eyes of the world, and compares their lot in life with that of the friends of God.

A Failure and a Fool

A monk must not expect to have the things that people in the world use to display their prosperity: exquisite foods and wines; a beautiful home; fashionable clothes, shoes, jewelry, haircuts, and "beauty aids"; the latest cars and electronic equipment; the trendiest restaurants, bars, and holiday spots. In the eyes of the world the monk is a failure and a fool, "a bad and worthless labourer," as Saint Benedict says. In the eyes of the world a monk has no more than "the meanest and worst of everything." The monk must accept that this is how the world views him, and glory in it for the sake of Christ.

Consider, brethren, the circumstances of your own calling; not many of you are wise, in the world's fashion, not many powerful, not many well born. No, God has chosen what the world holds foolish, so as to abash the wise, God has chosen what the world holds weak, so as to abash the strong. God has chosen what the world holds base and contemptible, nay, has chosen what is nothing, so as to bring to nothing what is now in being; no human creature was to have any ground for boasting, in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

That I May Gain Christ

It sometimes happens that when a man enters a monastery, those nearest and dearest to him feel that he is rejecting the very security, privileges, and things they have worked hard to acquire. Consequently, they feel judged. This can sometimes put a strain on family relationships and friendships. Family and friends must be helped to understand that the monastic vocation, though it be radical in its demands, and in many ways opposed to the very things they cherish, does not entail a rejection of themselves, nor of their affection, nor of the good and wholesome things shared together. It is a response to the love of Christ, in whom all other loves are purified and ennobled. The monk can only say with Saint Paul:

But the things that were gain to me, the same I have counted loss for Christ. Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

To Be Near God Is My Happiness

Saint Benedict's sixth degree of humility ends with the telling phrase from Psalm 72: "Yet I am always with Thee." For me, nothing can compare with living under the same roof as the Most Blessed Sacrament. The same psalm says, "To be near God is my happiness" or, as Monsignor Knox puts it, "I know no other content but clinging to God." All that Solomon says concerning Wisdom, I can say with regard to the privilege of having been called to a monastic life characterized by ceaseless adoration of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love: "I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither did I compare unto her any precious stone: for all gold in comparison of her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out" (Wisdom 7:8-10).

* Psalm 72, Quam bonus Israel Deus

1 What bounty God shews, what divine bounty, to the upright, to the pure of heart!
2 Yet I was near losing my foothold, felt the ground sink under my steps,
3 such heart-burning had I at seeing the good fortune of sinners that defy his law;
4 for them, never a pang; healthy and sleek their bodies shew.
5 Not for these to share man's common lot of trouble; the plagues which afflict human kind still pass them by.
6 No wonder if pride clings to them like a necklace, if they flaunt, like fine clothes, their wrong-doing.
7 From those pampered hearts what malice proceeds, what vile schemes are hatched!
8 Ever jeering, ever talking maliciously, throned on high they preach injustice;
9 their clamour reaches heaven, and their false tales win currency on earth.
10 Enviously the men of my own race look on, to see them draining life's cup to the full;
11 Can God, they ask, be aware of this? Does the most High know of all that passes?
12 Look at these sinners, how they live at peace, how they rise to greatness!
13 Why then, thought I, it is to no purpose that I have kept my heart true, and washed my hands clean in pureness of living;
14 still, all the while, I am plagued for it, and no morning comes but my scourging is renewed.
15 Was I to share their thoughts? Nay, that were to put the whole company of thy children in the wrong.
16 I set myself to read the riddle, but it proved a hard search,
17 until I betook myself to God's sanctuary, and considered, there, what becomes of such men at last.
18 The truth is, thou art making a slippery path for their feet, ready to plunge them in ruin;
19 in a moment they are fallen, in a storm of terrors vanished and gone.
20 And thou, Lord, dost rise up and brush aside all their imaginings, as a waking man his dream.
21 What if my mind was full of bitterness, what if I was pierced to the heart?
22 I was all dumbness, I was all ignorance,
23 standing there like a brute beast in thy presence. Yet ever thou art at my side,
24 ever holdest me by my right hand. Thine to guide me with thy counsel, thine to welcome me into glory at last.
25 What else does heaven hold for me, but thyself? What charm for me has earth, here at thy side?
26 What though flesh of mine, heart of mine, should waste away? Still God will be my heart's stronghold, eternally my inheritance.
27 Lost those others may be, who desert thy cause, lost are all those who break their troth with thee;
28 I know no other content but clinging to God, putting my trust in the Lord, my Master; within the gates of royal Sion I will be the herald of thy praise.

Translation of Msgr Ronald Knox


CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

1 Feb. 2 June. 2 Oct.
The fourth degree of humility is, that if in this very obedience hard and contrary things, nay even injuries, are done to him, he should embrace them patiently with a quiet conscience, and not grow weary or give in, as the Scripture saith: "He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved." And again: "Let thy heart be comforted, and wait for the Lord." And shewing how the faithful man ought to bear all things, however contrary, for the Lord, it saith in the person of the afflicted: "For Thee we suffer death all the day long; we are esteemed as sheep for the slaughter." And secure in their hope of the divine reward, they go on with joy, saying: "But in all these things we overcome, through Him Who hath loved us." And so in another place Scripture saith: "Thou hast proved us, O God; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried by fire; Thou hast led us into the snare, and hast laid tribulation on our backs." And in order to shew that we ought to be under a superior, it goes on to say: "Thou hast placed men over our heads." Moreover, fulfilling the precept of the Lord by patience in adversities and injuries, they who are struck on one cheek offer the other: to him who taketh away their coat they leave also their cloak; and being forced to walk one mile, they go two. With Paul the Apostle, they bear with false brethren, and bless those that curse them.

Imitate the Lord

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CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

31 Jan. 1 June. 1 Oct.
The third degree of humility is, that a man for the love of God submit himself to his superior in all obedience; imitating the Lord, of Whom the apostle saith: "He was made obedient even unto death."


Submission (from the Latin to put under) comes easily to no one. An instinctive pride would have one place oneself above his fellows, if not outwardly, then, at least, secretly in one's thoughts and judgments. "I know more, I know better" or even, "I am more, I am better." One begins by placing oneself above one's brethren, and one ends by placing oneself above God. Such a dizzying, diabolical ascent in pride leads to open revolt against God.

Having Recognized Love

Saint Benedict proposes submission to one's superior in all obedience as the remedy to pride: not just any submission, but a submission freely chosen with two motives in view: (1) for the love of God, and (2) imitating the Lord. Monastic submission is not the cowardly, cringing submission of one who fears the crack of the whip and the unpleasantness of conflict. It is the willing submission out of love, in love, and for love's sake of one who, with Saint John, has learned "to believe in love." "We have learned to recognize the love God has in our regard, to recognize it, and to make it our belief. God is love; he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16).

The Eucharistic Humility of God

One learns submission by contemplating the sacramental sub-mission of Our Divine Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. He places Himself under the lowly appearance of bread, and remains there in abiding submission to the will of the Father. "Believe me when I tell you this; the bread that comes from heaven is not what Moses gave you. The real bread from heaven is given only by my Father. God's gift of bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the whole world" (John 6:32-33). These days within Octave of Corpus Christi are given us that we might gaze upon the Eucharistic humility of the Hidden God, and be conformed in submission and in obedience to Him whom we contemplate beneath the sacramental veils. Is this not what Saint Benedict means when he invites us to imitate the Lord?


Christ Pantocrator painted by Fr. Andreas Göser in 1911 in the apse of the abbatial church of Maria Laach, Andernach, Germany.

CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

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Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires, since death hath its seat close to the entrance of delight; wherefore the Scripture commandeth us, saying: ""Go not after thy concupiscences." Since, therefore, "The eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil," and "The Lord is ever looking down from heaven upon the children of men, to see who hath understanding or is seeking God, and since the works of our hands are reported to Him day and night by the angels appointed to watch over us; we must be always on the watch, brethren, lest, as the prophet saith in the psalm, God should see us at any time declining to evil and become unprofitable; and lest, though He spare us now, because He is merciful and expecteth our conversion, He should say to us hereafter: "These things thou didst and I held my peace."

God in Search of Man

There is a sentence in this portion of Chapter VII that I find particularly consoling: "The eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil," and "The Lord is ever looking down from heaven upon the children of men, to see who hath understanding or is seeking God." The Father is, at every moment, searching the face of the earth to see who hath understanding or is seeking God. The Father seeks those who seek Him. So passionate is the Father's search for souls who search for Him that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to reveal to them His Face and His Heart. So tender is the Father's search for souls who search for Him that He sends his angels to watch over them and guide them in the way.

My Eyes Will Be Upon You

This sentence of Chapter VII can be related to what we read in the Prologue: "And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." Men seek God because God has first sought them. A man who discovers the gaze of God fixed upon him -- a gaze of infinite love -- searches for God even more. He never tires of saying: "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy Face from me. Thou hast sought me that I might seek Thee. Thou hast found Me that I might find Thee."

Truly Seeking God

The monk is simply a man who has understood that, apart from God, nothing makes sense; he forsakes all else to become a seeker of God. In Chapter LVIII Saint Benedict makes a true seeking after God the first of the criteria by which one discerns a monastic vocation: "Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch him with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations."

The Tabernacle

Not only does the Lord look out from heaven in search of one who seeks Him; He looks out also from the tabernacle of every Church where, though hidden and silent, He is present in the Sacrament of His Love. The monk's search for God -- or that of any Christian -- need not engage him in pilgrimages to far-off places and in wearying journeys across the desert. He need only approach the tabernacle, the tent of the Divine Humility pitched in the midst of men. In the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, God has made Himself close and, not only close, but utterly humble, totally available, and ready at every moment to draw us into His divine friendship. "Neither is there any other nation so great, that hath gods so nigh them, as our God is present to all our petitions" (Deuteronomy 4:7).

San Benito Abad.jpg

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62. Daily to fulfil by one's deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one's enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God's mercy.

Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised - "which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him." And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.

Chastity: A Good Thing

In the Holy Rule there is but one single phrase by which Saint Benedict treats of chastity: Castitatem amare, "To love chastity." It is wholly positive. Chastity is worthy of a monk's love because it is a virtue of beauty, of goodness, and of truth. Chastity is life-giving; it produces joy in the heart, causes peace to flourish in the cloister, and makes men happy in this life and in the next. With Saint Benedict there are no grim warnings, no dire prohibitions, no morose preoccupations with unchastity. Instead, he presents chastity as something desirable, precisely because it is something beautiful, true, and good.

Our Constitutions have a concise and helpful entry on chastity under the heading of Chapter IV of the Holy Rule:

49. The safeguards of chastity are: (1) the friendship of Jesus Christ sought, encountered, and contemplated in lectio divina and in adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar; (2) the bonds of an abiding intimacy with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God; (3) active engagement in works of service and self-sacrificing labour; (4) the chaste affection of the brethren; and (5) the tranquillitas ordinis of the monastery reflected in the harmony, beauty, and conservation of the spaces and land within the monastic enclosure.


To hate another is to hate the image of God and to hate oneself in whose image and likeness one was created. Hatred is a pernicious vice, growing like a toxic mould in the dark places of the heart. The only way to prevent even the smallest spores of hatred from beginning to multiply is by opening one's heart daily to the purifying light of the love of God and to the sweeping breath of the Holy Ghost. Hatred begins in the unchecked antipathy, in jealousy, envy, and in the clinging to offenses real or imagined, while withholding forgiveness. A monastery in which hatreds are allowed to grow will become an infernal place, full of wicked intrigues and petty acts of vengeance.

Jealousy, Envy, Strife

Jealousy, envy, and strife are the seedground of hatred, and are also hatred's perverse offspring. There is nothing more unworthy of a child of God than jealousy and envy; these vices are an insult to Divine Providence.

Alas, there are in all walks of life people who love strife. They thrive on discord and like nothing more than contentiousness and argument. Such people are the bane of community life. Their only contentment is discontent, and they are discontented wherever contentment holds sway. Incapable of keeping their misery to themselves, they seek out, from among those around them, the most vulnerable and impressionable types, and enroll them in their bitter causes. A lover of strife has no place in a cloister, and should such a man present himself, he must, as soon as his propensity is discovered, be sent away lest he inflict severe damage on the household of God.

Give to every man who asks, and if a man takes what is thine, do not ask him to restore it. As you would have men treat you, you are to treat them; no otherwise. Why, what credit is it to you, if you love those who love you? Even sinners love those who love them. What credit is it to you, if you do good to those who do good to you? Even sinners do as much. What credit is it to you, if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much in exchange. No, it is your enemies you must love, and do them good, and lend to them, without any hope of return; then your reward will be a rich one, and you will be true sons of the most High, generous like him towards the thankless and unjust. Be merciful, then, as your Father is merciful. Judge nobody, and you will not be judged; condemn nobody, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be yours; good measure, pressed down and shaken up and running over, will be poured into your lap; the measure you award to others is the measure that will be awarded to you. (Luke 6:30-38)

Speaking and Not Speaking

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Ad Altare Dei

Saint Benedict's Instruments of Good Works prepare us, hour by hour, and day by day, to approach the Holy Mysteries. All of life is thus ordered to the Most Holy Eucharist, and all of life flows from It. This photo was taken during Conventual Mass at the moment of the Ecce Agnus Dei before Holy Communion. In the foreground is the column surmounted by a candle at which one of us makes the Act of Reparation each day after Holy Mass. The monk making reparation places the cord about his neck as a sign of communion with the Lamb of God led to immolation, and as an expression of solidarity with all poor sinners, with unbelievers, with those alienated from the Church, and with those who will never linger in the presence of Our Lord's Eucharistic Face to adore Him, and to say "Yes" to His love.


CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
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Saint Benedict groups together four instruments pertaining to speech:

52. To keep one's mouth from evil and wicked words.
53. Not to love much speaking.
54. Not to speak vain words or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or excessive laughter.

Learning to Hold One's Tongue

The man who knows how to control his tongue will also be able to control a multitude of other unruly impulses. The man who has an unruly tongue will be hard-pressed to rein in his other impulses. Saint Benedict took to heart the teaching of Saint James the Apostle:

A man who is not betrayed into faults of the tongue must be a man perfect at every point, who knows how to curb his whole body. Just so we can make horses obey us, and turn their whole bodies this way and that, by putting a curb in their mouths. Or look at ships; how huge they are, how boisterous are the winds that drive them along! And yet a tiny rudder will turn them this way and that, as the captain's purpose will have it. Just so, the tongue is a tiny part of our body, and yet what power it can boast! How small a spark it takes to set fire to a vast forest! And that is what the tongue is, a fire. Among the organs of our nature, the tongue has its place as the proper element in which all that is harmful lives. It infects the whole body, and sets fire to this mortal sphere of ours, catching fire itself from hell. Mankind can tame, and has long since learned to tame, every kind of beast and bird, of creeping things and all else; but no human being has ever found out how to tame the tongue; a pest that is never allayed, all deadly poison. We use it to bless God who is our Father; we use it to curse our fellow men, that were made in God's image; blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brethren, there is no reason in this. Does the fountain gush out fresh and salt water from the same outlet? (James 3:2-11)

Benedictine Gravitas

Let it be said, once and for all, that Saint Benedict, being a wise man of great humanity, is not opposed to a wholesome mirth nor to gladness of heart. He does, however, proscribe noisy agitation and the giddy silliness of the immature man who never takes life seriously. The man who makes a joke of everything, the "hail fellow well met" who goes about slapping others on the back and laughing in loud guffaws will be either an entirely political creature content with a superficial popularity or a buffoon incapable of winning a considered respect. There is a certain Benedictine gravitas that should characterize a monk, without in any way making him gloomy or unsociable; it is a demeanour that is gentlemanly and simple, without artifice and serene.

The Workman and His Tools

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Painting: Saint Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1642.

CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
18 Jan. 19 May. 18 Sept.

In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one's heart, all one's soul, and all one's strength.
2. Then one's neighbour as oneself.
3. Then not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honour all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself, in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to seek after delicate living.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in affliction.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To keep aloof from worldly actions.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

The Right Tools

Saint Benedict's instruments (or tools) of good works hearken back to the Prologue of the Holy Rule in which the Lord recruits His own workmen in the marketplace. The workman needs his tools. With the right tools one can do almost any task. Saint Benedict recognizes the importance of equipping his monk -- the workman of Christ -- with a vast array of tools, adapted to the work of acquiring virtue and renouncing vice.

