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Community Rank

Sunday, August 18, 2024

Monastics keep their rank in the monastery according to the date of their entry, the virtue of their lives, and the decision of the prioress or abbot. The prioress or abbot is not to disturb the flock entrusted to them nor make any unjust arrangements, as though they had the power to do whatever they wished. They must constantly reflect that they will have to give God an account of all their decisions and actions. Therefore, when the members come for the kiss of peace and for Communion, when they lead psalms or stand in choir, they do so in the order already existing among them or decided by the abbot or prioress. Absolutely nowhere shall age automatically determine rank. Remember that Samuel and Daniel were still boys when they judged their elders (1 Sm 3; Dn 13:44-62). Therefore, apart from those mentioned above whom the abbot or prioress have for some overriding consideration promoted, or for a specific reason demoted, all the rest should keep to the order of their entry. For example, someone who came to the monastery at the second hour of the day must recognize that they are junior to someone who came at the first hour, regardless of age or distinction. The young, however, are to be disciplined in everything by everyone.

A Benedictine community is obviously a motley place. It has locals and foreigners, old and young, cleric and lay, nobles and poor, educated and illiterate all going the same way, all intent on a life of the spirit, and all from vastly different backgrounds. All of them were conditioned to very defined expectations of privilege or oppression. Benedictine spirituality detoxifies the entire environment by putting the spotlight on the time of a person's entrance to the monastery, on the time at which they publicly began their total seeking of God, rather than on their previous status or position.

The purpose and effect of rank, then, was not the suppression of the person. It was designed to free people from their past castes or demands. The purpose of rank was to achieve equality, humility and a new definition of self in groups rife with social hierarchies, systemic differences and groundless exaltations. The date of entrance was the date before and after which all other events in life were marked and noted. The image of a world unskewed by material values and social definitions is the vision thrust before us in Benedictine spirituality. In a world where sex and race and money mark our spaces on the social ladder it is a picture of human liberation gone outrageously giddy with the freeing power of God as the sign its sanctity.