Rule of Saint Benedict: July 2013 Archives

The Work of the Kitchen

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CHAPTER XXXV. Of the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen

13 Mar. 13 July. 12 Nov.
Let the brethren wait on one another in turn, so that none be excused from the work of the kitchen, except he be prevented by sickness or by some more necessary employment; for thus is gained a greater reward and an increase of charity. But let assistance be given to the weak, that they may not do their work with sadness; and let all have help according to the number of the community and the situation of the place. If the community be large, let the Cellarer be excused from work in the kitchen, and also those, as already mentioned, who are occupied in more urgent business. Let the rest serve each other in turn with all charity. Let him who endeth his week in the kitchen, make all things clean on Saturday, and wash the towels where with the brethren dry their hands and feet. Let both him who goeth out and him who is coming in wash the feet of all. Let him hand over to the Cellarer the vessels of his office, clean and whole; and let the Cellarer deliver the same to him who entereth, that he may know what he giveth and what he receiveth.

Servants One to Another

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

Banish Sadness

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

Help As Needed

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

The Liturgy of Eating and Drinking

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

The Mandatum

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

Cleanliness in the Kitchen

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


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

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

All Originals

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


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

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

Fewer Needs

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

Greater Needs

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

Humility and Gratitude

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


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

Benedictine Poverty

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

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

The Vice of Proprietorship

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

Our Constitutions say this:

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

Radical Disappropriation

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


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

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

Sacrificial Victimhood

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

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

Configured to the Lamb

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


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

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

The Tranquility of Order

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

A Place for Everything

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


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


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

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

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

In Our Constitutions

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

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

Every age and understanding

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Photo: Abbazia di Praglia

CHAPTER XXX. How the Younger Boys Are to Be Corrected

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

Proper Measure of Discipline

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

That They May Have Life

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

When a monk runs away

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

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

That His Humility May Be Tried

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

A Gentle Mercy

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


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

The Cure of the Sick Brother

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Icon of the Prodigal Son courtesy of Patheos.

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

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

Affection for Sin

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


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

The Process

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Charge of Weakly Souls

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

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

To See as God Sees

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

Salvaging from the Scrap Heap of Unsuitables

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

Saint Peter

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

Saint Paul

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

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

The Flawed and the Broken

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

Utterly Dysfunctional by Any Human Standards

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

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

What It Takes

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

Simply Monks

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

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

Physician, Father, Shepherd

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

The Weekly Psalter

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

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

One Non-Negotiable

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

We Tepid Monks

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


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

The Example of the Maurists

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

Dixit Dominus Domino meo

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

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

Christ, Priest and King

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

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

Both Lord and Christ

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

Sit on My Right

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

Psalm Titles

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

The Whole Mystery of Christ

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

Drinking of the Torrent

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

Little Hours

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

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

Condensed Moments of Prayer

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

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

Before and After

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

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

Tierce: The First Station in a Daily Via Crucis

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

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


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

The Third Hour Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

Sext: Christ Lifted Up from the Earth

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

For the Salvation of All Nations

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

None: The Blood and the Water

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

Source of Healing

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

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

Immense in Their Implications

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

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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