Monks Who Are Practicing Christians

Chapter IV has nothing specifically monastic about it. Saint Benedict's 72 instruments belong to all Christians, and to those living in the world as much as to those within the enclosure of the monastery. Before anything else, Saint Benedict wants his monks to be practicing Christians. This first section of the instruments of good works thus begins with the commandments and goes on to enumerate the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Herein one finds the very rudiments of Christian living.

Love of God and Neighbour

The first 21 instruments begin with love and end with love. The first and second instruments are: "In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one's heart, all one's soul, and all one's strength. Then one's neighbour as oneself." The twenty-first instrument is: "To prefer nothing to the love of Christ." The instruments that fall in between are the demonstration of the love of God and of one's neighbour, and the sign that one has, effectively, resolved to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

The Love of Christ

I was first drawn to the Rule of Saint Benedict by his compelling emphasis on the love of Christ. The adorable person of Our Lord Jesus Christ illumines the entire Rule. Saint Benedict presents Him as the one who first loved us; the one in whose blessed Passion we share by patience; the one for whose love we are resolved to forsake all else; and the one whose love we prefer to all other things. Benedictine life is, above all else, the love of Jesus Christ, the very love that in the Most Holy Eucharist makes Him our priest, our victim, our food, our drink, and our companion.

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22. Not to give way to anger.
23. Not to harbour a desire of revenge.
24. Not to foster guile in one's heart.
25. Not to make a feigned peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, lest perchance one forswear oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to render evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone yea, to bear patiently wrong done to oneself.
31. To love one's enemies.
32. Not to render cursing for cursing, but rather blessing.
33. To bear persecution for justice's sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not given to wine.
36. Not a glutton.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not slothful.
39. Not a murmurer.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one's hope in God.
42. To attribute any good that one sees in oneself to God, and not to oneself.
43. But to recognise and always impute to oneself the evil that one doth.

Living Together

Instruments 23 through 43 are a development of the Christian moral life. They may well serve as an examination of conscience in preparation for confession. Instruments 23 to 33 are indispensable to one living in community; without the constant use of these instruments community life in the monastery (as in the family, or in the parish) would quickly degenerate into bitterness and factions.

Hope in God

Instrument 41, "To put one's hope in God," makes the use of all the other instruments possible. Thus do we sing at the end of the Te Deum that prepares us for the hearing of the Holy Gospel at Matins: In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum; "O Lord, in Thee I have hoped; let me never be put to shame." Nothing, it seems to me, is more useful to a monk than frequent acts of hope.

20 Jan. 21 May. 20 Sept.

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one's eyes.
48. To keep guard at all times over the actions of one's life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash down on the (Rock) Christ one's evil thoughts, the instant that they come into the heart.
51. And to lay them open to one's spiritual father.
52. To keep one's mouth from evil and wicked words.
53. Not to love much speaking.
54. Not to speak vain words or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or excessive laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To apply oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily to confess one's past sins with tears and sighs to God, and to amend them for the time to come.
59. Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh: to hate one's own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise: being mindful of that precept of the Lord: "What they say, do ye; but what they do, do ye not."
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so: but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

The Last Things

Instruments 44 through 47 address the last things: judgment, hell, heaven, and death. Saint Benedict does not want death to take his monk by surprise. Saint Benedict's own death, as described by Saint Gregory in the Second Book of The Dialogues, wholly illumined by the adorable mysteries of Our Lord's Body and Blood, is the shining image of what every Christian's death can be.

Presence of God

Instruments 48 through 51 have to do with temptation and evil thoughts. Saint Benedict would have his monk be vigilant, and aware of the presence of God in all places, even as the psalmist was.

Lord, I lie open to thy scrutiny; thou knowest me, knowest when sit down and when I rise up again, canst read my thoughts from far away. Walk I or sleep I, thou canst tell; no movement of mine but thou art watching it. Before ever the words are framed on my lips, all my thought is known to thee; rearguard and vanguard, thou dost compass me about, thy hand still laid upon me. Such wisdom as thine is far beyond my reach, no thought of mine can attain it.
Where can I go, then, to take refuge from thy spirit, to hide from thy view? If I should climb up to heaven, thou art there; if I sink down to the world beneath, thou art present still. If I could wing my way eastwards, or find a dwelling beyond the western sea, still would I find thee beckoning to me, thy right hand upholding me. Or perhaps I would think to bury myself in darkness; night should surround me, friendlier than day; but no, darkness is no hiding-place from thee, with thee the night shines clear as day itself; light and dark are one.

Unmasking the Enemy

As for evil thoughts -- for the monk's battleground of spiritual combat lies in his thoughts -- they are to be dashed against the rock that is Christ, and revealed to one's spiritual father. Unmasked, the devil has no hold over a soul. Transparency with one's spiritual father, a fundamental expression of humility, is indispensable to one who aspires to the love that casts out fear.


CHAPTER III. Of calling the Brethren to Council
17 Jan. 18 May. 17 Sept.
Let all therefore, follow the Rule in all things as their guide, and let no man rashly depart from it. Let no one in the monastery follow the will of his own heart: nor let any one presume insolently to contend with his Abbot, either within or without the monastery. But if he should so presume, let him be subjected to the discipline appointed by the Rule. The Abbot himself, however, must do everything with the fear of God and in observance of the Rule: knowing that he will have without doubt to render to God, the most just Judge, an account of all his judgments. If it happen that less important matters have to be transacted for the good of the monastery, let him take counsel with the Seniors only, as it is written: "Do all things with counsel, and thou shalt not afterwards repent it."

A Vessel of the Wisdom of Christ

The Holy Rule stabilises our monastic life; it provides us with a pattern of order, harmony, and peace. It protects us against the tyranny of subjectivism and the distortions of relativism. The Rule, being a distillation of the Holy Gospel for monks, is the objective standard by which all things are measured rightly. It is a privileged vessel of the wisdom of Christ, "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).

Keeping the Rule

An old monastic adage says, Serva ordinem, et ordo servabit te, Keep the order [of life] and the order [of life] will keep you. The significant word in this adage is the verb servare, which means to preserve, to cherish, to hold. A related verb describes the inward attitude of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Saint Luke's Gospel: Maria autem conservabat omnia verba haec, conferens in corde suo, "But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). It is in this sense that a monk is to keep the Rule; the Rule is to be pondered, held in the heart, and so interiorised that it begins to shape the outward man.

Growth into a New Man

To keep the Holy Rule is not the same as to abide by rules. A monk can keep all the rules outwardly without their affecting any real changes in the inner man. Love of the Holy Rule is not the same thing as the love of rules! Nothing renders monastic life more toxic than a narrow legalism. The text of the Holy Rule, received and cherished day after day, grows with a monk and causes him to grow into a new man. It gives him a distinctively Benedictine countenance, that is, a way of entering into relationships. It fashions in him a Benedictine soul: attentive, silent, obedient, humble, quick to praise God, and merciful.

A Light at Life's Crossroads

In relating his impressions of Dom Boniface Osländer (Abbot of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls from 1895-1904), Blessed Ildephonsus Schuster writes that Abbot Osländer, "when already advanced in years, said that he still discovered new truths in the Rule, new wellsprings of consolation that altogether inebriated the soul." Writing to a friend, Blessed Schuster said, "The Rule will illumine you at life's inevitable crossroads. When you read the Rule, or hear it read, do not consider it a book like any other. It was given you by God as the straightest way of life."

Filled with the Spirit of All the Just

I have been reading the Holy Rule and listening to it being read for some forty years. I never tire of it. Like the Sacred Scriptures woven into it on every page, the Rule conceals one layer of meaning under another, too many to be exhausted in a lifetime. The last page of the Constitutions of Silverstream Priory express the reverence in which we hold the Rule of Saint Benedict and are resolved to keep it:

Our holy legislator's humility seems to hide from his own eyes the wonderful laws of perfection comprised in his Rule, since he invites his disciples to seek them in that of Saint Basil and of the other Fathers. But, Saint Benedict, being filled with the Spirit of all the Just, as the author of his life tells us, we cannot doubt that his Rule contains all that is most perfect in the monastic state. For this reason, we were compelled to unite the observances belonging to the perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament so intimately thereto. And although this life of adoration encompasses what is most holy in Christianity, it never wearies of drawing beauty from the Holy Rule, in such wise that one can say that the sons of this great patriarch become, by this union, the hosts and sacrificial offerings of the Son of God in the divine Eucharist. This mystery was the wondrous pattern from which our glorious father drew so striking a resemblance to Jesus Christ by the consummation of his death at the foot of the altar. We shall share, in some way, in this grace, by endeavouring to become worthy of it by the faithful practice of the laws imposed upon us by the Holy Rule and by the present Constitutions. Thus will the mysterious life of death and sacrifice, to which we are vowed by profession, be wrought in us.


CHAPTER III. Of calling the Brethren to Council
16 Jan. 17 May. 16 Sept.
As often as any important matters have to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community, and himself declare what is the question to be settled. And, having heard the counsel of the brethren, let him consider within himself, and then do what he shall judge most expedient. We have said that all should be called to council, because it is often to the younger that the Lord revealeth what is best. But let the brethren give their advice with all subjection and humility, and not presume stubbornly to defend their own opinion; but rather let the matter rest with the Abbot's discretion, that all may submit to whatever he shall judge to be best. Yet, even as it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove him to order all things prudently and with justice.

Assemble, Listen, Act

This is a masterpiece of governmental procedure, applicable not only to monasteries, but to parishes and families as well. It can be broken down into components.

1. The Abbot assembles the whole community, that is, the monks having made their profession. Novices, according to Chapter LVIII, live in a separate place where they meditate, study, take their meals, and sleep. Only after monastic profession is a novice counted among those belonging to the community.

2. The Abbot sets forth the question to be settled.

3. The brethren offer their advice with all subjection and humility, not stubbornly defending their own opinion, but leaving the decision to the Abbot.

3. The Abbot listens to the counsel of the brethren, including the youngest.

4. The Abbot judges what is best.

5. All submit to the Abbot's decision.

Saint Benedict addresses a wonderfully balanced caveat to the Abbot: "Even as it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove him to order all things prudently and with justice." The Abbot is not a despot. Saint Benedict would have him be, in all circumstances, a pater pius (devoted father) operating under the influence of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.


Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
15 Jan. 16 May. 15 Sept.
Above all let him not, overlooking or under-valuing the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, be too solicitous for fleeting, earthly, and perishable things; but let him ever bear in mind that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he shall have to give an account. And that he may not complain for want of worldly substance, let him remember what is written: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." And again: "Nothing is wanting to them that fear Him."
And let him know that he who hath undertaken the government of souls, must prepare himself to render an account of them. And whatever may be the number of the brethren under his care, let him be certainly assured that on the Day of Judgment he will have to give an account to the Lord of all these souls, as well as of his own. And thus, being ever fearful of the coming inquiry which the Shepherd will make into the state of the flock committed to him, while he is careful on other men's account, he will be solicitous also on his own. And so, while correcting others by his admonitions, he will be himself cured of his own defects.

A Perennial Temptation

Given the circumstances of our little monastery, this particular portion of Chapter II goes straight to my heart. How often have I been tempted to to "complain for want of worldly substance" or to fret over finances! Saint Benedict admits that the Abbot be solicitous for the material well-being of his monastery; he does not want the Abbot to be too solicitous or it. This is a good example of Benedictine discretion and realism. The Abbot must not be careless when it comes to the administration of his monastery's material goods and finances; he must be solicitous for such things, but not to the point of being obsessed by them, and driven to worry. The Abbot (like a parish priest or the family of a family) must order his priorities wisely: souls first, then other things.

The Lilies of the Field

Saint Benedict would have the Abbot reflect on two passages from Sacred Scripture. The first is taken from the Sermon on the Mount:

Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature by one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. (Matthew 6:25-34)

The second passage is from Psalm 36. We pray Psalm 36 at Matins on Monday. I look forward to its weekly recurrence:

Art thou impatient, friend, when the wicked thrive; dost thou envy the lot of evil-doers? They will soon fade like the grass, like the green leaf wither away. Be content to trust in the Lord and do good; live on thy land, and take thy ease, all thy longing fixed in the Lord; so he will give thee what thy heart desires. Commit thy life to the Lord, and trust in him; he will prosper thee, making thy honesty clear as the day, the justice of thy cause bright as the sun at noon. (Psalm 36: 1-6, R. Knox translation)

A task difficult and arduous

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Shepherd and flock.jpg

Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
14 Jan. 15 May. 14 Sept.
The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called, and to know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required; and he must consider how difficult and arduous a task he hath undertaken, of ruling souls and adapting himself to many dispositions. Let him so accommodate and suit himself to the character and intelligence of each, winning some by kindness, others by reproof, others by persuasion, that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to him, but may even rejoice in their virtuous increase.

Let Things Be What They Are Called

Saint Benedict would have both persons and things be in truth what they are called. Thus does he say, concerning the Oratory of the monastery, "Let the Oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer: and let nothing else be done, or kept there" (Chapter LII), and concerning the Abbot, "The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called" (Chapter II). Persons and things are not named casually in Benedictine life; the name by which someone or something is called is a bearer of meaning and a summons to live the meaning signified. What some would perceive as a certain Benedictine formalism is, in fact, a radically sacramental approach to all of life.

Responsibility Before God

The Abbot (or Conventual Prior) is a father; he bears responsibility before God for each of his sons and for the monastic family as a whole. "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48).

All Things to All Men

Saint Benedict would have the Abbot close whatever gap there may be between himself and one of his sons in need. "To the weak I became weak," says the Apostle, "that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all" (1 Corinthians 9:22). And in another place, "Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).

Caring for the Flock

The Abbot must preserve the flock entrusted to him by Christ, by keeping all his sheep within the fold; even more, he must do all in his power to foster the steady regeneration of the flock. This he will do gladly, spending himself in love to protect and nurture new life within the monastic family. "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking care of it, not by constraint, but willingly, according to God" (1 Peter 5:2).

Reprove, entreat, rebuke

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
13 Jan. 14 May. 13 Sept.
For the Abbot in his doctrine ought always to observe the bidding of the Apostle, wherein he says: "Reprove, entreat, rebuke"; mingling, as occasions may require, gentleness with severity; shewing now the rigour of a master, now the loving affection of a father, so as sternly to rebuke the undisciplined and restless, and to exhort the obedient, mild, and patient to advance in virtue. And such as are negligent and haughty we charge him to reprove and correct. Let him not shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they appear, let him strive with all his might to root them out, remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo. Those of good disposition and understanding let him, for the first or second time, correct only with words; but such as are froward and hard of heart, and proud, or disobedient, let him chastise with bodily stripes at the very first offence, knowing that it is written: "The fool is not corrected with words." And again "Strike thy son with the rod, and thou shalt deliver his soul from death."

In All Patience and Doctrine

Having established that the Abbot teaches, first of all, by the example of his own life, Saint Benedict applies to him Saint Paul's admonition to Timothy. The Abbot must not, under the pretext that mere example is enough, forsake preaching.

Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober. (2 Timothy 4:2)

Daily Chapter

The Abbot preaches, first of all, at the daily Chapter.* My own experience is that the daily Chapter can have a transforming and revitalizing effect on a community. Nothing can replace the immediate, personal, living word of the father to his family. The daily Chapter need not be long; a five minute commentary on the text of the Rule is sufficient. What matters is that the Abbot speak from the heart. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good" (Luke 6:45). It is not enough to cite what others have said, and not enough to review what one has read in excellent books; the Abbot must freely impart to his sons what, freely, has been given him by the Holy Spirit in the humble school of experience.

Different Types

Today's section of the Holy Rule is fascinating in that Saint Benedict presents us with a cast of character types from his own monasteries. What were Saint Benedict's monks like? He refers to:
-- the undisciplined and restless;
-- the obedient, mild, and patient;
-- the negligent and haughty;
-- those of good disposition and understanding;
-- the froward and hard of heart;
-- and the proud, or disobedient.

In order to engage with such men profitably, the Abbot will act at certain times with the bracing sternness of a master, and at other times with the tender affection of a father. One approach is not suitable for all. What will bring forth wholesome fruits of repentance in one, will embitter and harden another. What will pacify one, will enrage another. The Abbot must know his monks (as a father must know his children, a bishop his priests, and a parish priest his flock) and, knowing them, must adapt himself to each one.

