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Kitchen Servers of the Week

Sunday, July 14, 2024
Chapter 35

An hour before mealtime, the kitchen workers of the week should each receive a drink and some bread over and above the regular portion, so that at mealtime, they may serve one another without grumbling or hardship. On solemn days, however, they should wait until after the dismissal.

Work done in the Benedictine tradition is supposed to be regular, it is supposed to be productive, it is supposed to be worthwhile but it is not supposed to be impossible. Give help where it is needed, the Rule says. Give whatever it takes to make it possible, the Rule says. Give people whatever they need to do it without grumbling. The servers are to serve, not starve. They are to eat before the others so that they don't wind up resenting the fact that others are eating and become bitter or reluctant in their service. It is a salutary and sobering thought in an age that exploits the poor and the illiterate with impunity for the sake of the comfort of the rich, paying workers too little to live on and working them too hard to live, and then calling it "working your way up" or the "plight" of the unskilled laborer.

Benedictine spirituality does not set out to burden some for the sake of the others in the name of community. It sets out to make work possible for all so that the community can thrive in joy. Any group, any family, that makes life wonderful for some of its members at the expense of the others, no matter how good the work or how satisfied the group, is not operating in a Benedictine spirituality. It is, at best, simply dealing in some kind of holy exploitation, but it is exploitation nevertheless.

On Sunday immediately after Lauds, those beginning as well as those completing their week of service should make a profound bow in the oratory before all and ask for their prayers. Let the server completing the week recite this verse: "Blessed are you, O God, who have helped me and comforted me (Dn 3:52, Ps 86:17)." After this verse has been said three times the server receives a blessing. Then the one beginning the service follows and says: "O God, come to my assistance; O God, make haste to help me (Ps 70:2)." And all repeat this verse three times. When they have received a blessing, the servers begin their service.

In "The Sayings of the Jewish Fathers" it is written: "It is wise to work as well as to study the Torah: between the two you will forget to sin." To make sure we do not forget that humble work is as sacred and sanctifying as prayer, Benedict blesses the kitchen servers of the week in the middle of the chapel. With that simple but powerful gesture all of life begins to look different for everyone. Suddenly it is not made up of "higher" and "lower" activities anymore. It is all--manual labor and mystical meditation--one straight beam of light on the road to fullness of humanity. One activity without the other, prayer without the creative and compassionate potential of work or work without the transcending quality of prayer, lists heavily to the empty side of life. The blessing prayer for the weekly servers in the midst of the community not only ordains the monastic to serve the community but it also brings together both dimensions of life, the transcendent and the transforming, in one clear arc: Prayer is not for its own sake and the world of manual work is not a lesser world than chapel.

We are all meant both to pray and work, each of them influencing and fulfilling the other.