ENLARGING THE HEART

UPDATE:             1ST January 2015   We now begin a new series of commentaries on the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict (Series 3). We hope this will continue to be a source of spiritual nourishment for you. 


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


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.

The little hours, Terce, Sext and None from Tuesday to Saturday, consist of the pilgrim psalms in the Psalter, sung when the pilgrims were going up to Jerusalem for the great annual feasts.  St Augustine saw in this going up to Jerusalem, a symbol of the true ascent which is that of the heart: “We are taught nothing else by these songs than to ascend, but to ascend in the heart, in good affections, in faith, hope and charity, in  the longing for eternity and for life without end” (Commentary on Ps 119).  St Benedict may have had something like this in mind when he had his monks sing the first 9 psalms of ascent every day at Terce, Sext and None except on Sunday and Monday when the 118th psalm is said.  These pilgrim psalms are chants designed to sustain the pilgrim on his way; they accompany the different stages of the journey, physical and spiritual.  And it is possible to see each of these psalms from 119-133c as corresponding to a different stage of the pilgrimage, from the  decision to go up in Psalm 119 to the point of departing the Holy City in Psalm 133. The monk is on his way to heaven.

 

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.  The importance given to this practice by monastic tradition cannot be overemphasised.  Whether a monk lived as a solitary hermit or belonged to a monastic community, the psalms were never far from his mind or lips. The Palestinian abbot, Epiphanius, expressed the monastic ideal in this way: "It is necessary for the true monk to have prayer and psalmody always in his heart" (Epiph. 3). Cassian from his stay in Egypt insisted that the training of monks in prayer and their training in the knowledge and recitation of the psalms were one and the same thing. Memorisation of the Psalter was a virtually universal monastic requirement, one imposed on the monk as soon as he committed himself to the ascetic life (Pachomius, Praecepta 49), and many other early monastic rules.  Once committed to memory the psalms were ever ready, on hand for prayer and the exercise known as meditatio, ruminatio, the constant slow chewing over of scriptural passages aloud.