Hophni and Phinehas

Saint Benedict refers to the tragic story of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, and his wayward sons, Hophni and Phinehas in the First Book of Samuel. Hophni and Phinehas, serving under their father at the sanctuary in Shiloh, were sacrilegious and corrupt. They took for themselves the choicest meats offered to the Lord in sacrifice and fornicated with women come to worship at the sanctuary. Eli was aware of his sons' corrupt behaviour, but could not bring himself to intervene decisively. His correction was weak and half-hearted, like that of the father who excuses his sons' irresponsible behaviour by saying, "boys will be boys." In the end, Eli brought a curse upon himself, his sons, and his descendents. The reticence to correct is not always an expression of patience; it may also be a sign of cowardice or of capitulation in the face of evil.

The Rod

Saint Benedict used corporal punishment when needed. Some of Saint Benedict's monks would have come from a hard background, like the rough, untutored Goth who appears in the Second Book of the Dialogues. Not only would such a man have understood corporal chastisement; he would have expected it, and found it normal. Today, in most of Western culture, there is an altogether different sensibility. Saint Benedict's fundamental intuition is, however, sound: a chastisement that addresses only the reason and the will is not effectual for everyone. There are some who will need to experience the salutary sting of correction in their body and senses. For one this may take the form of an hour of weeding in the garden; for another it may mean cleaning a stream or part of the monastery's woodland. In the end, the work imposed as a penance may prove to be therapeutic, and even a source of joy.

* The Chapter is a daily meeting of the monastic family, generally held after the Hour of Prime, at which a designated chapter or portion of the Holy Rule is read. The room in which the community assembles is designated the Chapter Room. The entire Rule of Saint Benedict is read three times yearly in this way. Following the reading of the Holy Rule, the Abbot offers a living commentary on the text. This practice is one of the most effective ways of encouraging a community to "run in the way of God's commandments", preferring nothing to the love of Christ, putting nothing before the Work of God, and never despairing of His mercy. The daily Chapter meeting imparts freshness to the monastic tradition; it prevents a community from falling into mere routine, and obliges the Abbot to exercise the charism he has received for the building up of his monastic family.

Ut Unum Sint

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
12 Jan. 13 May. 12 Sept.
Let him make no distinction of persons in the monastery. Let not one be loved more than another, unless he be found to excel in good works or in obedience. Let not one of noble birth be put before him that was formerly a slave, unless some other reasonable cause exist for it. But if upon just consideration it should so seem good to the Abbot, let him arrange as he please concerning the place of any one whomsoever; but, otherwise, let them keep their own places; because, whether bond or free, we are all one in Christ, and bear an equal rank in the service of one Lord, "For with God there is no respecting of persons." Only for one reason are we preferred in His sight, if we be found to surpass others in good works and in humility. Let the Abbot, then, shew equal love to all, and let the same discipline be imposed upon all according to their deserts.

Not As the World Judges

The Abbot is not to introduce worldly criteria of distinction into the monastery. Should the man of prestigious background and impressive academic credentials be preferred to the man of humble background and the simplest education? Should the man of robust health and unflagging physical strength be preferred to the man of frail constitution? Should the man who entered the monastery with a large bank account be preferred to the man who entered nearly penniless? Should the handsome man exuding charm be preferred to the man of quite ordinary appearance and retiring demeanour? The Abbot will recall what the Lord said to Samuel: "Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature: because I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Again, the Lord says, "But to whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?" (Isaias 66:2).


The Abbot will love his sons with a fatherly love, seeing in each one the natural gifts and weaknesses waiting to be transformed by grace. If he is to have any preference at all, it must be for the least lovable of the community, for the man who alienates others and reacts like a threatened porcupine when approached.


The obsession with rank and privilege that one sometimes encounters in monastic communities is a mark of the insecure man who suffers from the fear of being overlooked, discounted, or diminished. Such monks need constant reassurance because constantly they feel threatened.

That They All May Be One

Saint Benedict uses this compelling phrase: "We are all one in Christ." The holy patriarch is quoting the Apostle, who says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). At an even deeper level, Saint Benedict is, in effect, inviting the Abbot to lead his monks into the depths of Our Lord's priestly prayer in the Cenacle: "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me" (John 17:21-23).

Little Souls

Who, then, is preferred in the sight of God? The little soul who bears fruit while remaining humble. "So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do" (Luke 17:10).

One Discipline and One Mercy

While the same discipline must be imposed upon all, so too must all be treated with the same mercy, the same kindness in the face of weakness, and the same compassion in the hour of suffering.

The Example of Deeds

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
11 Jan. 12 May. 11 Sept.
Therefore, when anyone receiveth the name of Abbot, he ought to govern his disciples by a two-fold teaching: that is, he should shew forth all goodness and holiness by his deeds rather than his words: declaring to the intelligent among his disciples the commandments of the Lord by words: but to the hard-hearted and the simple minded setting forth the divine precepts by the example of his deeds. And let him shew by his own actions that those things ought not to be done which he has taught his disciples to be against the law of God; lest, while preaching to others, he should himself become a castaway, and God should say to him in his sin: "Why dost thou declare My justice, and take My covenant in thy mouth? Thou hast hated discipline, and hast cast My words behind thee." And again: "Thou who sawest the mote in thy brother's eye, didst thou not see the beam in thine own?"

Deeds More than Words

Saint Benedict would have the Abbot radiate goodness and holiness, not by much speaking, but by the way he lives in the humble circumstances of ordinary daily life. Deeds are more easily understood than discourses. By a consistent goodness of life, an Abbot can break through the crusty resistance of men not easily impressed by fine words, or even hardened by them. Too great a reliance on preaching and teaching to communicate the flame of monastic life can have the opposite effect. It can induce a certain weariness of words, and cause monks to become passive, or disheartened, or simply fed up.

If an Abbot would have his monks be punctual to the choir and refectory, he must consistently demonstrate that such punctuality is, in fact, an expression of charity, of gratitude, and of respect for others. If he would have his monks do cheerfully their share of the humble household tasks, he must show by his deeds that such tasks are an important and valued contribution to life together. If an Abbot would have his monks become lovers of silence and of the enclosure, he must be the first to observe silence and enclosure. If an Abbot would have his monks be quick to forgive and slow to anger, he must model ready forgiveness and patience at every opportunity. If an Abbot would have his monks be assiduous in lectio divina and generous in pure, unprogrammed times of prayer, he must set the example by his personal discipline and willingness to "lose time" in prayer. It has often been observed that a community takes on, over time, the demeanour and distinctive traits of its Abbot.


Lest an Abbot be blinded by the beam in his eye, he must wash out his eyes frequently with tears of sorrow for his past sins, and treasure the incomparable grace of compunction. So long as a man lives, even with the grace of monastic consecration, he remains capable of spiritual blindness. Nothing so restores the clarity of one's inward sight as do tears of compunction, and these cannot be forced or otherwise produced. They are a gift of God.

Take my yoke upon you

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
10 Jan. 11 May. 10 Sept.
Let the Abbot be ever mindful that at the dreadful judgment of God an account will have to be given both of his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let him know that to the fault of the shepherd shall be imputed any lack of profit which the father of the household may find in his sheep. Only then shall he be acquitted, if he shall have bestowed all pastoral diligence on his unquiet and disobedient flock, and employed all his care to amend their corrupt manner of life: then shall he be absolved in the judgment of the Lord, and may say to the Lord with the Prophet: "I have not hidden Thy justice in my heart, I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation, but they contemned and despised me." And then at length the punishment of death shall be inflicted on the disobedient sheep.

Wisdom Not Only for Abbots

This is one of the chapters of the Holy Rule that is most helpful to bishops and priests who, like the Father of a monastery, are charged with the care of souls. Parish priests who are Benedictine Oblates will find in this chapter a synthesis of incomparable pastoral wisdom, and matter for an excellent examination of conscience.

The Abbot knows that when he appears before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be as the father of a family, charged with responsibility for the souls of his sons. He will be held accountable for all that he has taught, not only by word, but also by the example of his life, for an Abbot teaches in every word he says, and in his every action.

The Obedience of the Disciple

Saint Benedict says that the Abbot will held accountable not only for his own teaching, but also for the obedience -- or disobedience -- of his disciples. There are some superiors who make obedience sweet and easy; and there are other superiors who make obedience burdensome and difficult. The difference lies in the Abbot's personal response to Our Lord's words: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. 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 11:28-30).

Yoked to Christ

An Abbot who, in his labours and burdens, allows Christ to refresh him, will know the secret of offering refreshment to his sons in the labours and burdens of their obedience. An Abbot who is yoked to Christ will go forward, not in frenzy and stress, but, rather, in meekness and humility; thus will he find rest and refreshment for his soul. An Abbot refreshed by his personal union Christ, and who, at every moment, rests in His Heart, will have the gift of making life restful and refreshing for others. An agitated man, on the other hand, will generate agitation and stress around himself.

Of One Mind

A monk is yoked to his Abbot by the vow of obedience, even as the Abbot is yoked in obedience to Christ. Just as the Abbot finds rest for his soul by abiding in union with the Heart of Jesus, so will a monk find rest for his soul by seeking, at all times, to remain of one mind with his Abbot. This is the constant teaching of the Apostle: "Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5); "For the rest, brethren, rejoice, be perfect, take exhortation, be of one mind, have peace; and the God of peace and of love shall be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11); "Fulfill ye my joy, that you may be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment" (Philippians 2:2). And Saint Peter says likewise: "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble" (1 Peter 3:8).

Saint Benedict requires the Abbot to bestow all pastoral diligence on his flock, especially when the flock is unquiet and disobedient. There will always be the temptation or an Abbot to indulge in self-pity, or even to seek escape, if not geographically, then mentally and emotionally. The Abbot who runs away from his flock because it contains unruly sheep is like the hireling who "flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep" (John 10:13).

Called by His Name

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Chapter II. What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be
9 Jan. 10 May. 9 Sept.
An Abbot who is worthy to rule over the monastery ought always to remember what he is called, and correspond to his name of superior by his deeds. For he is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, since he is called by His name, as the Apostle saith: "Ye have received the spirit of the adoption of children, in which we cry Abba, Father." And, therefore, the Abbot ought not (God forbid) to teach, or ordain, or command anything contrary to the law of the Lord; but let his bidding and his doctrine be infused into the minds of his disciples like the leaven of divine justice.


The name Abbot. meaning "the father", is derived, through the Latin and the Greek, from the Aramaic abba, a title of affectionate reverence given to wise old men, and to respected teachers and rabbis. It would have been associated in Saint Benedict's mind with the pius pater of ancient Roman society: the affectionate father, always merciful, severe when necessary, and utterly devoted to his sons. Even more, however, quoting Galatians 4:6, Saint Benedict associates it with the very name given to God the Father: "And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father."

The Fatherhood of Christ

Saint Benedict does not hesitate to attribute the title Abba to Christ Himself; Jesus was, in the midst of His apostles, the most devoted of fathers, loved and revered by the men whom He called to be with Him and to receive His teaching. Our Lord's Divine Person had about it a paternal quality that did not escape His disciples, even if they were slow to recognize Him as the perfect revelation and living icon of the Father.

Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou, shew us the Father? Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works. Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? (John 14:8-11).

The Fatherhood of the Abbot

Just as Christ held the place of His Father in the midst of the Apostolic College -- He that seeth me seeth the Father also -- so too does the Abbot hold the place of Christ in the monastery. The Abbot is not Christ, but he is a kind of sacrament of His presence. He is this, not by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, as would be a bishop, priest, or deacon, but by virtue of a charism recognized by the community that chose him, and confirmed by the Church in a solemn rite of blessing or consecration. The charism of spiritual fatherhood is among the best and perfect gifts that are "from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).

Listening to Christ

The Abbot must teach, set in order, and command in whatsoever things concern the life of his monastery and the welfare of his monks, who are to him as sons. In so doing, he must remain faithful and true to the law of Christ and to the teachings of the Church. Just as Christ listened at every moment to His Father, so must the Abbot listen at every moment to Christ. "My doctrine," says Jesus, "is not mine, but his that sent me" (John 7:16). This, of course, obliges the Abbot to abide close to the Heart of Christ, in ceaseless prayer, and in humble adherence to all His designs and desires.

The Pure Bread of Christ

Saint Benedict compares the work of the Abbot to that of a baker kneading leaven into his loaves. The leaven is divine justice, that is to say, the very principle of holiness that is the Word of God, "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). "The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened" (Matthew 13:33). Doing this, the Abbot will learn to make his own the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, "I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." Unless the Abbot himself becomes the wheat of God, ground in weakness, humiliations and sufferings to become the pure bread of Christ, leavened by divine justice, his community will remain flat and all his kneading will be in vain, for nemo dat quod non habet, no one gives what he does not have.


Chapter I. Of the Several Kinds of Monks and Their Way of Life
8 Jan. 9 May. 8 Sept.
It is well known that there are four kinds of monks. The first are the cenobites: that is those in monasteries, who live under a rule or an Abbot.


The word monk (Latin: monachus; Greek: μοναχός) is, in itself, a whole program of life. The word means a solitary or one who, seeking God, lives alone or apart. By extension, it can refer to a man whose heart belongs to the one imperishable treasure revealed in Christ. "Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also" (Matthew 6:21). The monk is that man of the Gospel (Matthew 13:44-45) who, having found a treasure hidden in the field, went, full of joy, and, having sold all that he had, bought the field. Again, he is like the merchant seeking good pearls, who when he found one pearl of great price, went his way, sold all that he had, and bought it.

Saint Benedict's monk has one focus in life: the Unum Necessarium (one thing necessary) that Our Lord revealed to Saint Martha at Bethany when He said, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).

The word cenobite is derived from two Greek words: κοινός, meaning common, and βίος meaning life. Some commentators would say that the first cenobites were the Christians of the primitive Apostolic community, insofar as they lived together, under authority, following the teaching of the Apostles.

And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; praising God, and having favour with all the people. (Acts 2:44-46).

A cenobite, or cenobitic monk, according to Saint Benedict's description, lives in community with other monks, under a rule and an Abbot. Today, the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict is, more often than not, interpreted by a complementary text called Constitutions or Declarations. In a small monastery, such as ours, the Father of the community is called a prior, rather than an abbot. His responsibilities, however, are the same as those of an abbot.

There are, then, three components of cenobitic monasticism: 1) life together in a single monastery; 2) corporate submission to a rule; 3) under the authority and care of an abbot.


The second are the Anchorites or Hermits: that is those who, not in the first fervour of religious life, but after long probation in the monastery, have learned by the help and experience of many to fight against the devil; and going forth well armed from the ranks of their brethren to the single-handed combat of the desert, are able, without the support of others, to fight by the strength of their own arm, God helping them, against the vices of the flesh and their evil thoughts.

Saint Benedict presents anchorites or hermits as veterans of the cenobitic life. The experience of bearing patiently, day after day, and year after year, with other men marked by "infirmities of body or mind" (Chapter LXXVII) is precious and indispensable. It constitutes the best purification of the heart, the most fruitful ascetical exercise, and the highest school of charity.

Only after long years of manfully struggling, in the midst of his brethren, against the eight principal vices enumerated by Saint John Cassian -- gluttony, lust, greed, hubris, wrath, envy, listlessness, and boasting -- is a monk in any way prepared for a life of complete solitude. The monk who enters the solitude of the desert prematurely will find himself vomited out of it, for the desert is a severe and uncompromising host for the man who enters it tainted with self-absorption and not entirely resolved to die to the world and and to all things passing.

In the meantime, Benedictine life, such as we live it, offers hours and spaces of solitude that provide the cenobite with a prudently measured experience of the desert. Unlike the Cistercians, who often privilege the common life at all times and in all places, to the point of sleeping in a dormitory, and of reading and studying in a scriptorium, our observance would be marked by a certain affection for the solitude of the cell: the monk's ordinary place of lectio divina, study and, sometimes, work.


A third and most baneful kind of monks are the Sarabites, who have been tried by no rule nor by the experience of a master, as gold in the furnace; but being as soft as lead, and still serving the world in their works, are by their tonsure to lie to God. These in twos or threes, or even singly, without a shepherd, shut up, not in the Lord's sheepfolds, but in their own, make a law to themselves in the pleasure of their own desires: whatever they think fit or choose to do, that they call holy; and what they like not, that they consider unlawful.

