Rule of Saint Benedict: June 2013 Archives

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)

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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?

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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