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 14: HOW THE NIGHT OFFICE IS TO BE SAID ON FESTIVALS OF THE SAINTS Feb 17, 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 reminds us that the liturgy is connected with holiness. One of the signs that Mass or the Liturgy of the hours has been celebrated well is that it gives rise to the desire to pray, to savour the sweetness of what has taken place, to remain without words in the presence of the living God. The goal of prayer is union with God; in the liturgy, in the sacraments, above all in the Eucharist, God gives us all the objective conditions we need for union with him, all the means we need for attainment of that end. The whole life of prayer is a deepening and realization of Eucharistic communion with Christ. On our side, of course, we must produce the necessary subjective conditions, for it is in this co-operation that union is realized. The object of this prayer is contemplation of mysteries of Christ. The liturgical year is centred on Christ and his saving mysteries that he might be formed in us. Our liturgical celebrations arise directly out of the mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ and they are part of the very means by which we enter into that mystery. The liturgy, says Dom Delatte, imprints on our souls the image of the Son who transforms us and reconciles us to the Father. St Benedict called the liturgy the Work of God, meaning not only the work we do for God but even more the work God does on us, a saving, purifying, sanctifying work. That is why the liturgy is a means of continual spiritual growth, the ever-renewed conferring of grace. "We are sanctified by our praise," wrote Dom Delatte, "and we are sanctified for praise."

Feb 16, 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."

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive ... Our growth in the life of prayer will bring with it a sharper recognition of our share in the disorder of a fallen world and our need of his mercy for our imperfections and error, our shortcomings and excesses. The life of prayer is always a progress in true humility. We are always in need of the kindness and patience of God. But if the petition begins with a confession of our wretchedness and his mercy, it goes on to make heroic demands on us: it looks to the future but our response must come first. Everyone that appeals to God's forgiveness has to move over to his side, as it were, to look with his eyes on human frailty and sin, to forget our own injuries, to recognise our common human frailty. Again and again in the Gospels we find Our Lord referring to the situation of the exacting, unforgiving one who dares to ask from God what he is not willing to give in return. It is for good reason that this petition appears at the end of Our Lord's lessons on prayer; it is the culmination of a life of worship, of union with the will of God, of awareness of a true filial relation to God and our true incorporation in the Body of Christ. "Forgiveness is the high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God's compassion can receive the gift of prayer" (CCC 2844). All this reminds us that the Lord's Prayer is a supernatural prayer, the prayer of those who exist to do God's will.

CHAPTER 13: HOW LAUDS ARE TO BE SAID ON WEEK DAYS Feb 15, 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.

We continue our reflection of what it means to praise God. God, in the process of being praised, communicates his presence to us. There is a beautiful, if mysterious line in Ps. 21[22], which speaks of God as You who are enthroned in [or who dwell in] the praises of Israel. God is present in our praise, not entirely unlike Christ dwelling in the Eucharistic offering under the appearance of bread and wine, in what is an absolutely Real Presence. In the praises which mount up towards God which are a spiritual sacrifice of praise, Christ is also present, making them his own prayer. Moreover, in our songs of praise, says St Gregory the Great, "we gain access to where Jesus can reveal himself". In the third place, 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." In inviting - even urging - us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him. Finally, praise implies that we have received something: the knowledge and reality of God's Trinitarian nature, his continual care for his children, the Incarnation and Redemption, the Church and Sacraments as the instruments of God's love. Praise is a response to a gift. It is, then, an objective response to the experience of God who objectively reveals himself. Praise gives us entrance into the truth of God's redeeming work revealed in us through Christ and the Church. Praise, like the fiat of faith, is not the creation of a truth, but the acceptance of it. It is a response to what the Father has given.

CHAPTER 12: HOW THE OFFICE OF LAUDS IS TO BE SAID Feb 14, At Lauds on Sunday let the 66th Psalm first be said directly, without an antiphon. After this let the 50th Psalm be said with an Alleluia, and then the 117th and the 62nd ; then the Canticle of Blessing and the psalms of praise, a lesson from the Apocalypse, said by heart, a responsory, a hymn, a verse, the canticle from the Gospel, and the Litany, with which the Office ends.

Lauds means praise. Why do we praise God? As one of the Mass Prefaces makes clear, it is not as if God needs our praise, our compliments: "You have no need of our praise and we cannot add to your glory; it is only by your gift to us that we can give thanks and prepare ourselves for salvation." As St Augustine puts it, "He does not grow greater by our praise, but we do." He makes us holier and happier; the gain is ours, not his; we glorify him by declaring him holy, not by making him so. Our Lady in her Magnificat is perhaps the best example here. My soul magnifies the Lord. We praise God in order to allow him to be great in us, to be magnified in us. To make God great, to magnify him means to make oneself available to him, to give him room so that he can be more present in the world. Our Lady, said Hopkins in "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe," "had this one work to do - / let all God's glory through." It means to become more truly what we are, beings which reflect not ourselves but the image of God. It means to become more fully human by referring ourselves to him.

CHAPTER 11: HOW THE NIGHT OFFICE IS TO BE SAID ON SUNDAYS Feb 13, On Sundays let the brethren rise earlier for the Night Office, in which the following order is to be observed: six psalms and a verse having been said, as we have above prescribed, and all being seated at their places in their proper order, let four lessons with their responsories be read from the lectionary, as we have said above; and to the last responsory only let the reader add the "Gloria," which when he begins, let all reverently rise. After these lessons, six other psalms follow in order, with their antiphons and a verse as before; thereafter, four more lessons are to be read, with their responsories, in the manner above prescribed. Next, let three canticles from the prophets be said, as the Abbot shall appoint. These canticles are to be sung with an Alleluia. Then, a verse having been said and the Abbot having given the blessing, let four lessons be read from the New Testament as above directed. After the fourth responsory let the Abbot begin the hymn, "Te Deum." Which hymn being said, the Abbot will read a lesson from the Gospel, while all stand in reverence and awe, and at the end let all answer, "Amen." The Abbot will then intone the hymn, "Te decet laus"; and after the blessing has been given, let them begin Lauds. This order for the Night Office is always to be observed on Sunday, in summer as well as in winter, unless perhaps the brethren rise too late (which God forbid), for then some of the lessons or responsories would have to be shortened. Let all care, however, be taken that this does not happen; but if it should, let him through whose neglect it may have come to pass make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.

If the Eucharist is celebrated "until he comes", nocturnal prayer has always had an important place in Christian spirituality and liturgy. "Toward midnight arise, wash your hands and prayer," wrote Hippolytus in the 2nd century. But even the night we do not allow to pass without prayer, since David says, 'in the midst of the night I arise and give thanks to you for your just decrees,' and Paul and Silas, according to the Acts, prayed in the night and praised God so much that those in prison listened to them" (Origen, De oratione, 12). St Cyprian urges nocturnal prayer in imitation of Christ: If he watched and prayed continually throughout the night, how much more should we spend the night in prayer?" (De dominica oratione, 29) "What should the Christian do at midnight? He should perform matins and say the canonical hours. . .Let him consider that the angels and saints in heaven are not sleeping but are forever praising God: let him imitate them, especially at that time for there is no better time for prayer than that, since the mind is quiet and at rest and free from worldly care and trouble. Is there any other reason beside that for making these prayers at night rather than at any other time? Yes. Firstly, because at that hour Christ was born, and also according to some of the holy fathers, will come in judgment." (from a book on catechetical instruction, 1645). Night prayer expresses and arouses expectation of the Lord who has come, is risen and will come again.


©SBVM 2013