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 19: THE MANNER OF SAYING THE DIVINE OFFICE June 26, We believe that the Divine Presence is everywhere, and that the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil in every place. Especially, however, do we without any doubt believe this to be true when we are assisting at the Work of God. Therefore let us always be mindful of what the Prophet says. "Serve the Lord with fear"; and again: "Sing wisely"; and: "In the sight of the angels I will sing praise to Thee." Therefore let us consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in the presence of God and His angels, and so assist at the Divine Office that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.

In the presence of the angels…The Office is an extension of the liturgy of eternity; St Benedict saw the Church on earth as joining in the praise offered to God in heaven. The Divine Office initiates us, as it were, into the life of heaven and prepares us for it. The oblate, like the monk, has to remember that he is standing before God to whom the angels pray; he is standing in the midst of the choir of angels who see God. By means of the Office, the monk and the oblate plunge into the eternal prayer of the angels, he is united to the community. There is a story in the Russian Primary Chronicle of how Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, while still a pagan, desiring to know more about different religions, sent his followers to, among other places, the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople where they attended the liturgy. "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. This we know, that God dwells there among men. . . We cannot forget that beauty." We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. Worship is nothing else than heaven on earth. The liturgy is something that embraces two worlds at once, for both in heaven and on earth the liturgy is one and the same--one altar, one sacrifice, one presence. As one of our abbesses has written, there is only one liturgy. In every place of worship, and not only in monasteries, however humble its outward appearance, as the faithful gather to perform the Eucharist, they are taken up into the heavenly places; in every place of worship when the holy Sacrifice is offered or when the Divine Office is sung, not merely is the local community present, but the Church universal--the saints, the angels, the Mother of God, and Christ himself. This we know, that God dwells there among men.

June 25, The order of the psalms for the day Hours being now arranged, let all the remaining psalms be equally distributed in the seven Night Offices, the longer psalms being divided into two sections, so that twelve psalms may be assigned to each night. We particularly admonish that if this distribution of the psalms is displeasing to anyone, he should make any other disposition he may think better. Let him take care, however, above all that each week the entire Psalter of one hundred and fifty psalms be recited and be always begun anew at the Night Office on Sunday. For those monks show an exceedingly slothful service in their devotion who, within the course of a week, sing less than the entire Psalter with the usual canticles, since we read that our holy Fathers resolutely performed in a single day what we tepid monks but hope to achieve in an entire week.

It is important to see the psalms on several "planes": the Old Testament setting, the new covenant in Christ and His Church, and the glory that is to come. And to see it all as a great whole. Despite the different stages of development, the history of redemption forms one great whole. That's why it is important to become thoroughly familiar with the Bible in order to understand the psalms and to develop a proper liturgical spirit. Our frequent contact with the Psalter is a very efficacious way of uniting ourselves to our Lord, to insert ourselves into his mystical Body, the Church, to be aware of all that affects his body, to be happy to be part of it. The more we know the Psalter the more we will be united to the Church and through her to Christ. In the psalms, St Augustine tells us, Our Lord sometimes speaks in his own person, as our Head, and sometimes in the person of his mystical Body which we form. We may be feeling joyful when praying a psalm of sorrow or lament, but there is someone in the world who is suffering, and we can pray that psalm for them. The psalms teach us to pray as a community, teach us how to insert ourselves into the Church, lifting us above our personal concerns, to pray selflessly and to see our prayer as only a minute fragment of the whole prayer of the Church.

June 24, Vespers each day consist of four psalms. These psalms are from the 109th to the 147th, omitting those which are set apart for other Hours: that is, from the 117th to the 127th, the 133rd, and the 142nd. All the rest are to be said at Vespers. And as there are three psalms wanting, let those of the aforesaid number that are somewhat longer be divided: namely, 138th, the 143rd, and the 144th. But the 116th, as it is short, is to be joined with the 115th. The order of the psalms at Vespers being thus arranged, let the rest, that is, the lessons, the responsories, the hymns, the verses, and the canticles, be said as we have above prescribed. At Compline the same psalms are to be repeated every day: that is, the 4th, the 90th, and the 133rd.

The psalms then point to Christ; they are full of Christ. He is both their object and their subject. All the Fathers of the Church affirm that Christ is to be found everywhere in the psalms. Some are direct prophecies of His Coming, His sufferings, his future glorious reign. Nor were the Fathers content to see only a handful of passages that have been given new meaning in the light of Christ: rather the entire Psalter was for them a book of prophecies which were filled by Christ. At times they heard in the psalms the voice of Jesus; thus Tertullian writes "almost all the psalms show us the person of Christ. They make the Son present as He speaks to the Father, that is Christ as He speaks to God" (Ad Praxaen 11,7). At other times they hear the voice of the Father speaking to Christ, as in Ps. 2 or Ps. 88. At still other times they saw the psalms as prayers to Christ or referring to Christ. In his homily on Psalm 85 (86) "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is himself the single Saviour of his body, who prays for us, prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us as our head; he is prayed to by us as our God. Let us then recognise our voices in him and his voices in us." The psalms then express Christ, are full of Christ. Now when we say this, we must understand not only Christ as Head, our Lord, Redeemer, King, Judge, but also His Mystical Body, Jesus and his Church, the whole Christ, as Augustine expresses it.

