To be read: March 14, July 14, November 14
As soon as Lauds on Sunday is ended, let the weekly servers who are to begin their service and those completing theirs, kneel in the oratory before all, asking their prayers. 16Let the server completing his weekly service say the following verse: “Blessed are You, Lord God, for you have helped me and comforted me”(Dan 3:52; Ps 85:17). 17After having said this three times the one departing receives the blessing. Then the one beginning his service follows and says: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me”(Ps 69:2). 18And let this also be repeated three times by all. And when he has received the blessing, let him begin his weekly service.
Take note: where does the transition for the servers take place? Benedict instructs, “the weekly servers who are to begin their service and those completing theirs, kneel in the oratory before all, asking their prayers.” The passing of the baton in the temporal service of the community takes place in the oratory, thus emphasizing the Benedictine principle of ora et labora — prayer and work. All Christian service flows from the Altar! The work we do in the world, unless it is bathed in the Work of God, is going to flow from our own hearts and not the heart of God. Benedict is setting the pattern for all of us to recognize that our work is most effective when we approach it from the Altar, having first bathed all we do in communal prayer. He is calling us to set the focus of our life and work on God!
Week by week (and preferably, when possible, during the week) we come to the Altar of God. Only what we bring before God and lay down before Him will be blessed and sanctified. Are you bringing the concerns of your family, your job, your home, your health? All of these make demands on our attention, but are we placing them in the hands and heart of God, or are we trying to deal with them and care for them ourselves. All Christian service flows from the Altar. Lay your burdens down, and let the Blood of the Lamb flow over those burdens. Then, pick up only what God directs you to claim. Some of these burdens will require that we address them later, but many will be washed away in the cleansing Blood of Jesus. Some will say, how can I bring these secular things into the sanctuary? Shouldn’t I leave them outside in the world and not bring them into the sacred space? The transition from secular to sacred can only take place by the work of the Holy Spirit. What better place to witness God’s transforming power than at the Altar of God.
We do not have to live in an enclosed community to practice the precepts of this chapter. When we begin any new task, we can join Benedict and say, “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.” And when we have completed a task, we can give the glory to God, saying, “Blessed are You, Lord God, for you have helped me and comforted me.” And we can, like the kitchen servers in this chapter, begin our service anew as we approach and depart from the Altar of God.