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 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