June 23, At Terce, Sext, and None on Monday three sections respectively of the nine remaining sections of the 118th Psalm are to be said. This Psalm having been entirely completed on these two days, that is, on Sunday and Monday, let the nine psalms from the 119th to the 127th be said on Tuesday at Terce, Sext, and None three at each Hour. And these psalms are to be repeated at the same Hours every day until Sunday, with the hymns, lessons, and verses remaining the same for all these days, so as always to begin on Sunday with the 118th.

In the psalms, St Augustine tells us, Our Lord sometimes speaks in his own person, as our Head, and sometimes in the person of his mystical Body which we form. "The man Jesus Christ to whom no affliction, no ill, no suffering is alien and who yet is the wholly innocent and righteous one is praying in the Psalter through the mouth of his Church. The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word" (Bonhoeffer). The Psalter especially throws light upon our Lord's inward prayer. St Augustine developed this idea in his famous Ennarationes. In each he reveals with amazing richness the soul of Christ as he prays, suffers, rejoices. Thus the psalms, which in all their diversity of feeling embrace all the possibilities of human life, become the Book of Hours of the Mystical Christ whom we hear praying now as Head, now as Body--or at times we even overhear a mysterious dialogue between the two. For St Augustine, the theme of the Psalter, with its bewildering wealth of content, is ordered by the consciousness of the whole Christ as he thinks, prays, works and suffers. In this way we are able to learn and enter into the mind of the Church. The psalms then are also the Church reflecting on her own life, having to endure difficulties within and without.

CHAPTER 18: IN WHAT ORDER THE PSALMS ARE TO BE SAID June 22, First of all, at the day hours let this verse always be said: "Deus in adiutórium meum inténde; Dómine ad adiuvándum me festína," and the "Gloria Patri." Then the hymn proper to each Hour. (O God come to my aid, O Lord make haste to help me). At Prime on Sunday four sections of the 118th Psalm are to be said. At the other hours, that is, at Terce, Sext, and None, let three sections each of the same psalm be said. At Prime on Monday let three psalms be said: namely, the 1st , 2nd, and 6th. And thus three psalms are to be said at Prime each day until Sunday, in order up to the 19th; the 9th and the 17th, however, are divided into two sections, each followed by the "Gloria Patri," so that the Night Office on Sunday may always begin with the 20th Psalm.

This chapter gives a list of the psalms to be said throughout the day. As we have seen, the essence, the substance, the heart of the Divine Office is today, as everywhere in the beginning, psalmody, that is the recitation and singing of the psalms. How do we explain the Church's continued use of the Psalter through the centuries? It is not merely that they were such aides to personal devotion that they have become "the voice of the Church" (St Basil). No, the psalms have become the very basis of the Church's liturgy because of "the deeper mystery whereby the words of the psalmist were so shaped and moulded by the Holy Spirit as to become charged with a potential meaning far surpassing the original sense as the writers understood it" (V. Little). In other words the Church realised the sacramental value of the psalms: that the psalms were outward symbols enshrining an inner reality that infinitely surpasses the words used. And this was a truth that the people of Israel already grasped: they knew that the psalms "point beyond themselves." For example they knew that the description of the king in the royal psalms went far beyond King David or Solomon, reaching out to that other Son of the David, the Anointed One, the Messiah who was to come, the true King of Israel of whose kingdom there would be no end. No one has developed this more profoundly than St Augustine. He saw the speaker of the psalms both as Christ and as the Church, his body, in whom and for whom he continues to pray. In the opening paragraph of his homily on Ps. 40 (41), a psalm for a person in distress, Augustine says it is appropriate that "we hear something in this psalm which pertains to Christ's passion: We have often observed that our Lord Jesus Christ often speaks on his own --that is, in his own person, as our head--and often in the person of his body, which is ourselves and his Church. But he does this in such a way that the words are spoken as if by one person's mouth, that we might understand that head and body exist together in integral unity, and are never separate from each other--like that marriage bond of which it is written, 'They shall be two in one flesh.' If, then, we recognise two in one flesh, let us recognise two in one voice!

CHAPTER 17: HOW MANY PSALMS ARE TO BE SAID AT THESE HOURS June 21, 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.

What characterises the 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 June 20, 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.

St Benedict calls the monastery the house of God: it is a heavenly reality. Everything is organized with the intention of forming all in the house into a community ripe for heaven. The monk is someone who is hastening to his heavenly homeland, but he already participates in that essential activity of the angels which is also their very life: praise. To enter into the angels' way of life means to make of one's whole life an act of worship. "A Saint", Paul Evdokimov has written, "is not a superman but one who discovers and lives his truth as a liturgical being." (The Sacrament of Love (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985), 61-3.)Adoration is the centre of the monastic life, but monasticism only makes visible for all the purpose of Christian existence, indeed of human existence. In the images of the heavenly liturgy given in the Book of Revelation, the Lamb is surrounded by the four living creatures and a host of singing angels. The opening of the Letter to the Ephesians shows that our vocation is to become the praise of God's glory. We are blessed by God, chosen in Christ, to live in love that we might praise and bless his name, offering the return of our perfect praise.

CHAPTER 15: AT WHICH TIMES OF THE YEAR ALLELUIA IS TO BE SAID June 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.

Alleluia means "Praise the Lord." Praise is simply an expression of joy, a cry of delight that there really is someone who is supremely worth praising. This is what the Gloria at Mass, the Gloria Patri, the Alleluias express. They are signposts to remind us that there really is One in whom our delight is so full that it will naturally seek completion in the expression of praise. "All enjoyment", writes C.S. Lewis, "spontaneously overflows into praise… I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is." (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Collins, 1958), 81.) In inviting - even urging - us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.


©SBVM 2013