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 15: AT WHICH TIMES OF THE YEAR ALLELUIA IS TO BE SAID Oct 19 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.

CHAPTER 14: HOW THE NIGHT OFFICE IS TO BE SAID ON FESTIVALS OF THE SAINTS Oct 18 On the festivals of the Saints and all other solemnities, let the Night Office be celebrated as we have prescribed for Sunday, except that the psalms, antiphons, and lessons be said which are proper to the day. The quantity, however, shall remain the same as already appointed.

This chapter says much about St Benedict's understanding of the Church and of prayer. He is vividly conscious of the Communion of Saints, of our interconnectedness to those who have gone before us in faith, who stand as a sign that Christian life and holiness are possible. Blessed John Paul II beatified or canonized more individuals than all his 20th century predecessors combined. For him, saints are the visible signs of the Holy Spirit among us. "It is said we have too many beatifications these days. But this mirrors reality...The large numbers reflect both the action of the Holy Spirit and the vitality emanating from the Spirit to fertilize a field most essential to the Church: that of saintliness" (14 June, 1994) Moreover he stressed that the 20th century has been an age of martyrs referring to the victims of Communism and Nazism. "The strength of the Church of the East and in the West and throughout the centuries resides in the testimony of its saints, in those who created their own truth from truth, and who followed the path that is Christ himself, and who lived a life which is an emanation of his life in the Holy Spirit" (Crossing the Threshold of Hope.) Holiness is what matters in life.

Oct 17 The Office of Lauds and Vespers, however, is never to end without the Lord's Prayer being said aloud by the superior, so that all may hear it, because of the thorns of contention which sometimes arise; that the brethren, by the covenant which they make in that prayer when they say: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," 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."

Far from being merely a way of concluding the Divine Office, saying the Lord's Prayer expresses the vital connection between the liturgy and the rest of our life. When our heart opens itself to God in worship, it must likewise open itself to the sisters with whom we are praying. When we receive divine grace in God's word and sacrament, we must pass it on. The liturgy always seeks to build up union, communion with God and others. From this community born of the liturgy, of the communal worship of God, must grow the spirit of mutual charity which plucks every thorn of uncharity from our hearts and is willing to forgive. The Divine office is the expression and source of our unity.

CHAPTER 13: HOW LAUDS ARE TO BE SAID ON WEEK DAYS Oct 16 The Office of Lauds on week days is to commence with the 66th Psalm directly, without an antiphon. This Psalm is to be said slowly, as on Sundays, that the brethren may have time to assemble in choir before the commencement of the 50th Psalm, which is to be said with an antiphon. After these, two other psalms are to follow, according to established usage; thus, on Mondays, the two psalms which follow the 50th are the 5th and 35th ; on Tuesdays, the 42nd and 56th ; on Wednesdays, the 63rd and 64th ; on Thursdays, the 87th and 89th ; on Fridays, the 75th and 91st ; on Saturdays, the 142nd with the canticle from Deuteronomy; this canticle is to be divided into two parts, each to be followed by the "Gloria." On the other days let that canticle from the prophets be taken which the Roman Church sings on these days. Then follow the psalms of praise, a lesson from the Apostle, said by heart, a responsory, a hymn, a verse, the canticle from the Gospel, and the Litany, with which the Office ends.

St Benedict lays down the psalmody with great care. Perhaps no other Office corresponds so closely to the hour of the day as Lauds, and St Benedict by his choice of psalms for Lauds seems to insist on this correspondence. Lauds begins each day with Psalm 66 (67) in which we ask that God's face "shine upon us." This psalm recalls that God is light and associates this light with the rising of the sun. God's shining face turned towards us is an expression of his blessing; light is a visible sign of God's glory, his radiance, the Divine presence. God's mercy and kindness, also mentioned in this psalm, are especially associated with the dawning of a new day, symbolic of the triumph of life over darkness and death. This idea of merciful light culminates in Christ, "the Dayspring who shall visit us in his mercy to shine upon those who sit in darkness" (the Benedictus canticle). The theme of light, dawn or morning continues in all the other psalms chosen by St Benedict in today's passage. "For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light" (Ps 35 [36]); "Send forth your light and your fidelity, they shall lead me on" (Ps 42 [43])


©SBVM 2013