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The Celebration of Vigils on Sunday

Friday, June 14, 2024
Chapter 11

On Sunday the community should arise earlier for Vigils. In these Vigils, too, there must be moderation in quantity: first, as we have already indicated, six psalms are said, followed by a versicle. Then the members, seated on the benches and arranged in their proper order, listen to four readings from the book. After each reading a responsory is sung, but the Doxology is added only to the fourth. When the cantor begins it, all immediately rise in reverence.

After these readings the same order is repeated: six more psalms with refrain as before, a versicle, then four more readings and their responsories, as above. Next, three canticles from the prophets, chosen by the prioress or abbot, are said with an "alleluia" refrain. After a versicle and the blessing of the abbot or prioress, four New Testament readings follow with their resonsories, as above. After the fourth responsory, the prioress or abbot begins the hymn "We praise you, God." When that is finished, they read from the gospels while all stand with respect and awe. At the conclusion of the gospel reading, all reply "Amen," and immediately the prioress or abbot intones the hymn "To you be prasie." After a final blessing, Lauds begin.

This arrangement for Sunday Vigils should be followed at all times, summer and winter, unless-God forbid-the members happen to arise too late. In that case, the readings or responsories will have to be shortened. Let special care be taken that this not happen, but if it does, the one at fault is to make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.

By treating the recitation of the Sunday Office in a special way Benedict teaches all of us something fresh about prayer even today. The fact is that prayer is not to be a series of mindless mechanics in life. Prayer is the development of an attitude of mind that is concentrated and contemplative. For Benedict, therefore, the Sunday Office is a centerpiece that is fixed and solemn. The message is clear: Sunday, the weekly celebration of creation and resurrection, is always a reminder of new life, always special, always meant to take us back to the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, the Center of life. It is a day full of tradition and rhythm and rememberings of the simple but important concepts of existence. It is a return to basic truths that are never to be sacrificed for variety and always reinforced through repetition.

The idea of sabbaths that are fixed and solemn is for the most part gone in U.S. culture. Our Sundays are spent in hectic activity designed to make us relax by drowning out the pressures of the rest of the week with the inane uselessness of the weekends. In Benedictine spirituality, on the other hand, the sabbath is the moment for returning to the surety and solemnity of life, for setting our sights above the daily, for restating the basics, for giving meaning to the rest of the week so that the mundane and the immediate do not become the level of our existence.