Enlarging the Heart
Daily readings from the Rule of Saint Benedict
By a Benedictine of Saint Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde
“… as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments.”
(From the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict)
St Benedict wrote his Rule for monks some fifteen centuries ago. Driven by his love of Christ, he wanted to establish his monastery as a “school of the Lord’s service”: a place where people who truly seek God could find him; places where “authentic Gospel values prevail”(1); where nothing whatever would be preferred to Christ. The Rule of St Benedict spread all over Europe, and had an enormous influence on the life and spirituality of the Latin Church. It continues to inspire monks, nuns, and countless lay people throughout the world today. Like many monasteries we divide the Rule into sections so that the whole Rule is covered over a period of three months. The commentaries will follow the sequence of the sections.
(1) Pope John Paul II, to Benedictine Abbots, 23 September 1996
CHAPTER 17: HOW MANY PSALMS ARE TO BE SAID AT THESE HOURS Feb 20,
We have already arranged the order of the psalms for the Night Office and for Lauds; let us now arrange the remaining Hours. At Prime let three psalms be said separately and not under one “Gloria.” The hymn of this Hour is to be said after the verse, “Deus in adiutorium meum intende,” before the psalms are begun. At the end of the three psalms let one lesson be recited, a verse, the Kyrie eleison, and the concluding prayer, with which the Hour ends.
Terce, Sext, and None are to be celebrated in the same way: that is, the verse, the hymn proper to each Hour, the three psalms, the lesson, the verse, the Kyrie eleison, with concluding prayer. If the community is large, let the psalms be said with antiphons; but if small, let them be said directly.
Let the Office of Vespers consist of 4 psalms with antiphons. After the psalms a lesson is to be recited; then the responsory, the hymn, the verse, the canticle of the Gospel, the Litany, the Lord’s Prayer, and the concluding prayer, with which this Office ends.
Compline consists of three psalms, to be said directly and without an antiphon. After these psalms follow the hymn proper to that Hour, a lesson, a verse, the Kyrie eleison, the blessing with concluding prayer.
The substance of each office consists of different elements: the 150 psalms are prayed through in the course of one week. Interwoven with these are reading from the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, hymns, and concluding prayer. Each office has its own special character.
What characterises the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office and distinguishes it from other liturgical actions is that it is distributed throughout the hours of the day, giving a shape and rhythm to the day. The liturgy of the hours sanctifies, redeems time, in the sense of claiming it back for God; we make time holy by consecrating it to God, “so that the whole day may be made holy by the praise of God” (General Instruction). All the passing hours of the day, week, years are continuously drawn back to God, in a kind of overflow of the mass: “The liturgy of the hours was seen as a necessary complement of the fullness of divine worship that is contained in the Eucharistic sacrifice, by means of which that worship might overflow to reach all the hours of daily life’ (Paul VI, Laudis Canticum). The times were based on Jewish usage and above all the example of Jesus and the apostolic community, as well as monastic tradition. The Liturgy of the hours is something that belongs essentially to the whole Church; they pertain to the whole people of God. They are not the special preserve of monks and nuns, and never have been. But they remain the heart of a monastic community’s life, the perfect expression of a life given over wholly to the service of God.
CHAPTER 16: HOW THE WORK OF GOD IS TO BE CELEBRATED IN THE DAYTIME Feb 19,
As the prophet says, “Seven times in the day I have given praise to Thee,” so we shall observe this sacred number of seven if at the hour of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline we fulfil the duties of our service. For it was of these hours that the Prophet said: “Seven times in the day I have given praise to Thee.” Of the Night Office the same Prophet said: “At midnight I arose to give praise to Thee.” Therefore, at these times let us give praise to our Creator for the judgments of His justice: that is, at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; and at night let us rise to give praise to Him.
In this chapter the word praise is mentioned 5 times. Here is Pope Benedict XVI on the service of praise of monks and nuns offered for the whole world: “In the life of monks, however, prayer takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are worshippers. Their very life is worship. This should hold true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! – Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1). Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously renewed it.
At the same time, the officium of consecrated persons is also a sacred service to men and women, a testimony offered to them. All people have deep within their hearts, whether they know it or not, a yearning for definitive fulfilment, for supreme happiness, and thus, ultimately, for God. A monastery, in which the community gathers several times a day for the praise of God, testifies to the fact that this primordial human longing does not go unfulfilled: God the Creator has not placed us in a fearful darkness where, groping our way in despair, we seek some ultimate meaning (cf. Acts 17:27); God has not abandoned us in a desert void, bereft of meaning, where in the end only death awaits us. No! God has shone forth in our darkness with his light, with his Son Jesus Christ. In him, God has entered our world in all his “fullness” (cf. Col 1:19); in him all truth, the truth for which we yearn, has its source and summit. (9 September 2007)
CHAPTER 15: AT WHICH TIMES OF THE YEAR ALLELUIA IS TO BE SAID Feb 18,
From the holy feast of Easter until Pentecost, without interruption, let Alleluia be said both with the psalms and with the responsories. But from Pentecost until the beginning of Lent, on weekdays it is to be said with the last six psalms of the Night Office only. On all Sundays, however, outside Lent, let the canticles at Vigils and the Psalms at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext and None be said with Alleluia; but Vespers with antiphons. The responsories, however, are never to be said with Alleluia except from Easter to Pentecost.
St Benedict devotes a chapter of his rule to the Alleluia; although he did not originate its use in the Divine Office, he certainly extended its use to every day of the year except Lent, and he lays down the additional use of the Alleluia at the Little Hours on Sunday, that day being a little Easter. Chant of joy, chant of heaven, the word Alleluia seems to sum up the monastic life for him. The Rule of the Master, another 6th century monastic rule, is even more explicit: “It is forbidden to fast from Easter to Pentecost because Easter Sunday closes the fast of sadness and opens the Alleluia of joy, whereas Pentecost closes the Alleluia and opens the fast. But if the Alleluia is closed for the churches, in the monastery the servants of God – devoted as they are in a special way to the divine service – sing the Alleluia to the Lord in the manner set for the psalmody until the Epiphany.” Dom Guéranger called the Church “the Society of Divine Praise” and urged his monks and nuns “be alleluia from head to toe.” Anticipating eternity, the Benedictine spirit expresses itself in a free outpouring of love before the splendour of God. The gratuitous character of its love is best expressed in its prayer which is first of all praise.