The Sarabites have no reference outside themselves: no rule, no abbot, no received tradition. They are "cafeteria monks", choosing from among things monastic whatever strikes their fancy, and sneering at the rest. Lest one become too smug in one's judgment of the Sarabites, I must add that there is in every monk -- myself included -- at least at certain hours, a touch of the Sarabite. The devil can fill a cenobite with loathing for the rule, antipathy towards the abbot, and a biting criticism of tradition. The Sarabite syndrome can be summed up as: "I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, in the way I want to do it."


The fourth kind of monks are those called "Girovagi," who spend all their lives-long wandering about divers provinces, staying in different cells for three or four days at a time, ever roaming, with no stability, given up to their own pleasures and to the snares of gluttony, and worse in all things than the Sarabites. Of the most wretched life of these it is better to say nothing than to speak. Leaving them alone therefore, let us set to work, by the help of God, to lay down a rule for the Cenobites, that is, the strongest kind of monks.

The Gyrovagues described here by Saint Benedict are restless wanderers, never content with what they find in one place, ever itching for novelty. The temptation to seek out a change of scenery, of diet, of brethren, and even of liturgical praxis is a classic demonic ploy. The Gyrovague is a man incapable of submission or, if you will, a kind of monastic philanderer ever moving from cloister to cloister, the way some men move from one relationship to another without ever making a life-long commitment.

This being said, one must be careful not to judge one's brother (or sister) a Gyrovague, because one is never in full possession of all the facts. I think immediately of Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698), the "Teresa of Avila" of the Benedictine Order in the 17th century, a reformer and mystic of outstanding significance in the history of spirituality. Mectilde began her religious life as an Annonciade, in an Order of Franciscan obedience. Forced out of monastery by the vicissitudes of the Thirty Years War, she and her companions took refuge with a community of reformed Benedictines; there Mectilde discovered the Rule of Saint Benedict, asked to be received as a novice, and made profession as a Benedictine. Many years later, it took a decision of the Holy See to silence those who questioned the validity of her Benedictine profession.

Benedictine though she was, and this to the very core of her being, stability and enclosure were not to be the lot of Mother Mectilde de Bar. Diverse circumstances, in which it is permitted to see an action of Divine Providence, swept Mectilde from one place to another. At one point she was sorely tempted to drop out entirely, to disappear by running away to a mountainous desert place in the south of France. Once she accepted God's will that she should, even in the face of poverty, political intrigues, and virulent opposition, establish monasteries of Benedictine life marked by perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, her interior stability became immovable. Her stability was in the Sacred Host. Until the end of her life, like Saint Teresa of Avila, she traveled extensively, consumed with a burning desire to offer Our Lord victims of adoration and reparation who would, like so many grains of incense, consume themselves in the fire of His Eucharistic Love.

With effects no less devastating than those of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, monastic life in the West, with very few exceptions, was struck by a kind of revolution. The year 1968 is often cited as marking the beginning of an age of "bare, ruined choirs." Many men of that time who, like myself, entered monastic life in search of the pax benedictina safeguarded and fostered by fidelity to tradition, were told, instead, that there were no absolutes and no certainties, and that everything, beginning with the sacred liturgy itself, had to be re-invented. Benedictine stability was, in many places, stripped of the very elements that made it possible and desirable. Some took to the road like Saint Benedict-Joseph Labre. Others sought out small communities where there appeared to be a glimmer of hope; most of these ended in delusion and heartbreak. Still others entered the few continental abbeys where the classic Benedictine life was alive and thriving in its most traditional expression.

The post-Conciliar years were profoundly destabilizing. The men and women whom critics were quick to label Gyrovagues may have been poor destabilised seekers of God, spiritually homeless, waiting for the return of the serenity without which a true discernment and an enduring commitment to stability are not possible. "Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name. "(Hebrews 13:13-15)

Are there still Gyrovagues then? I leave that to the judgment of God and of Saint Benedict, giving the last word to the prophet Jeremias:

Blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and the Lord shall be his confidence. And he shall be as a tree that is planted by the waters, that spreadeth out its roots towards moisture: and it shall not fear when the heat cometh. And the leaf thereof shall be green, and in the time of drought it shall not be solicitous, neither shall it cease at any time to bring forth fruit. The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it? I am the Lord who search the heart and prove the reins: who give to every one according to his way, and according to the fruit of his devices. (Jeremiah 17:7-10).

Suscipe me

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
7 Jan. 8 May. 7 Sept.
But as we go forward in our life and in faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God's commandments; so that never departing from His guidance, but persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.

In God's Good Time

In the life of every monk humbled by failures, disappointments, and the experience of his own weakness, there comes an hour when God intervenes to do the things that, of himself and by himself, the monk was unable to do. Virtues formerly difficult, if not impossible to practice, become easy. Long-festering wounds are cauterized, becoming mere scars that attest to a miracle of healing. The troubles of a chronic restlessness give way to a deep and stable peace. Where, formerly, there was fear, there is childlike confidence. The heart, says Saint Benedict is dilated with an indescribable sweetness of love and, even as the body begins to slow down under the weight of the years, one begins to run, drawn on by Christ. "Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments" (Canticle 1:3).

When the Spirit of Truth Is Come

Increasingly, the monk lives under the guidance of God, becoming more docile to the inspirations and movements of the Holy Ghost. He realizes the truth of what, in earlier years, he struggled to integrate into his life, and has no plans apart from submission to the teachings of the Holy Ghost and perseverance in the monastery until death. "But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you" (John 16:13-14).

Into the Embrace of the Cross

Participation in the sufferings of Christ becomes, at this season of the monk's life, something very simple and hidden, realized not by any acts of ascetical prowess, but only by a humble patience. He longs for union with Love Crucified. He yearns to be one with the Lamb on the altar of His sacrifice, but knowing himself too weak to ascend to the Cross by his own efforts, he is content to be drawn upward into its embrace as God wills, when He wills, and as He wills.

In the end, the Suscipe of his monastic profession becomes a monk's final aspiration: "Receive me -- lift me up unto Thyself -- according to Thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation" (Psalm 118:116). He knows that, at the hour willed by the Father, he will, like a little child, be carried into the kingdom in the arms of Love.


Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
7 Jan. 8 May. 7 Sept.
We have, therefore, to establish a school of the Lord's service, in the setting forth of which we hope to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous. But if anything be somewhat strictly laid down, according to the dictates of sound reason, for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not therefore fly in dismay from the way of salvation, whose beginning cannot but be strait and difficult. But as we go forward in our life and in faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God's commandments; so that never departing from His guidance, but persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.

Hard and Rugged Paths

In contrast with some of the Desert Fathers and, in fact, with certain other schools of holiness, Saint Benedict resolves to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous. This does not mean that the Benedictine way is strewn with rose petals; in Chapter LVIII of the Rule, Saint Benedict says that the senior monk charged with caring for novices must set before then "all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God." The Benedictine way, although characterized by mildness, moderation, and mercy, remains the via crucis (the way of the Cross), the narrow way, the way of immolation and of sacrifice, because for the Christian there can be no other way. "If we be dead with him, we shall live also with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:11-12).


Harshness and rigour have no place in the pedagogy of the Rule; it is a pedagogy of moderation, flexibly adapted, and re-adapted, with gentleness and discretion, to the infirmities and weakness of those enrolled in the school of the Lord's service. Both Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face would find in the pedagogy of the Rule a spiritual sensibility akin to their own.

Saint Benedict acknowledges that, at certain hours and seasons, it may be necessary to hold his monks to a certain strictness, according to the dictates of sound reason. The strict application of certain principles derives then, not from the subjective moods or personal inclinations of the superior, but from the necessity of amending vices (bad habits) or preserving charity.

Patience and Perseverance

Being a merciful father, full of sympathy for the fearful and fragile among his sons, Saint Benedict enjoins them not to retreat in dismay when the observance seems narrow and too difficult. "Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward. For patience is necessary for you; that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise" (Hebrws 10:35-36).

Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. (Ecclesiasticus 2:1-9)

A Calm and Quiet Soul

The first steps in one's conversion of life are never easy. The primary classes in the school of the Lord's service are daunting to those unaccustomed to the pedagogy of the Rule. It would be foolish to yield to a sudden panic and, breathless, bolt for the door. Rather one must quiet one' soul in the presence of the Lord and wait upon Him to bestow the peace that allows one to see clearly and to judge rightly.

Delight in the Lord, and he will give thee the requests of thy heart. Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in him, and he will do it. And he will bring forth thy justice as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Be subject to the Lord and pray to him. (Psalm 36:4-7)


Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
7 Jan. 8 May. 7 Sept.
We have, therefore, to establish a school of the Lord's service, in the setting forth of which we hope to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous. But if anything be somewhat strictly laid down, according to the dictates of sound reason, for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not therefore fly in dismay from the way of salvation, whose beginning cannot but be strait and difficult. But as we go forward in our life and in faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God's commandments; so that never departing from His guidance, but persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers of His kingdom. Amen.

Adoration in Spirit and in Truth

In writing his Rule, Saint Benedict seeks only to establish a school of the Lord's service, that is to say, a school of adoration in spirit and in truth. A man enters the monastery to learn how to adore God as God seeks to be adored.

The hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

Men Who Have Their Gaze Directed to God

The Father seeks men who will adore Him in the Holy Spirit and in union with the Son. He seeks men who will adore Him as the Son adores Him, that is, perpetually. The school of the Lord's service is a school of perpetual adoration. Perpetual adoration does not imply that a monk be, at every moment, kneeling before the Sacred Host; it means, rather, that the compass of his heart is oriented steadily and unswervingly ad Patrem: towards the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It was to this that Pope Benedict XVI referred in his discourse at Subiaco, the cradle of Benedictine life, in April 2005, only days before his election: "We need men who have their gaze directed to God."

Come to the Father

In the school of the Lord's service a man learns, through obedience, silence, and humility, to surrender to the mysterious operations of the Holy Ghost by which his spirit enters the rhythm of a ceaseless return to the Father through the Son, in filial love and in sacerdotal offering. He begins, over time, to hear what Saint Ignatius of Antioch describes in his Epistle to the Romans: "There is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father."

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. (Romans 8:26-27)

The Sacred Liturgy

Nowhere does the Holy Spirit help our infirmity more powerfully than in the sacred liturgy of the Church: "the foremost and indispensable font of the Christian spirit" (Saint Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini). Saint Benedict's school of the Lord's service gives absolute primacy to the Opus Dei (the Work of God, i.e. the Divine Office) because it is there that the Holy Spirit descends mightily and sweetly to succour our weakness, praying for us and in us with unspeakable groanings. Father Augustine Baker's disciple, the English Benedictine mystic, Dame Gertrude More wrote:

The Divine Office is such a heavenly thing that in it we find whatsoever we can desire: for sometimes in it we address ourselves to Thee for help and pardon for our sins; and sometimes Thou speakest to us, so that it pierceth and woundeth with desire of Thee the very bottom of our souls; and sometimes Thou teachest a soul to understand more in it of the knowledge of Thee and of herself than ever could have been by all the teaching in the world showed to a soul in five hundred years; for Thy words are works.

The Holy Spirit, labouring in us through the Divine Office, obtains all that the Father, in His wisdom and love, desires to bestow upon the saints, that is, upon the Body of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Thus does the monastery's stable rhythm of choral prayer refresh the Church with wave upon wave of divine life.

Always in the temple

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Paolo Uccelli's Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple illustrates a mystery that has long been interpreted as a paradigm of the monastic life. Little Mary hastens up the steps of the temple while her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna look on. The Child Mary will live hidden in the temple while the Holy Spirit prepares her to become the temple of the Word Incarnate.

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
6 Jan. 7 May. 6 Sept.
Since then, brethren, we have asked of the Lord who is to inhabit His temple, we have heard His commands to those who are to dwell there and if we fulfil those duties, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Our hearts, therefore, and our bodies must be made ready to fight under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God to supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us. And if we would arrive at eternal life, escaping the pains of hell, then - while there is yet time, while we are still in the flesh, and are able to fulfil all these things by the light which is given us - we must hasten to do now what will profit us for all eternity.

In the Temple of the Lord

The monk is a man who dwells in the temple of the Lord. "For better is one day in thy courts above thousands. I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners" (Psalm 83:11). The monk has made the temple of the Lord his permanent abode, echoing the Lord's own words in Psalm 131: "This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it" (Psalm 131:14). His unflagging prayer is that of the psalmist:

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee for ever and ever.

Saint Luke: Evangelist of the Temple

Saint Luke gives us two striking examples of permanence in the temple. The first is venerable old Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, which translates "face of God." Concerning Anna of the Face of God, a prototype of the monastic life, Saint Luke says that she, "departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day" (Luke 2:37). The second is the very last sentence of his Gospel: "And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:53).

To Abide in Christ

To abide in the temple is to abide in Christ, according to His own word in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). For Saint Benedict's monk, this abiding in the temple, translates concretely into a love for stability in the enclosure of the monastery; into a permanent proximity to the altar, the place of the Holy Sacrifice and of the abiding real presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. Saint Benedict himself chose to die in the oratory of his monastery at Monte Cassino, standing before the altar, in the presence of the adorable mysteries of Our Lord's Body and Blood. Death is not improvised. Saint Benedict's Eucharistic death was the seal placed on a wholly Eucharistic life.

The Constitutions of Silverstream Priory address this:

In the transitus [i.e. passing over] of Saint Benedict, who, as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of the Dialogues, breathed forth his last before the altar, and entrusted the last beats of his heart to the Sacred Host, we recognize, as in a mysterious prophetic act, the generation, at the hour fixed by God, of sons of his Order, who would render to the Most Holy Sacrament adoration and reverence in the celebration of the Opus Dei, and in an uninterrupted vigil of love and reparation.

Moreover, in the decree by which His Lordship, the Bishop of Meath established our monastery, we read:

The real stability of a monk is both inward and ecclesial, insofar as it is fixed in the Sacred Host, that is, in Jesus Christ truly present as Priest and Victim upon the altars of the Church, whence He offers Himself to the Father as a pure oblation from the rising of the sun to its setting. Ubi Hostia, ibi Ecclesia.

The Passion of the Lamb

One who abides permanently in the temple of the Lord, in radical separation from the world, assumes certain obligations or, rather, responds to the grace of dwelling close to the altar of the Lamb, by imitating the Lamb in His silence, His sacrificial suffering, His humility, and His obedience unto death. With his heart and his body, the monk enters into the mystery of the Passion of the Lamb and into spiritual combat "not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Ephesians 6:12).


Perseverance in this life of separation from the world and spiritual combat exceeds mere human strength. A monk who is trying to live his vocation without compromise will discover rather sooner than later that it is completely beyond what he is capable of doing. Confronted with his weakness and instability, he comes to understand the word of the Lord to His Apostles: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). At the same time he takes to heart the word of the Lord to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Corinthians 12:9). God will, Saint Benedict assures us, "supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us."

The Last Things

Life is short. Eternity is forever. Hell is a real possibility. Heaven is our true home. Saint Benedict would have his monk invest wisely every moment of this passing life, by spending it, and by spending himself close to the altar, in the temple of the Lord.


Painting: The Prodigal Son by Edward John Poynter (1836-1919)

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
5 Jan. 6 May. 5 Sept.
Hence also the Lord saith in the Gospel: "He that heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them, is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock: the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, because it was founded upon a rock." And the Lord in fulfilment of these His words is waiting daily for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. Therefore are the days of our life lengthened for the amendment of our evil ways, as saith the Apostle: "Knowest thou not that the patience of God is leading thee to repentance?" For the merciful Lord saith: "I will not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live."

Firm Upon the Rock

A monk, in consequence of his Baptism and monastic consecration, builds his life upon the rock of the Word of God. He stands on the Word of God; he makes it his home, his shelter, and the unshakeable ground of his stability. Left to himself, a monk, like any other man, is infirm; that is to say that he is without firmitas; he has no solid ground upon which to plant his feet. Without the stability of the Word of God, all that the world offers is shifting and uncertain. When a man takes his position on the Word of God, he acquires firmitas, a strength against which every other force is shattered.

A God Who Waits

Saint Benedict says that the Lord is waiting daily for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. The very notion of the Creator who waits for his creature; of the heavenly Father who waits for the least of His children; of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ waiting for one redeemed by His precious Blood is difficult to take in. It reveals the profound humility of God. God is exquisitely courteous in all His dealings with the creatures upon whom He has set His Heart.

