Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 18:20-25

To be read: February 23, June 25, October 26

The remaining psalms, those not accounted for in this arrangement for the day hours, shall be distributed equally over the seven nights of the week at Vigils.  21The longer psalms are to be divided so that twelve psalms (or portions thereof) are said each night.  22We advise that if anyone finds this distribution of the psalms displeasing, he may arrange them however he judges better, 23provided that the full complement of all 150 psalms is said every week, and that the series begins afresh each Sunday at Vigils.  24For monks show great sloth in their devotional service if they recite less than the full Psalter in the course of a week with the customary canticles, 25for we read, that our holy Fathers promptly fulfilled in one day what we lukewarm monks can achieve in a whole week.  

In all my visitations to monasteries over the years, I have yet to experience a service of Vigils which follows this directive that “twelve psalms (or portions thereof) are said each night”.  The Trappists, who are the Cistercians of the “strict observance” of Benedict’s Rule only read six at their services of Vigils.  So, please let me reiterate that it is not the quantity of psalmody, rather the quality of prayer and encounter that is important.

At a recent visit to a traditional Benedictine monastery (OSB versus OCSO), I found that the community there read the psalms rather than chanting them, and they read them very slowly, pausing between the half verses and thus cherishing every word of the psalm.  The practice of silence after the readings and the slow recitation of the psalms allows for absorption of the Word.  Making time for a quiet encounter with the Lord through His Word yields substantive benefits for our relationship with Him.  Slow down.  If a word, a phrase, a verse of one of the psalms or lessons piques your interest, stop and meditate on that.  Even if you never get back to the remainder of the passage you were reading, that is okay.  The Lord may have placed that word before you to engage you in dialog.  Let Him speak to you through His Word.  Listen with your whole heart and mind.  

The monks of Benedict’s day, and in the enclosure of Benedict’s monasteries, were living in a different time and culture.  The exhortation to avoid sloth, and the rebuke of “lukewarm monks” should not discourage us from our efforts to follow Benedict’s Rule.  Allow God to “come to our assistance” and “make haste to help us”.  It is okay to adapt Benedict’s Rule to work for us.  Do not forget his admonition to us at the beginning of his Rule:  “Listen, my son, to the precepts of the master, and incline to them with the ear of your heart. Cheerfully receive and put into practice the admonitions of your loving Father…” (Prol. 1).  Incline the “ear of your heart” to the Lord.  He is our Loving Father.

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