To be read: February 11, June 11, October 14
During the winter season, Vigils begins with the verse: O Lord open my lips; and my mouth shall declare Your praise (Ps 50:17). This is to be said three times. 2After this Psalm 3 and the Gloria are to be added, 3and Psalm 94  with its antiphon is to be said or chanted. 4Then let an Ambrosian hymn follow, and after that six psalms with antiphons. 5When these and the versicle have been said, let the Abbot give the blessing. All being seated on the benches, let three lessons be read by the brothers from the book on the lectern, and between each let a responsory be said or sung. 6Let two of the responsories be said without the Gloria, but after the third lesson let him who is chanting say the Gloria. 7When the cantor begins to sing, let all rise at once from their seats in honor and reverence of the Blessed Trinity. 8Besides the inspired books of the Old and the New Testaments to be read at Vigils, also the expositions of the Scriptures which have been made by reputable orthodox and Catholic Fathers should be included. 9After these three lessons with their responsories, let six other psalms follow, together with a sung Alleluia. 10After these let the lessons from the Apostle follow, to be said by heart, then the versicle and the litany, that is, Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy). 11And the service of Vigils is thus completed.
This is the second of four installments in the Rule of Saint Benedict about the service of Vigils, or as it is sometimes called, Matins. This office garners so much attention because in many ways it is the foundational service of worship for the day. This chapter details the number of Psalms and lessons to be recited and read at this service, the focus being praise, with a total of 12 Psalms being recited, besides the introductory Psalms (3 and 95).
To begin one’s day in adoration and praise is a wonderful alternative to most modern practices. How many modern Americans open their eyes and grab their phone? They check their social media accounts, or tap into one of the news feeds. But Benedict offers an alternative. Roll out of bed and sing praises to the Lord, beginning with the opening acclamation, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.” And the opening verses of Psalm 95 set the tone for the service and the day: “O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and show ourselves glad in Him with psalms.” What a wonderful way to set our hearts aright for the day.
The number of psalms or lessons said during the service is less important than the inclination of the heart to worship. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 95, “let us heartily rejoice…” Having visited various Benedictine communities over the years I have yet to find one that pharisaically observes the routine described in this section of the Rule for the office of Vigils. For example, at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery, they recite six psalms (or sections thereof) and read two lessons (the second being from “reputable orthodox and Catholic Fathers”). They maintain the heart and intent of the Rule, while making the service itself a little less formidable. Nevertheless, the service is one of praise to the God Who has created the new day. Ask the Lord to open your lips, that you may “come before His presence with thanksgiving, and show [yourself] glad in Him with psalms.”
One thought on “Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 9”
I really liked what you pointed out about the “ritual” [my word] being less important than the inclination of the heart to worship. We, all of us, can slip into the habit of ritual and, as a result, completely forget about the One we come to worship. I think that the human heart is not naturally inclined to worship, so it must be disciplined to do so. And, in doing so, we may need to resort to the “ritual” to stir our hearts to worship until we have established the “inclination”. An interesting paradox, I think.
…maintain the heart and intent of the Rule… Isn’t that the point in everything we do? Even the Master, Himself, taught on the importance of the “spirit of the law” over the mechanical observances of same.
Once again, you have given me pause, in order to think through the “why” on the things that I do. If their focus is on appearances instead of worship, then they become cymbals and drums (eg; NOISE), which is not pleasing to His ears.
(Psalm_51:17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.