God lengthens the days a man's life in order to give him time to repent; his days are, nonetheless numbered. The psalmist says:

Be converted, O ye sons of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday, which is past. And as a watch in the night, things that are counted nothing, shall their years be. In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither. (Psalm 89:3-6)

And again, in the same psalm:

Our years shall be considered as fragile as a spider's spinning: The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow. For mildness is come upon us: and we shall be corrected. (Psalm 89:9-10)

Never to Despair of the Mercy of God

God is patient and merciful. In Chapter IV of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict will enjoin his monk, "never to despair of the mercy of God." Already, in the Prologue, in order to impress upon us the goodness of the Father, he presents us with His patience and mercy. To the patience of God, the monk responds with a ready repentance; and to His mercy, the monk responds with confidence.


Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.

Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?" After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: "He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:" he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory." So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: "By the grace of God I am what I am." And again he saith: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."

In the Tabernacle of the King

Saint Benedict makes it clear that a monk's deepest desire is not only to see Christ, but also to dwell in His royal tabernacle. "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple" (Psalm 26:40). It is the will of Christ, expressed in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle that those who belong to Him should be with Him where He is:

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)


Saint Benedict is fond of using dynamic verbs, denoting swift action; thus, he would have his monk run to the royal tabernacle of the Lord by good deeds. Pious aspirations are not enough. One must demonstrate with concrete deeds one's desire to live in Christ and with Christ. These need not be huge deeds nor feats of ascetical prowess. On the contrary, the deeds by which one runs to the royal tabernacle of the Lord, and gains entrance therein, are very little deeds, deeds that are hidden in the ordinary course of one's day, beginning with the tasks that belong to one's state in life. This is the "little way" of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.

The Oeuf and the Boeuf

I have experienced many times that a very little deed done for Christ releases an entirely disproportionate deluge of graces. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort quotes a homely French proverb that expresses this perfectly: Pour un oeuf, il donne un boeuf. The gist of the saying is this: give God an egg (something very little) and, in return, He will give you an ox (something very large). I knew a person who decided one day to be rid of the clutter accumulated in his closet, a collection of things to which he had become attached. Acting decisively against his own tendency to cling to things (out of insecurity, no doubt), he undertook to free himself of the possessions that had come to possess him. The result was a life-transforming flood of graces, entirely disproportionate to the things given away.

Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Little Steps

The point of Saint Benedict's teaching here is that we approach the tabernacle of the Lord not by sighs of devotion, but by actually doing something, however insignificant this little something may appear. Saint Thérèse's example of the toddler trying to climb the staircase by repeatedly lifting his little foot to the first step, is a perfect illustration of this. At length, the child's father, charmed by the child's persistence in doing something (however ineffectual) lifts the child into his strong arms and carries him in triumph to the top of the staircase.

Saint Benedict asks the Lord who will be found worthy to dwell with Him in His royal tabernacle. In response, the Lord gives Psalm 14:

Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in thy holy hill? He that walketh without blemish, and worketh justice: He that speaketh truth in his heart, who hath not used deceit in his tongue: Nor hath done evil to his neighbour: nor taken up a reproach against his neighbours. In his sight the malignant is brought to nothing: but he glorifieth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his neighbour, and deceiveth not; He that hath not put out his money to usury, nor taken bribes against the innocent: He that doth these things shall not be moved for ever.

Jesus gives the fulfillment of Psalm 14 in the Beatitudes:

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. The poor in spirit: That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)


All of this being said, danger lies even in the doing of good deeds: the mortal danger of pride. Even as the monk advances towards the royal tabernacle of the Lord, he sings with every step, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory" (Psalm 113:9). Saint Benedict's monk has inclined the ear of his heart to the words once addressed by Christ to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Corinthians 12:9). With the Apostle, the monk will, over time, learn to say: "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

To See Christ

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Why did I choose this painting of Saint Antony of Egypt and Saint Paul the Hermit to illustrate today's entry? Saint Antony's face reflects the pure light of Christ shining from the Gospel for Saint Paul, and Saint Paul's face reflects the same pure light of Christ shining from the Gospel for Saint Antony. When two saints meet, their encounter is incandescent with the light of Christ.

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
4 Jan. 5 May. 4 Sept.
Having our loins, therefore, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel, that we may deserve to see Him Who hath called us to His kingdom. And if we wish to dwell in the tabernacle of His kingdom, we shall by no means reach it unless we run thither by our good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the Prophet, saying to Him: "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?" After this question, brethren, let us hear the Lord answering, and shewing to us the way to His tabernacle, and saying: "He that walketh without stain and worketh justice: he that speaketh truth in his heart, that hath not done guile with his tongue: he that hath done no evil to his neighbour, and hath not taken up a reproach against his neighbour:" he that hath brought the malignant evil one to naught, casting him out of his heart with all his suggestions, and hath taken his bad thoughts, while they were yet young, and dashed them down upon the (Rock) Christ. These are they, who fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them cometh not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord Who worketh in them, saying with the Prophet: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the glory." So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself, but said: "By the grace of God I am what I am." And again he saith: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."

Ready for Spiritual Combat

In today's portion of the Prologue, Saint Benedict enjoins us to gird our loins with faith and with the performance of good works. To have one's loins girt means to be kitted out with weapons and ready for action on the battlefield. Saint Benedict may have been thinking of the Apostle's exhortation:

Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: in all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Following the Guidance of the Gospel

In all things the monk is subject to the guidance of the Gospel. The Gospel is the primary and indispensable rule of monks; it is one's habitual reference in every season of life. When a monk hears the Holy Gospel chanted at Matins or at Holy Mass, he hears the very voice of Christ. Heart speaks to heart. He listens to the Holy Gospel with such attention that not a single word of it is lost, for the least syllable of the Gospel is "more to be desired than gold and many precious stones: and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 18:11).

Saint Antony the Great

Saint Athanasius writes of of Saint Antony that, "he gave such heed to what was read [at the sacred liturgy] that none of the things that were written fell from him to the ground, but he remembered all, and afterwards his memory served him for books." Saint Antony's careful attention to the Word of God is the model of the attention of the heart by which a son of Saint Benedict will want to listen to the Holy Gospel.

The Radiant Face of the Word

Today's monk, having ample access to the text of the Holy Gospels, often in various languages and translations, will supplement the primary hearing of the liturgic Gospel at Matins and at Holy Mass with the reading and meditation of the Gospel in the secret of his cell. He will open the book of the Gospels as reverently as if we were opening the door of the tabernacle. He will read the sacred page in such a way as to peer through the text, as through a lattice work, in order to discover, shining through the letter of the text, the radiant Face of the Word.

Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. Behold my beloved speaketh to me: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. (Canticle 2:9-10)

Saint Benedict's monk is animated by a single desire: he wants to see Him who has called us into His kingdom, Christ the Lord.

Christ Seeking His Workman

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Chiamata degli apostoli.jpg

Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
3 Jan. 4 May. 3 Sept.
And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: "Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, "I am he," God saith to thee: "If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

Seeking Workmen

This portion of the Prologue is best read, I think, against the parable of the labourers in the vineyard:

The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle? They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-7)

The Work of God

Christ descends into the marketplace of the world, a place of chaos, bargaining, trickery, and dreams of a better life. He stands in the midst of the multitude, in much the same way as He stood once on the last and greatest day of the festival, crying out, "If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink" (John 7:37). He is looking for workmen, that is for men who will share in His own divine work: "My Father worketh until now," He says, "and I work" (John 5:17). What is this pressing work of Our Lord and of His Father? "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).

The Gift of Faith

The gift of faith is the work of the Father operating secretly in the soul by the Holy Ghost to bring the soul to Christ. "No man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father" (John 6:66). The work of man is to receive the gift of faith freely offered, and to stake his life upon it and nothing else. This is what a monk does. He stakes his life -- his one and only life -- upon the fidelity of the Father, who has drawn him to the Son, by the Holy Ghost. This is the essential work of the monk: a participation in the very work of God.

Life and Happiness

What are the fundamental qualifications that Christ looks for in a workman? They are very simple: that the workman desire life and want to see good days. The work to which Our Lord calls men is not an end in itself; it is ordered to the abundant life that only He can give. "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Work in the vineyard of the Lord is likewise ordered to good days, that is, to happiness. Nothing makes a man happier -- in this life and in the next -- than becoming a co-worker with Christ in the Work of God.

Keep Thy Tongue from Evil

When a man, hearing Christ's invitation, answers, "I am he," God immediately engages him in a new way of being: true and everlasting life belongs to the man who keeps his tongue from evil and his lips from guile. Silence is an indispensable condition of this new way of being. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man" (James 3:2). Christ's workman is not quick to speak. He listens. He observes. He ponders. He looks upon others with eyes of mercy. When he speaks, his discourse is gracious and mild, soothing and modest.

Turn Away from Evil and Do Good

True and everlasting life belongs to the man who turns away from evil (i.e., avoids the occasions of sin) and does good (i.e, practices virtue); who seeks after peace and pursues it. It is not enough to turn away from what is evil; Christ's workman turns towards what is good. He is not negative and dismal, forever harping on what is wrong, and castigating corruption; rather, he turns away from the darkness resolutely and, facing the light, invests his best energies in doing good. It is especially important in one's conversation to eschew the dreary rehearsal of all that is wrong in others, in the Church, and in the world, so as to focus, instead, on the power of grace, the splendour of the truth, and the beauty of holiness.

Seek After Peace and Pursue It

Benedictine life is the pursuit of peace, not the fragile, negotiated, and transient peace that is the fruit of merely human endeavour, but the divine peace that descends from above, the gift of the Lamb of God, imparted to those who partake of His sacrifice. The coat-of-arms of the Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur in the 17th century bore the word "Pax" encircled by a crown of thorns: pax inter spinas. The legendary pax benedictina (benedictine peace) is won at the price of much suffering. It is the prize of those who enter with the Lamb into the thicket of His bitter passion and, with Him, become obedient unto death, even death on a cross. "As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Romans 8:36). Mother Mectilde de Bar was fond of describing the Benedictine way as "a life of death." She meant, by this, that all is fleeting and disappointing here below, save union with Christ in His passion and death.

The Promises

Today's portion of the Prologue ends with a series of glorious promises:

And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, "Behold, I am here." What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life.

There is nothing more consoling in the monastic life than the assurance that, if one lives as Christ's workman, one can be certain of meeting His gaze, of being heard in the hour of prayer, and of finding Christ waiting and desirous of one's company, even before one has begun to pray. "The Master is come," said Martha to Mary, "and calleth for thee" (John 11:28). At every hour of the day and night, Christ speaks from the tabernacles where He dwells as one poor and hidden, saying "Behold, I am here." There is nothing sweeter to the ear of Christ's worker than this invitation to abide close to Him who, out of love, abides close to the poorest and to the least of all.


Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep." And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: "To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts." And again, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches." And what saith He? "Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you."

Broad Strokes and Bright Colours

Yesterday's passage from the Prologue of the Holy Rule contains elements of a baptismal catechesis. This should not surprise us, given that the monastic life, unlike later developments of consecrated life in the Church, was not established to address any special need or in response to a particular crisis as were, for example, the Dominicans (to combat heresy by contemplating and preaching truth), or the Jesuits (to be soldiers under obedience, ready at every moment to fight the Church's enemies and to carry the message of Christ the King to the remotest ends of the earth). Monastic life is, quite simply, the baptismal life writ with broad strokes and bright colours. It is an intensification of the Way lived by the Christians of the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. For this reason, monastic life is the original vita apostolica (the apostolic life) insofar as it seeks to reproduce in every age the pattern left by the Apostles. Although individual monks may, under obedience, be called to cultivate certain specialized skills or fields of knowledge, Benedictine life, as such, has no specialization

And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all. And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; Praising God, and having favour with all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)

A Classic

I still put into the hands of every man who comes to the monastery to discern whether or not he may have a Benedictine vocation, the splendid old classic that was put into my hands so many years ago: The Ideal of the Monastic Life Found in the Apostolic Age by Dom Germain Morin, O.S.B. (1861-1946). Originally published in 1913, it has lost nothing of its value; it remains a clear and accessible exposition of Benedictine life in all its simplicity and grandeur.

In the Face of Christ Jesus

The monk is a man roused from sleep and called to stand on his two feet, as one risen from the tomb, in order to meet the gaze of the Father with the Son. The Word of God shakes him out of the cozy slumber of mediocrity. "Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Romans 13:11). The heavy drapes of isolation from the Divine Light are pulled back; the brightness of Christ comes streaming into the room; the monk is obliged to wipe the sleep from his eyes and fix his gaze on the splendour of the Holy Face of Christ. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The Sound of His Voice

Having opened his eyes to the light that streams from the Face of Christ, the monk must also open his ears to the sound of His voice. There is not a day, not an hour, when Christ, the Word, is not speaking to the human heart. "Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Apocalypse 3:20). How does Christ speak? How does He knock at the door of one's heart? He speaks through His creation. He knocks through the experience of all that is beautiful, of all that is good, and true. He speaks through Divine Revelation as received and transmitted by the Church. He knocks in every verse of the psalms that are chanted in choir by day and by night. "I sleep, and my heart watcheth; the voice of my beloved knocking: Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is full of dew, and my locks of the drops of the nights" (Canticle 5:2). He speaks through the most ordinary events and in all the circumstances of life, including failure, disappointment, loss, illness, and every manner of suffering. He even knocks by means of the experience of the sin that leaves one feeling alienated, bitter, and empty.

The Fear of the Lord

One who hearkens to the voice of Christ, one who opens the door upon hearing Him knock, will learn the fear of the Lord. What is this fear? It is not the cringing, crushing apprehension of punishment. It is, rather, the spirit of ceaseless adoration and the profound reverence that overtakes one awestruck by the closeness of the thrice-holy God. It is the spirit of the very prayer of Christ's own prayer to the Father, a spirit at once filial and sacerdotal. Christ, "in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7).

Now Is the Acceptable Time

Saint Benedict has no time for lolly-gaggers and dawdlers. "Run," he says, "while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death overtake you." There is an urgency about the monastic vocation, because there is an urgency about being Christian. The temptation to put off one's response to the light and to the voice of Christ is perilous.

And we helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Giving no offence to any man, that our ministry be not blamed: but in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left. (2 Corinthians 6:1-7)

The Indwelling Word

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
2 Jan. 3 May. 2 Sept.
Let us then at length arise, since the Scripture stirreth us up, saying: It is time now for us to rise from sleep." And our eyes being open to the deifying light, let us hear with wondering ears what the Divine Voice admonisheth us, daily crying out: "Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts." And again, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches." And what saith He? "Come, my children, hearken to Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while ye have the light of life, lest the darkness of death seize hold of you."

Receive the Ingrafted Word

In this very brief passage of the Prologue, Saint Benedict weaves together five passages from Sacred Scripture. What does this tell us about the man? And what does this tell us about the monks he would have us be? It tells us that Saint Benedict was a man wholly indwelt by the living Word of God. The Word indwelling his heart sprang to his lips easily and spontaneously, becoming his own articulation of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ. It tells us that Saint Benedict would have us be men wholly indwelt by the Word; it tells us that in our lives, over time, the Word will begin to spring from our inmost hearts to our lips, becoming in each one of us a unique articulation of the same inexhaustible mystery of Christ. "With meekness," says the Apostle Saint James, "receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).

Maria Regula Monachorum

There is a profoundly Marian dimension of the Rule of Saint Benedict that is too often overlooked. Mary is regula monachorum, that is to say that she is the pattern and image of what the monk is called to be. If one would see the perfection of the monastic vocation, one has only to contemplate Mary, who said "Be it done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38), and who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). The Word received and held in Mary's Immaculate Heart becomes the doxological Word (i.e. the Word of praise), the eucharistic Word (i.e. the Word of thanksgiving) that springs to her lips in the Magnificat. The monk, like the Virgin Mary, is called to receive the impression of the Word in silence, and to give expression to the Word in song, and in all of life, by singing what he lives, and by living what he sings.

Ecclesial and Liturgical Context

Saint Benedict would not have known the kind of "Bible reading" practiced and popularised by Protestants: a private reading of the text without reference to the ecclesial and liturgical context that illumines and quickens it. For Saint Benedict, the Word of God was, first of all, a living message carried on the breath of God, striking the ear, illuminating the mind, and penetrating into the sanctuary of the heart where it becomes the sacrament of the Divine Indwelling. Saint Benedict would have known the Word of God by listening to it in the context of the Opus Dei (the Divine Office), and by chanting it seven times daily and once during the night, following the liturgical cycle of fasts and of feasts, within the virginal space of optimal resonance that is the Church Catholic.

