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The Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days

Monday, June 17, 2024
Chapter 13

Assuredly, the celebration of Lauds and Vespers must never pass by without the prioress or abbot reciting the entire Prayer of Jesus at the end for all to hear, because thorns of contention are likely to spring up. Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: "Forgive us as we forgive (Mt 6:12)," they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice. At other celebrations, only the final part of this prayer is said aloud, that all may reply: "But deliver us from evil (Mt 6:13)."

"Each of us should have two pockets," the rabbis teach. "In one should be the message, 'I am dust and ashes,' and in the other we should have written, 'For me the universe was made.'" These ideas are clearly Benedict's as well. Two things he does not want us to omit from our prayer lives, psalm 67's plea for continued blessing and psalm 51's need for continual forgiveness, a sense of God's goodness and our brokenness, a sense of God's greatness and our dependence, a sense of God's grandeur and our fragility. Prayer, for Benedict, is obviously not a routine activity. It is a journey into life, its struggles and its glories. It is sometimes difficult to remember, when days are dull and the schedule is full, that God has known the depth of my emptiness but healed this broken self regardless, which, of course, is exactly why Benedict structures prayer around psalm 67 and psalm 51. Day after day after day.

Then Benedict arranges the rest of the morning psalmody for the remainder of the week to remind us of the place God takes in human life. On Monday Benedict requires the saying of psalms 5 and 36 to remind us at the beginning of every week that God is a god who "hears the voice" of those who "at daybreak lay their case" before the holy temple and who "maintains a faithful love." On Tuesday he prescribes psalms 43 and 57 to remind us in the weight of the day that God is our hope, our joy, our defense. On Wednesday he prescribes psalms 64 and 65 to recall to us when we are tempted to give in to our lesser selves, out of fatigue, out of stress, out of the ennui of the week, that God does punish evildoers, those who "shoot at the innocent from cover," and God does indeed "calm the turmoil of the seas." On Thursday, as the week wears on, Benedict's prayer structure assures us in psalms 88 and 90 that distress is that part of life in which God is present in absence but that God "is our refuge" who each morning "fills us with faithful love" so that "we shall sing and be happy all our days." On Saturday, at the end of the week, with new lessons learned and new problems solved and new deaths survived, Benedict puts Psalm 143 and the Canticle of Deuteronomy in our hearts.

Moses reminds us by an excursion through history that God is "a trustworthy God who does no wrong." Whatever has happened to us in these days has been for our good, too, we are very subtly instructed, so that we can pray psalm 143 in confidence of the week to come: "Show me the road I must travel for you to relieve my heart."

Monastic morning prayer is not an idle ordering of psalms. It is a treatise on the monastic mindset that is to characterize those who claim to be giving their lives to God.

Finally, Benedict's prayer form requires a realistic appraisal of community life. "The celebration...must never pass by without reciting the entire Prayer of Jesus at the end for all to hear, because thorns of contention are likely to spring up." The Prayer of Jesus is designed to heal and cement and erase the pain and struggle of community life, of family life, of global life where we all live together at one another's expense.

Benedictine prayer is not an escape into a contrived or arcane life. It is prayer intended to impel us through the cold, hard, realities of life in the home, life in the community, life in the world, life with people whom we love enough to hate and whom we hate enough to dampen every other kind of love in us.

About the Rule of Benedict
Benedict of Nursia was born in the year 480. As a student in Rome, he tired of the decadent culture around him and left to live a simple spiritual life as a hermit in the countryside of Subiaco about thirty miles outside of the city. It wasn't long, however, before he was discovered both by the people of the area and disciples who were themselves looking for a more meaningful way of life. Out of these associations sprang the monastic life that would eventually cover Europe.

The Rule of Benedict is not a treatise in systematic theology. Its logic is the logic of daily life lived in Christ and lived well. This early monastic rule is part of the Wisdom tradition of Christianity and is rooted in the Bible for its inspiration and its end. It deals with the meaning and purpose of life. The positions taken in the Rule in the light of themes in the wisdom literature of other culture find Benedict of Nursia in the stream of thinkers who lived out of a single tradition but from the perspective of universal and fundamental insights into life.

Excerpted fromĀ The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister, OSB