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The Celebration of the Divine Office During the Day

Thursday, June 20, 2024
Chapter 16

The prophet says: "Seven times a day have I praised you (Ps 119: 164)." We will fulfill this sacred number of seven if we satisfy our obligations of service at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, for it was of these hours during the day that it was said: "Seven times a day have I praised you (Ps 119:164)." Concerning Vigils, the same prophet says: "At midnight I arose to give you praise (Ps 119:62)." Therefore, we should "praise our Creator for just judgments" at these times: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline; and "Let us arise at night to give praise (Ps 119:164, 62)."

"Prayer is the service of the heart," the Talmud says. Benedict clearly thought the same. In forming his communities in prayer, Benedict had two realities with which to deal. The first was the biblical injunction "to pray always" around which the monastics of the desert had centered their lives. The second was the reality of community life itself: "We earn our bread by the toil of our hands," the Rule says.

The problem was that Benedict's monks were not hermits who scratched their daily fare out of a dry desert, living on locusts and honey. They were not gyrovagues, wandering monks, who, to demonstrate their dependence on God, begged their way through life. Benedict's monks were cenobites, community people with a family to support. They were each as responsible for their inexperienced young and worn out elderly as they were for themselves. They were, in other words, just like us.

To sanctify both situations Benedict instructs his communities to rise early in the night, as his culture allowed, to study and to pray and then, during the day, to recite brief, simple, scriptural prayers at regular intervals, easy enough to be recited and prayed even in the workplace, to wrench their minds from the mundane to the mystical, away from concentration on life's petty particulars to attention on its transcendent meaning.

Benedict scheduled prayer times during the day to coincide with the times of the changing of the Roman imperial guard. When the world was revering its secular rulers Benedict taught us to give our homage to God, the divine ruler of heaven and earth. There was to be no stopping at the obvious, at the lesser, for a Benedictine.

The point is clear: there is to be no time, no thing, that absorbs us so much that we lose contact with the God of life; no stress so tension-producing, no burden so complex, no work so exhausting that God is not our greatest agenda, our constant companion, our rest and our refuge. More, whatever other people worship, we are to keep our minds and hearts on God.