Generative and Fruitful

Saint Benedict's apparent mastery of the Word of God is evidence that he was mastered by it. A Benedictine monastery is a school of the Lord's service, a school in which the Word is, at once, both the Master teaching and the matter taught. Humble submission to the Word of God -- perfectly imaged in the mystery of the Annunciation -- is the secret of Saint Benedict's prodigious generativity, and of the fecundity of his capital grace (or charism) down through the ages.

Libenter et efficaciter

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Prologue of Our Most Holy Father Benedict to His Rule
1 Jan. 2 May. 1 Sept
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king. In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

Listening to the Rule Again

Benedictine monks listen to the reading of the Holy Rule three times a year beginning on January 1st, May 2nd, and September 1st. There is a particular grace attached to the beginning of each new reading of the Holy Rule. It is an invitation to begin afresh, to take heart, to leave behind all that is past and to set out, once again, for that promised land flowing with milk and honey, where life in abundance is guaranteed. It is a summons to abide with the Virgin of Nazareth in the mystery of the Annunciation: to hearken to the Word as she hearkened to it; to incline the ear of one's heart as she inclined the ear of her Immaculate Heart; to accept freely (libenter) the word that descends from above, and to engage effectively (efficaciter) in the Father's plan.

What Makes a Benedictine?

What makes a Benedictine? Is it mere profession according to the Rule of Saint Benedict? Is it a juridical state determined by aggregation or affiliation to a larger body? While being a Benedictine does not exclude these things, it is not determined by them. The Benedictine monk is a man who, having inclined the ear of his heart to the Rule of Saint Benedict, finds that it corresponds to his most intimate aspirations and desires. The Benedictine monk is a man who, having found a treasure hidden in the Rule of Saint Benedict, as in a field, forsakes all else to freely (libenter) and effectively (efficaciter) accept and carry out all that it proposes.

We are not Benedictines only, or principally, because we have professed the Rule of Saint Benedict but, essentially because the ensemble of aspirations and needs that grace has put in us finds its response and its fulfillment in the doctrine of Saint Benedict. There is a spiritual affinity between him and us. A single spirit has co-involved us in his life, and moves us along in his footsteps. We have not taken on a physiognomy that is foreign to us, but have found that which has unraveled the confused sentiments of our hearts, and offered to guide us into life. (M. Ildegarde Cabitza, O.S.B.)

A Learned and Mysterious Abridgment of All the Doctrine of the Gospel

Why has the Rule of Saint Benedict exercised such a powerful attraction over souls for centuries? What is it about the Rule of Saint Benedict that makes it perennially fresh, and new, and life-giving? Why is it that the wisdom distilled by the Rule of Saint Benedict is always relevant and so astonishingly suited to men of every age, background, and culture? Bossuet wrote: Cette règle [de Saint-Benoît], c'est un précis du christianisme, un docte et mystérieux abrégé de toute la doctrine de l'Évangile; "This rule (of Saint Benedict) is a digest of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrine of the Gospel." The Rule of Saint Benedict sums up the Gospel and, because it sums up the Gospel, it contains a distillation of all that was given to the patriarchs, the prophets, and wise men of the Old Testament. The Rule of Saint Benedict has the same savour as the Word of God to the palate of the soul; it carries the unmistakable fragrance of the divinely inspired Scriptures; it reflects the luminosity of the Sacred Page, and this, because the man who wrote the Rule was immersed in the splendour of Divine Revelation.


Saint Benedict requires that the man proposing to embrace the Rule do so freely (libenter). He must be a free man acting freely, not a driven man acting under compulsion. This does not mean that the aspirant to monastic life be entirely free from the start; no one is entirely free. It does mean that his choice must be free insofar as his freedom goes at the moment of choosing. The Holy Ghost will, over time, and through purifying sufferings, untie and unravel the knots that constrain one's freedom so that, as one progresses in the monastic life one becomes more and more free. This is why, in Chapter VII of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict places interior liberty at the summit of the Twelve Degrees of Humility:

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

Getting On With It

Saint Benedict further requires that the man proposing to embrace the Rule do so effectively (efficaciter). He must carry out the Master's doctrine concretely, and not be content with pious reveries and idealistic visions of what might be, if only others were not such impediments to one's own perfection. It is not enough to say, "Yes, yes" with one's lips, if one's hands, and feet, and muscles, and breath are not quick to carry out what the ear has heard, and the intellect understood.


Obedience is, as Saint Benedict says, a labour. It involves spending oneself and super-spending oneself, as the Apostle says, Ego autem libentissime impendam, et super impendar -- "But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself" (2 Corinthians 12:15). The cloister is not a refuge for beautiful dreamers; it is a workshop and a school of doing. If it is true, according to the philosophers, that being precedes doing, it is also true that doing shapes being. Benedictine pedagogy (like the pedagogy of the liturgy) says, "Do this first, and later you will understand." Obedience is what allows a man to retrace his steps. By obedience a man goes back through the messy history of his own disobedience until, at length, he finds himself a child again, held fast in the arms of his Father.

On the Battlefield

A monastery faithful to the Holy Rule will necessarily be a battlefield, and its monks will be, not pious dilettantes, but warriors all bloodied and scarred fighting in the service of Christ, the true King. The "strong and glorious weapons of obedience" are, at times heavy and unwieldy. Skill in using them comes from practice. And if, wounded and weary, one needs time and space to recover from the humiliation of a momentary defeat on the battlefield, the Rule of Saint Benedict provides for that as well.

Of the Sick Brethren

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Declarations on the Holy Rule

It is customary among Benedictines to have Declarations on the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict as opposed to the Constitutions by which most modern Institutes are governed. Declarations follow the Holy Rule, chapter by chapter, adding, wherever necessary, a concrete application to life as it is today, or an adjustment to the text of the Rule. This means that there are 73 Declarations, one for each chapter of the Rule. In this way, the Rule of Saint Benedict remains the primary and indispensable reference for life in the monastery.

On Chapter 36

Our own Declarations, prepared for Silverstream Priory, are still taking shape. Nonetheless, we have this beautiful explanation of Chapter 36, Of the Sick Brethren. I was reminded of it today because I am laid low by illness and had to keep to my bed while Dom Benedict looked after my needs. With such good care I will be up and about quickly. Here is the text from our Declarations:


82. The community will show their sick brethren the most tender compassion in both word and deed. Believing that, save in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Our Lord is nowhere more present in the monastery than in the person of a monk brought low by infirmity, the monks will treat him with the greatest charity, making allowance for his weaknesses and bearing his burdens.


Are There Any Bishops Among My Readers?

Saint Anselm's pastoral qualities as a bishop surely originated in his experience as abbot of Bec. On 21 April we read the second part of Saint Benedict's Chapter LXIV, The Appointment of the Abbot. It occurred to me that bishops would do well to meditate Saint Benedict's wisdom, particularly with regard to their relations with the priests and deacons of their dioceses. Listen to Saint Benedict. I took the liberty of adapting the text to the situation of bishops and their diocesan clergy!

Let the bishop when he is appointed
consider always what an office he has undertaken
and to whom he must render an account of his stewardship;
and let him know that it is his duty rather to profit his clergy than to lord it over them.

It behoves him, therefore, to be learned in the divine law,
so that he may have a treasure of knowledge
whence he may bring forth things new and old;
and to be chaste, sober, and merciful.

Let him always set mercy above judgment (Jas 2, 13),
so that he himself may obtain mercy.
Let him hate ill-doing but love the clergy.
In administering correction, let him act with prudent moderation,
lest being too zealous in removing the rust he break the vessel.
Let him always distrust his own fraility
and remember that the bruised reed is not to be broken.
By this we do not mean that he should allow evils to grow,
but that, as we have said above,
he should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.

And let him study rather to be loved than feared.
Let him not be turbulent or anxious,
overbearing or obstinate,
jealous or too suspicious,
for otherwise he will never be at rest.

Let him be prudent and considerate in all his commands;
and whether the work he enjoins concerns God or the world,
let him always be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said:
If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all perish in one day
(Gen 33, 13).

So, imitating these and other examples of discretion,
the mother of all virtues,
let him so temper all things that the strong may still have something to long after,
and the weak may not draw back in alarm.
And, especially, let him keep this present rule in all things;
so that having ministered faithfully
he may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave his fellow-servants wheat in due season:
Amen, I say unto you, he will set him over all his goods (Mt 24, 47).


This painting by Guido Reni, dating from 1625, shows the Infant Jesus asleep on the Cross with the Crown of Thorns and the Nails on the ground before Him. He is, moreover, naked, just as He will be naked on Calvary. He sleeps; it signifies the sleep of the New Adam upon the nuptial bed of the Cross, during which the New Eve, the Church, comes forth from His Sacred Side, washed clean in the water and the blood of His Sacred Heart. This is a theme not uncommon in the art of the Catholic Reformation. Was Caryll Houselander influenced by one of these images when she wrote The Passion of the Infant Christ?

Saint Benedict's Teaching

Marianna, a reader of Vultus Christi wrote me the other day, asking me the meaning of Saint Benedict's words in the Prologue of the Holy Rule, "sharing in the sufferings of Christ through patience, so as to share also in his kingdom." (RB Pro: 50)


Patience derives from the Latin patior, meaning to suffer, to undergo, to bear, or to endure. The connotation of Saint Benedict's patientia is a humble acceptance of the hard and painful things that come upon us, motivated by a desire to imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ and to be united to Him in His love of the Father and in His obedience to the Father's will. Saint Benedict is telling us that by accepting the weaknesses, losses, detachments, and other sufferings that come upon us in the course of a day or a lifetime, and by uniting our acceptance of these painful things to the Passion and Death of Christ, we will, at length, come to share in the glory of HIs Kingdom.

With Christ Priest and Victim

Saint Benedict's teaching is consoling to all those who ask if suffering can have any meaning or value. He is, in fact, echoing the teaching of the Apostle Saint Paul who, in Colossians 1:24, writes: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church." Saint Paul is writing here of the sufferings of the whole Christ, Head and Members. Christ continues to suffer in His the members of His Mystical Body. Our sufferings are His and His are ours. Christ the Head of the Mystical Body, and our Eternal High Priest, associates His members, and all the sufferings they endure in union with Him, to His Sacrifice and to His triumph. Every suffering accepted in union with Our Lord's obedient love for the Father becomes, by the grace of Holy Spirit, meritorious and fruitful for the whole Church.

The Morning Offering

The so-called Morning Offering is a simple way of freely choosing to "share in the sufferings of Christ through patience" -- that is, through the painful or costly things that may come upon us in the course of a day -- and of giving to those sufferings a supernatural worth. Thus do we begin to live in communion with Christ, Priest and Victim. This is why I pray, and invite others to pray each day:

The Morning Offering for Priests

Father most holy, *
I offer Thee the prayers, works,
joys, and sufferings of this day *
by placing them in the holy and venerable hands
of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, *
and by saying, as He did upon entering the world, *
"Behold, I come to do Thy will" (Hebrews 10:9). *

For the sake of all His priests, *
[and in particular for Fathers N. and N.,]
I entreat Thy beloved Son to unite my offering
to the Sacrifice of the Cross,
renewed upon the altars of Thy Church *
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Malachy 1:11).

Most merciful Father, *
look upon these men chosen by Thy Son
to show forth His death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26); *
keep them from the Evil One (John 17:15) *
and sanctify them in the truth (John 17:17).

Bind them by a most tender love
to the Virgin Mary, their Mother *
that, by her intercession, *
they may be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35)
in every act of their sacred ministry; *
thus may their priesthood reveal
the Face of Jesus and the merciful love of His Heart, *
for the fruitfulness of His spouse, the Church. *
and the praise of Thy glory. Amen.

Take me unto Thyself, O Lord

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The Offering

Nowhere is the Eucharistic subtext of the Rule of Saint Benedict more apparent than in Chapters 58 and 59. The entire rite of monastic profession is presented as an oblation or, if you will, as a sacrificial immolation. The monk is a victim (hostia) offering himself to the Father through Christ, the Eternal High Priest.

Before the Altar

Saint Benedict sets the rite of monastic profession in the oratory of the monastery, that is, before the altar, the place of the Holy Sacrifice. There, with the Church on earth and in heaven as witness, he promises stability, conversion of his life, and obedience. He is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The saints in heaven, represented on earth by the holy relics venerated in the monastery church, look on as the new monk lays his very life upon the altar. They intercede for the remission of his sins, that he may walk henceforth in newness of life, until at length he reaches the heavenly Jerusalem where they welcome him into the choirs of the blessed.

We pray Thee, Lord, by the merits of Thy saints whose relics are here, and of all the saints, that Thou wilt deign to pardon all my sins. Amen. (At Holy Mass, before the Introit)


The act of profession is written out by the hand of the monk himself. In many monasteries this has become an act of love: the chart of profession is a thing of beauty, written in calligraphy, often with illuminations and considerable artistry. Saint Benedict emphasizes that the monk himself places the chart of profession, with his own hand, upon the altar. Writing in The City of God, Book Ten, Saint Augustine says that whatsoever is placed upon the altar becomes sacrificium, a true sacrifice, that is, a thing irrevocably made over to God alone. Like the bread and wine made over to God at the Offertory of the Mass, in view of the consecration, the newly-professed monk is an oblation made ready for consecration and immolation. The pattern of the ritual of profession and, effectively, the whole life of the monk is Eucharistic and sacrificial. It is a freely-chosen identification with Christ, Priest and Victim (Offerer and Offering), ratified by the Church.

Suscipe Me

"When he has placed it (the chart) there," says Saint Benedict, "let the novice himself at once intone this verse: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam: et ne confundas me ab expectatione mea. "Take me unto Thyself, O Lord, and I shall live; and let me not be let down in my expectation." Whenever Saint Benedict wants to emphasize a particular verse, he orders its threefold repetition. In this instance, not only does the newly-professed monk sing the verse three times; it is also repeated three times by the whole community, and crowned with the singing of the Gloria Patri. This confers upon the singing of the Suscipe a character of solemnity and grandeur. It signifies the moment in which the Father lays claim to the self-offering of the new monk, in whom He recognizes the pattern of His own Beloved Son's immolation from the altar of the Cross.

Facing God

This understanding of the victimal and sacrificial character of monastic profession has alas, waned in recent years, because the presentation and understanding of the Mass itself as Our Lord's Holy Sacrifice to the Father, renewed in an unbloody manner, has suffered an eclipse in the minds of the faithful. This can be attributed, I think, in no small measure, to the widespread (and almost universal) loss of priest and people facing together in a single Godward direction at the moment of offering the Holy Sacrifice. The restoration of the position versus Deum for the Offertory and Canon of the Mass will be the single most effective tool in presenting a renewed catechesis of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and of a sacrificing priesthood.

The Sacrifice Offered in Thy Sight

The Suscipe of the newly-professed monk finds an echo in the Offertory prayers of the Mass:

Suscipe, Sancte Pater . . . Take unto Thyself, Holy Father, almighty and everlasting God this unblemished sacrificial offering, which I Thy unworthy servant, make to Thee, my living and true God, for my countless sins, offences, and neglects, and on behalf of all who are present here; likewise for all believing Christians, living and dead. Accept it for their good and mine, so that it may save us, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

Again, the prayer after the offering of chalice, might well be said by the monk offering himself:

In spiritu humilitatis . . . Humbled in spirit and contrite of heart, may we find favour with Thee, O Lord, and may our sacrifice be so offered in Thy sight this day that it may please Thee, Lord God.

The word Suscipe occurs again in the prayer that concludes the Offertory rite:

Take unto Thyself, O Holy Trinity, the offering we here make to Thee in memory of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ; in honour, too, of blessed Mary, ever-virgin, of blessed John the Baptist, of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, of these, and of all the saints. To them let it bring honour, to us salvation, and may they whom we are commemorating on earth deign to plead for us in heaven: through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Orate, Fratres

Finally, Saint Benedict, directs the newly-professed and offered monk to prostrate himself before the feet of each monk in the community, asking them to pray for him. While, in many monastic communities this rite has suffered a deformation, becoming a gesture of welcome and of congratulations, such is not the mind of our holy legislator. Saint Benedict has the new monk kneel at the feet of his fathers in Christ to beg their prayers. The rite has a certain analogy with the Orate, Fratres of the Mass:

Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may find acceptance with God the almighty Father. R. May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, to the praise and glory of His Name, for our welfare also, and that of all His holy Church.

