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

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.


©SBVM 2013