Following this, in the traditional rite of monastic profession and consecration, the monk prostrates himself before the altar for the entire duration of the Holy Mysteries. "There lies there," says Dom Delatte, "a living man, a man renewed; there is a living victim, "a pure, holy, and unspotted victim," reunited to the victim on the altar, offered and accepted with that same victim, and enwrapped by the deacon in the fragrance of the same incense." The great teaching abbot of Solesmes goes on to say:

Then the Mass continues. Motionless and silent like the Lamb of God, the newly professed suffers himself to be immolated and consumed mystically by the Eternal High Priest. How sweet that Mass and that Communion. Our whole monastic life should resemble this profession Mass.

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The Reception of Brethren

I am often struck at how appropriate to the circumstances and events of daily life the appointed passage of the Holy Rule can be. Today we are reading the first part of Chapter 58: The Discipline for the Reception of Brethren. This just happens to coincide with Ben's arrival for another visit.

The Difficult Entrance

"When anyone newly cometh to be a monk, let him not be granted an easy admittance; but as the apostle saith: Test the spirits, to see whether they come from God." Today, more often than not, admittance is made difficult not so much by a lack of encouragement coming from within the monastery, as by criticisms, discouragements, and challenges coming from without. There is nothing prestigious about coming to be a monk. The world often deems the monastic way of life useless, a flight from responsibility, a sign of mental imbalance, emotional maladjustment, or religious obsessions. There is, more often than not, a whole chorus of voices saying, "Do something useful. Make a contribution to society. Don't bury your talents. What are you running away from? Why are you afraid of having a wife and family? Maybe you just need counseling. You are really exaggerating this whole God thing." Or again, there are voices saying, "Stay where you are. Don't take such a foolish risk. You can know, love, and serve God in the world. At least be a parish priest, a missionary, or a teacher. What if it doesn't work out? It's only a passing phase; you'll get over it."

Sacred Scripture, on the other hand, says:

My son, if thy mind is to enter the Lord's service,
wait there in His presence,
with honesty of purpose and with awe,
and prepare thyself to be put to the test.
Submissive be thy heart,
and ready to bear all;
to wise advice lend a ready ear,
and never be hasty when ill times befall thee.
Wait for God, cling to God and wait for Him;
at the end of it, thy life shall blossom anew.
Accept all that comes to thee,
patient in sorrow, humiliation long enduring;
for gold and silver the crucible,
it is in the furnace of humiliation men shew themselves
worthy of His acceptance.
Trust in Him, and He will lift thee to thy feet again;
go straight on thy way,
and fix in Him thy hope;
hold fast thy fear of Him,
and in that fear to old age come thou.
(Ecclesiasticus 2:1-6).

The Treasure Hidden in the Field

One called by God to the monastic life realizes that it is "a treasure hidden in a field" (Mt 13:44). Having been led to it, or having discovered it, for the joy thereof, says the Gospel, a man goes, sells all that he has, and buys the field. Setting out in monastic life is a costly decision. It does mean "selling all that one has." It means leaving what is familiar, in some way comfortable, and secure, and taking the frightful risk of a new beginning.

The Pearl of Great Price

Or again, the monastic vocation is like finding a pearl of great price (Mt 13:46). The practiced merchant recognizes its value, sees its beauty, can't get it out of his mind. And still, in order to make it his own, he must risk selling all that he has to buy it. If a man called to monastic life hesitates, debates within himself, or delays his decision, he may be forfeiting the grace of the moment, a grace that will never again be offered in quite the same way.

The Father Master

Saint Benedict would have the novices be in the care of a Father "skilled in winning souls." His task is win the soul of the new brother, not for himself, but for Christ alone. The Father Master (as novices would address him) is, like Saint John the Baptist, a friend of the Bridegroom. He rejoices at the Bridegroom's voice, and trains his young disciple's interior ear -- the ear of the heart -- to recognize that voice, to hold fast to the words it utters, and, renouncing himself, to obey them. The Father Master willingly decreases, by claiming nothing of what belongs to Christ alone for himself. Thus does Christ increase in the heart of the man newly come to be a monk, and in the monastic community as a whole.

Dura et Aspera

The Father Master is not to sugarcoat the hardships and trials by which a man travels to God. The journey is long and, more often than not, the road is rocky. A healthy realism goes hand in hand with an unshakable confidence in the grace of Christ. The monk is traveling to God in company with other travelers. Itur ad Deum: this expression of Saint Benedict hearkens back, I think, to the first chapter of the Rule of Saint Augustine, in which the Bishop of Hippo describes his monastic community as being "together on the way to God." By traveling to God in the company of brothers, one will more easily fight off the wild beast who prowls about seeking the ruin of souls, and the marauders and brigands who prey on the weak, and sometimes leave them half-dead by the side of the road.

Seeking God

What does Saint Benedict look for in one seeking admission to a monastery? First of all, that he "truly seek God." The Benedictine quest for God is not the search of the pantheist who identifies God with every blade of grass, with the leaves of every tree, the sands of the seashore, and the stars of the firmament. In all these things, the Benedictine monk sees the handiwork of God, displaying His glory and revealing His wisdom; but for all of that, they are no more than creatures, brought into existence and held in being by the Creator who alone is God. There is more. Nor does the Benedictine monk equate his search for God with the philosopher's application of human reason to the exploration of what is true, and good, and beautiful. Again, there is more.

The Face of Christ

The monk, being, first of all, a Christian, a soul illumined by Divine Revelation, vivified by sanctifying grace, and, in some way, "reaching God" by mean of the theological virtues, is one who has discovered "the knowledge of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy Face from me" (Ps 26:8) is the prayer-song of his heart by day and by night. The monk seeks the Face of Christ and, in the contemplation of that Face -- the Human Face of God -- discovers the secrets of His Sacred Heart. In our Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, in addition to the means of seeking God common to all Benedictines, we give a privileged place to the contemplation and adoration of the Face of Christ hidden beneath the sacramental veils in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Loving Choir

Secondly, Saint Benedict would have the would-be monk demonstrate an effective zeal for the Sacred Liturgy, the Work of God. This, the novice will do, not by entertaining a fascination with rubrics, vesture, and the niceties of ceremonial -- seldom do sacristy rats make good monks -- but by embracing the manly discipline of fidelity to choir, and by eschewing a spirituality that, being subjective and fanciful, rises and falls with one's moods and sentiments. A Benedictine loves choir because it is the place and means of his communion with the filial and priestly prayer of Christ to the Father.

A Host for the Oblation

Finally, the aspiring monk will not shrink from obedience and humiliations. In fact, he will be eager for them, for by obedience and humility he is certain of being configured to Christ in the mystery of His victimhood. One comes to the monastery to become a hostia, that is, a host, a victim, an oblation, a lamb for sacrifice. Like the wheat that is ground into flour, then mixed with water, and baked in a fire in order to become a host for the Holy Sacrifice, one who would follow Christ as a monk is eager to be ground into a pure wheat, moistened with living water and, then, baked in the fire of the Holy Ghost. He makes his own the words of the martyr Saint Ignatius of Antioch: "Frumentum Christi sum, I am the wheat of Christ." The monk is ground into a fine flour, not between the teeth of wild beasts, as were the martyrs of old, but by the obedience and humiliations that are never lacking to one who has set his face toward Jerusalem.

Midsummer Lent?

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Lenten Observance in July

Three times yearly we read Chapter 49 of the Holy Rule: Of the Observance of Lent. It may, at first, seem rather out of season to be reading this particular passage of the Rule of Saint Benedict on the last day of July. A closer reading suggests that Chapter 49 is, in effect, suitable for every day of the year.

Over-arching Principles

I often like to point out the grand over-arching principles of Benedictine life that Saint Benedict manages to slip into nearly every chapter of the Rule. Chapter 49 contains two of these. Interestingly enough, we find them in the opening and final sentences of the chapter. They frame all the rest, and suggest that this particular chapter is one for all seasons.

Our Father Saint Benedict begins with a rather sobering affirmation: "The life of a monk ought at all times to be Lenten in its character." He closes the chapter with a prudent safeguard: "Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the abbot."


Lent Year-Round

An image of Saint Francesco di Paola: a Calabrian hermit, he was inspired by Chapter 49 of the Rule of Saint Benedict to add a special fourth vow to live a perpeual Lent, for the Order of Minims that he founded.

Semper Quadragesima! Always Lent! The Order of Minims, founded by Saint Francesco di Paola (1416-1507), and approved by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, has as this very phrase as its motto, even today. With Franciscan roots, the Rule of the Minims (least of all) also draws upon the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Rule of Saint Benedict.

For Saint Francesco di Paola, perpetual Lent implied a year-round observance of the fasting and abstinence characteristic of the forty days before Easter. This rigorous discipline must have admitted of a certain mildness in practice, given that none other than the gentle Doctor of the Church, Saint Francis de Sales, was a Tertiary of the Order of Minims.

What Does It Mean?

What exactly does Saint Benedict himself mean when he declares that "the life of a monk ought at all times to be Lenten in character"? He describes the Lenten character of monastic life in the following terms:

-- A life of great purity: When Saint Benedict speaks of purity of life, he is not referring exclusively to the virtue of chastity. He represents an all-encompassing notion of purity of heart, drawing, principally, upon the writings of Saint John Cassian. Purity of heart includes perfect chastity (according to one's state in life) and cannot be attained without it, but it has to do also with the singlehearted direction of a monk's life, with his all-consuming passion for God alone.

Purity of heart is the treasure hidden in the field for which the monk is ready to sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, and chief ornament of monastic holiness. "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 6:8).

No one comes to the monastery with a clean heart; in every heart there are mixed motives, deeply rooted attachments, and compromises. But as a man perseveres in the monastic life his heart is purified and, if he consents to the purging fire of Divine Love, he will come, at length, to that degree of purity of heart by which the soul begins to contemplate God in the darkness of faith, and to cling to Him alone in love.

-- A life of reparation: Saint Benedict presents Lent as a time during which the monk "expiates the negligences of other times." One who has experienced the love of the Heart of Jesus wants to make up for the coldness, ingratitude, want of generosity, and failure to trust that have cast a shadow over his past.

-- avoiding sin: This, of course, is binding on all who profess to love Christ. What specifically does Saint Benedict mean in this instance? It seems to me that this particular Lenten injunction has to do with being sober and watchful lest the enemy who "prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour" (1 P 5:8) pounce on one who has let down his guard.

-- praying with tears: Virtues flourish where the labour of one's prayer and good deeds is irrigated by tears. The Church so values the gift of tears that the Roman Missal contains a set of orations to beg for this grace.

-- applying oneself to reading: The monk immerses himself in the Word of God, not only in Lent, but day after day, week after week, and year after year. One who neglects holy reading begins to dry up; one is tempted to cut short one's times of secret, silent prayer. The neglect of holy reading is the first step in the slow descent into lukewarmness and spiritual sloth.

-- to compunction of heart: Etymologically, compunction means the state of being wounded or pierced through. It is the condition of one who is wounded. Compunction, Blessed Abbot Marmion tells us, is a distinctively Benedictine virtue. The monk lives with an open wound in the heart; it is the wound opened there by the two-edged sword of the Word of God and by the piercing arrow of Divine Love. One so wounded cannot help but shed tears of sorrow for past and actual sins, tears of thanksgiving for the mercy shown him, and tears of joy in the face of Love.

-- to abstinence: Saint Benedict is, undoubtedly, referring to abstinence from food and drink, but there are other forms of abstinence as well. Abstinence is a readiness to curb one's appetites and to hold them in check, lest one become heavy and weighed down by any sort of excess.

Over and Above the Measure Prescribed

A legalistic minimalism extinguishes love, and where love no longer burns brightly, there is an absence of joy. The Benedictine never asks, "How little must I do in order to be on the right side of the law?" He rather asks, "How much can I do to respond to Love with love?"

Saint Benedict puts it this way: "In these days, therefore, let us add something beyond the wonted measure of our service, such as private prayers and abstinence in food and drink. Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed for him, offer God something of his own free will in the joy of the Holy Spirit." It is not enough merely to be correct. One can be quite correct and, in spite of that, joyless, censorious, and bitter.

Private Prayers and Devotions

As for the increase of "private prayers," I am reminded of the lovely medieval practice of visiting the various altars of the monastery church before Matins and after Compline. Even today, in certain monasteries, it is not uncommon to see monks making the rounds, as it were, in the darkness before Matins or after Compline, to have a personal word with Our Lady, with Saint Joseph, Saint Benedict, or another of the saints. Similarly, the gratuitous visit to the Blessed Sacrament is a singularly effective way of responding to the gift of the Divine Friendship.

Blessed Abbot Marmion made the Way of the Cross every day of the year, except for Easter Day. He was faithful all his life to the humble prayer of the Rosary. One who looks down upon the customary Catholic devotions, deeming them unnecessary, or useful only for those who have no liturgical culture, have forgotten the words of Our Lord: "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight" (Mt 11:25-26).

In the Joy of the Holy Spirit

Nowhere in the Holy Rule does Saint Benedict speak of joy as much as he does in this chapter on the observance of Lent. If the life of a monk is to be Lent-like all year round, it is to be joyful. Joy, being one of the fruits of the Holy Ghost, flourishes on the branches of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. The Seven Gifts themselves grow out of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Benedictine life is characteristically joyful. How could it be otherwise when one is called to the praise of God seven times daily? How could it be otherwise when one approaches daily the sacred banquet of the Lamb?

With the Joy of Spiritual Longing for Pascha

Pascha (or Easter), the grand yearly festival of our Redemption, is the Eucharistic solemnity par excellence. The soaringly ecstatic Alleluia verse of Easter morning has us sing: "Christ our Pasch is immolated." And Saint Paul adds, "Therefore let us keep festival" (1 Cor 5:8). The joy of spiritual longing for the Paschal Solemnity becomes, on a daily basis, the joy of spiritual longing for Holy Communion, the joy of spiritual longing for union with Christ in His Sacrifice. Benedictine joy is a Eucharistic joy. It springs afresh in anticipation of each day's participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; it continues to flow quietly and sweetly through the hours of Eucharistic adoration that, in our little monastery, prolong the Mass and draw us into it more deeply.

With the Approval of the Abbot

After having presented his magnificent program for a Lent-like life, Saint Benedict concludes: "Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the abbot." A monk (or an Oblate) will have the humility and good sense to "tell his abbot what he is offering, that it may be done with his consent and blessing; because what is done without the permission of the spiritual father shall be ascribed to presumption and vainglory and not reckoned meritorious." Openness and transparency with the father of the monastery preserves one from the pitfalls of spiritual arrogance. Recourse to one's spiritual father is a safeguard against the deceitful ploys of the enemy who, often, seeks to lead souls into ascetical or pious excesses before filling them with a loathing for all things spiritual, and pushing them into despair. Undertake nothing, then, before having submitted it to the father of the monastery and obtained his blessing.


Notice the instrument of penance in Saint Benedict's hand. It rather contrasts with the gentleness of his expression.

Every occasion of presumption should be avoided in the monastery. So we decree that no one be allowed to excommunicate or strike any of his brethren, except the abbot have given him authority.

In Chapter 70 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict treats of those monks who, deceived by their own pride, appoint themselves to control, correct, and castigate their brethren. Anyone with a certain experience of community life in a monastery has probably come up against this sort of fellow. Censorious, condescending, brittle, hypercritical, and never content, he is ever on the lookout for the speck in his brother's eye and unaware of the log in his own. He is infected with what Saint Benedict will call in Chapter 72 an evil zeal of bitterness.

The Sacristy Plague

Religious controllers, correctors, and castigators are not found only in the cloister. Very often they lurk in sacristies, piously fussing about, and, like the devil, "seeking someone to devour." In their eyes, nothing is ever rubrically correct. Every alb is either too long or not long enough, too lacy or too lacking in lace. Every candle is either crooked or too short. The incense is not of the right sort, or the right fragrance. Every chasuble is either of the wrong fabric or not quite the proper shade of whatever the liturgical colour happens to be. In his eyes the profound bows are never profound enough, and the mediocre bows insufficiently mediocre. They have an opinion about everything, generally negative, and will offer it without being asked. Saint Benedict knows what a plague such types can be and, in his monastery, he will have none of it.


The grace to make corrections gracefully is given to those duly constituted in authority over others. A wise abbot or prior will avoid pouncing on a brother as soon as he notices a fault. He will make a mental note of it, pray over it, and at the opportune moment, bring it to the brother's attention humbly, meekly, and firmly. Corrections are an opportunity to grow in humility, in wisdom, and in grace. A positive experience of correction can, in fact, cause one to look forward to being corrected. Correction becomes an occasion of grace and of growth.

Humble and Mild

When the father of the monastery, or the father master of novices, seeks to rein in an intemperate enthusiasm, to moderate a unwise and idiosyncratic expression of piety, to curb an ascetical excess, or to correct a certain softness in one's observance, he does so fully conscious of his own excesses and shortcomings. He accepts that he cannot control another. He makes corrections humbly. He prescribes the suitable penitential remedy wisely. He prefers to err on the side of an excessIve mildness rather than on that of harshness. At the same time, he will not be indulgent in the face of sin nor will he compromise the purity of the monastic ideal by tolerating vice, or by looking the other way when he notices a brother wounded in spiritual combat.

Brutish Bullying

Saint Benedict divides the community of his own day into two categories: those under fifteen years of age, and everyone else. The lads living in the monastery are not yet monks. Some of them may leave the monastery and go into the world, enriched by their instruction and education in the cloister. Holy Father Benedict holds all his monks responsible for the behaviour of the boys entrusted to his care. But even here, there is no room for any sort of abusive severity, or brutish bullying.

For the Whole Church

The whole Benedictine approach to vigilance, correction, and sanctions is characterized by humility, prudence, kindness, and moderation. It works as well in families, in business, and in parish life as does within the cloister. Saint Benedict concludes Chapter 70 by saying, Do not thou to another, what thou wouldst not have done to thyself (Tob 4:16). The wisdom of Saint Benedict belongs to the whole Church.

Kinship in the Cloister

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Here is the talk I gave this morning in Chapter.

Ties That Bind

The presence of members of the same family in a monastery has never been without complications. The classic example is that of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face in the Carmel of Lisieux together with her three sisters Marie, Pauline, and Celine, and her cousin Marie Guérin. Similarly, when two or more men, bound together by the ties of a close friendship in the world, enter the same monastery, while it can be a boon for the community, it can also present problems.

Everything Has Become New

In Chapter 69 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict warns against the nefarious effects of tribal, familial, or emotional ties in the context of monastic life. A monk's loyalty belongs to Christ, represented by the father of the monastery, and to the new family constituted under his authority by the action of the Holy Spirit and by profession according to the Holy Rule.

Christ died for us all, so that being alive should no longer mean living with our own life, but with His life who died for us and has risen again; and therefore, henceforward, we do not think of anybody in a merely human fashion; even if we used to think of Christ in a human fashion, we do so no longer; it follows, in fact, that when a man becomes a new creature in Christ, his old life has disappeared, everything has become new about him. This, as always, is God's doing; it is He who, through Christ, has reconciled us to Himself, and allowed us to minister this reconciliation of His to others. (2 Cor 5:16-19)

Monastic Friendship

Does friendship have a place in monastic life? Surely, it does. I would recall, for example, the friendships of Saint Basil and of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, and of Saint Aelred and his biographer, Walter Daniel. Monastic friendships, however, are ordered and subordinate to the all-consuming love of Christ and to that portion of His Mystical Body that is the ecclesiola of the monastic community. Saint Gregory Nazianzen writes:

We began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other's success as his own.
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God's law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

The Heart of Jesus

A monastic friendship that is wholesome, pure, and fully permeable to the Holy Spirit will never constitute an obstacle to monastic discipline, to the necessary work of correction, and to the fundamental commitment to conversion of life. Such a friendship never divides the heart or closes it to growth in divine charity; it never causes inner turmoil, or jealousy. It fosters fidelity to monastic discipline, and magnanimity in the service of the brethren. A monastic friendship, rightly ordered, abides in the Heart of Jesus and, through the Heart of Jesus, contributes to the unity and fruitfulness of the monastic family in the service of the Church.

Impossible Things

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Benedictine Wisdom

I have been studying the Rule of Saint Benedict and trying to live it (however badly) for nearly forty years. This, however, is one instance where familiarity has not bred contempt. On the contrary, as I grow in age, so too does my admiration for the Holy Rule grow apace. Saint Benedict, in addition to being an astute observer of human nature and of social relationships, was steeped in that wisdom that the world does not understand: the wisdom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are given us from God" (1 Cor 2:12).

Daily Chapter

This morning, as we do every morning after Lauds, we read the appointed chapter of the Holy Rule. Today it was Chapter 68: "If A Brother Be Commanded to Do Impossible Things." I offered a little commentary on it. Here is something of what I said.

Something Hard or Impossible

If it happen that something hard or impossible be laid upon any brother, let him receive the command of his superior with all docility and obedience.

First off, implicit in this verse, and illuminating it from within, are the words of the Lord Jesus: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. 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" (Mt 11:28-30). The father of the monastery (abbot or prior) is bound to imitate the meekness of Jesus in all things. He needs to knows his sons, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their need to be stretched in some areas without, of course, risking that they should snap under the strain of stretching.

When the father of the monastery gives a brother a particular obedience (monastic word for area of responsibility, a project, or a job) he does so meekly and humbly, taking care to adapt the obedience to the brother to whom it is given, and so adjusting the yoke to him, that it is sweet rather than oppressive, and light rather than burdensome. The father of the monastery must be prudent lest he break the bruised reed, extinguish the smouldering wick, or ruin the vessel while trying to remove the rust.

The brother, for his part, must ask himself, "What can I learn from this obedience? In what way will it stretch my possibilities and allow me to grow beyond my self-imposed limitations?" His initial response is always positive. Only if, after trying to carry out the obedience, he finds it more than he can manage, does he approach the father of the monastery and ask to be relieved of it.

Calmly and in Due Season

But if he see that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the measure of his strength, let him explain the reasons of his incapacity to his superior calmly and in due season, without pride, obstinacy, or contentiousness.

If the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the measure of his strength, the brother is right to express his difficulties to the father of the monastery. He does this in due season, that is to say, at the appropriate moment. Not everything can be said at all hours. The brother is to make his representations calmly, says Saint Benedict. No histrionics. No carrying on. No grand scenes inflating one's difficulty into a major vocational crisis.

Saint Benedict mentions three attitudes that are incompatible with the monastic way of making even legitimate representations. These are pride ( I knew all along!); obstinacy (I will never give in on this!); and contentiousness ( Good! At last I have a reason to pick a fight with him!) Even with my own mercurial temperament, I have learned the diplomatic value of reasonable understatement. A monk speaks gently, calmly, humbly, and peacefully. If he is incapable of doing this, he needs to replenish his interior resources in prayer, asking Our Lord to replace harshness with meekness, violence with calm, pride with humility, and agressivity with peace.

Obedience, Love and Trust

If after his representations the superior still persist in his decision and command, let the subject know that it is expedient for him, and let him obey out of love, trusting in the assistance of God.

The father of the monastery, listening to the brother's representations may find them altogether reasonable and so adapt the obedience or change it altogether. He may also see that this is a salutary crisis, an opportunity for spiritual growth, and an occasion of pushing beyond certain self-imposed limitations. Thus, he may persist in his decision and command, helping the brother to see it as an opportunity to grow in virtue. Should this be the father's discernment, the brother needs to say, "I will trust you on this and, relying on the grace of Christ, obey to the best of my ability. Somehow this will work out for my good." Saint Benedict says, "Let him obey out of love, trusting in the assistance of God."

Our Mother of Good Counsel

The fact that Chapter 68 of the Holy Rule falls on April 26th, the feast of Our Mother of Good Counsel, suggests that a monk in crisis (or anyone else in crisis, for that matter) will do well to seek out the guidance and direction of the very best of counselors, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who told the servers at the wedding feast of Cana to do whatsoever her Son would say to them, still seeks to foster obedience in us. Our Lady knows that obedience, more than anything else, effectively breaks through the limitations imposed by our pride, vanity, fear, and selfishness. The fruit of that obedience is, as Saint John tells us (Jn 2:11), a manifestation of the glory of Christ, and a wonderful increase of faith.

Every moment of crisis is an opportunity to confide our perplexities, worries, fears, and griefs to the maternal Heart of Mary. She is capable of listening to all with a benevolent silence. Her Immaculate Heart discerns what is best for each of us. And if we are silent enough, childlike enough, and even a little humble, she will counsel us and restore our troubled hearts to a peace that the world (and all its professional counselors) cannot give.

Benedictine Oblates

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Oratory of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle

Our First Meeting

On Sunday afternoon a group of four men and three women participated in the first meeting of the Benedictine Oblates of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. Two other men living in the far off states of Pennsylvania and Colorado were unable to be present. (I was also mindful of Jane in France and of Vincent in Texas.) I gave an historical overview of the Benedictine oblateship, directing my remarks principally to Chapters 58 and 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict. I then presented Article I of the Statutes of the Oblates and offered a modest commentary on the text.

Exposition in oratory.JPG


1. The Benedictine tradition sees Oblation as an act intimately tied to the altar of the monastery and to the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist (cf. RB 58:20-21; 59: 1-2). Oblation is a free act of self-offering to God, patterned after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, from the altar of the Cross.

Fundamentally the call to oblation springs from the injunctions of Saint Paul: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1); and again, "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness" (Eph 5:2).

The Benedictine Oblate, drawn to the altar of Christ's Sacrifice by the Holy Spirit, lives from the altar, in communion with a particular monastic community, for the glory of the Father and for the sake of the whole Body of Christ, that is the Church.

The Church recognizes Oblation as a special bond expressing communion between individual Christians and a particular monastery (cf. CCL, can. 303; can. 677 §2).

MPH icon in oratory.JPG

A Eucharistic Vocation

The Eucharistic character of the oblateship is grounded in Saint Benedict's rite of monastic profession (RB 58) and in the analogous rite that he prescribes for the offering of a boy, by his parents, to God in the monastery (RB 59). The adult monk making profession and the young lad being offered to God by his parents are identified with the Eucharistic oblation. Symbolically, they are placed alongside the bread and wine (oblata) on the altar, becoming part of the Holy Sacrifice.

The adult monk places the handwritten petition of his offering on the altar, while the hand of the little oblate is wrapped in the altar linen together with the petition drawn up by his parents.

United to Christ, Priest and Victim

By offering himself in the context of the Holy Sacrifice, the monk participates in the eternal priesthood and victimhood of Our Lord Jesus Christ; like Jesus Crucified, he is both the offerer and the offering. Similarly, in the time of Saint Benedict he child oblate, offered by his parents, who exercised a certain natural priesthood over him, became with Christ a single offering to the Father.

Abbot Delatte, in his Commentary on the Holy Rule, speaks of the newly-professed monk as, "a living victim, 'a pure, holy, and unspotted victim,' reunited to the victim on the altar, offered and accepted with that victim, and enwrapped by the deacon in the fragrance of the same incense."

Interior Priesthood

Mother Mary of Saint Peter (Adèle Garnier, 1838-1924), the foundress of the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Tyburn, was graced with stunning insights into the interior grace of a priestly and victimal life. She writes:

He made me understand that there is an intimate and universal priesthood, absolutely and necessarily united to His, which should be the portion of all souls, but which is so of only very few. This priesthood is wholly interior, and is only granted to a soul who consents to it, who has desired it, and who to obtain it wills to immolate itself at all times with Jesus; that even so, in reality it is not the soul who immolates itself but Jesus who immolates it with Himself. But as the soul wills to be immolated and abandons itself for that purpose, Jesus makes it participate in His state of victim and priesthood at one and the same time. He consecrates it and ordains it to an interior priesthood which conforms it to His Eucharistic life more than any other gift it has received. . . . This grace of interior priesthood does not imprint on the soul an indelible character, for the soul can lose it by infidelity. But if it is constantly faithful to this grace of choice, it will receive through all eternity the reflection of the sacerdotal glory emanating from the Heart of Jesus and spreading over all souls who are priests and victims with Him.

The Altar

The Benedictine Oblate, like the monk, consummates his mystical offering on the altar of the oratory of the monastery. Oblation communicates to one's whole life the character and virtue of a holocaust; it makes of one's life a perpetual sacrifice. All who are offered from the same altar constitute a single priestly and victimal body: one monastic family. A monastery, then, is born at the altar, and lives from the altar.

Altar in oratory.JPG

The vocation of the Benedictine Oblate is, then, profoundly Eucharistic. Blessed Dom Marmion says:

Let us unite our sacrifice with that of Christ Jesus. Let us offer ourselves with Him "in the spirit of humility, and with a contrite heart that our sacrifice may be pleasing in the sight of the Lord."
O Eternal Father, receive not only Thy Divine Son, but ourselves with Him of Whom say that He is " a pure Victim, a holy Victim, an immaculate Victim." Of ourselves, we are only poor creatures, but, miserable as we are, Thou wilt not reject us, for the sake of Thy Son Jesus Who is our Propitiation, and to Whom we would be united, so that through Him, and with Him, and in Him, all honour and glory be to Thee, O Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost." (Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, p. 119)

Ut sanentur

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End of the Penal Code

This morning at Chapter we concluded the eight chapters of the Holy Rule (XXII-XXX) that comprise Saint Benedict's so-called "penal code." The Holy Patriarch reserves the last of these chapters for his treatment of how boys are to be corrected. It was not unusual in Saint Benedict's time for parents to entrust their sons to the monks for a period of intellectual and spiritual education. The lads in question probably ranged in age from five to sixteen. Some of these, but not all, would have been destined for monastic profession. One can only imagine the challenges presented by a troop of boisterous youngsters in the cloister.

Readers of the Holy Rule are sometimes shocked to discover that, where reason fails to bring a brother to mend his ways, Saint Benedict recommends corporal punishment. He even mentions severe fasts (to bed without pudding?) and sharp stripes (a judicious application of the rod).


I am, however, far more impressed by the brilliant first and last sentences of Chapter XXX. "Every age and understanding," says Saint Benedict, "should have its appropriate measure of discipline." What a wise principle! Saint Benedict fosters adaptability, reflection, and due consideration of a brother's age and of his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. There is in the Rule of Saint Benedict nothing of the rigid "one size fits all" approach that one sometimes finds in other ascetical systems.


The last sentence of Chapter XXX sums up the inspiration and justification for all the precedes it in the "penal code": ut sanentur, "that they may be healed." The monastery is, in the end, an infirmary for weak and wounded souls, a place of healing, of purification, and of transformation. Weaknesses, be they physical or moral, are not shocking in a monastic community. They are expected, diagnosed, and, by the all-sufficient grace of Christ, changed into strengths. The Apostles says, "He (Christ) told me, My grace is enough for you; my strength finds its full scope in your weakness. More than ever, then, I delight to boast of the weaknesses that humiliate me . . . when I am weakest, then I am strongest of all."

An Abbot's Prayer

Saint Aelred's splendid Pastoral Prayer might even have been inspired by elements in Saint Benedict's "penal code." I have always loved this particular section of it:

See me, sweet Lord, see me.
My hope, most Merciful, is in your loving kindness;
for you will see me, either as a good physician sees, intent upon my healing,
or else as a kind master, anxious to correct,
or a forbearing father, longing to forgive.

This, then, is what I ask, O font of pity,
trusting in your mighty mercy and merciful might:
I ask you, by the power of your most sweet name,
and by your holy manhood's mystery,
to put away my sins and heal the languors of my soul,
mindful only of your goodness, not of my ingratitude.

Further, against the vices and evil passuions which still assault my soul,
(whether they come from past bad habit, or from my immeasurable daily negligence,
whether their source is in the weakness of my corrupt and vitiated nature,
or in the secret tempting of malignant spirits)
against these vices, Lord, may your sweet grace afford me strength and courage;
that I may not consent thereto, nor let them reign in this my mortal body,
nor yield my members to be instruments of wickedness.

And as I thus resist,
do you all the while heal all my weakness perfectly,
cure all my wounds, and put back into shape all my deformities.

Saint Aelred (1110-1167), the Bernard of the North, was abbot of Rievaulx in England from 1146 until his death. His Pastoral Prayer reveals how profoundly the Rule of Saint Benedict had shaped his ideal and led him to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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