To be read: March 26, July 26, November 25
Whoever is excommunicated for serious faults from the oratory and the table, at the time when the Work of God is celebrated in the oratory, 2he must prostrate himself in silence before the door at the feet of all who leave the oratory. 3And let him do this until the Abbot judges that it is enough. 4At the Abbot’s bidding, he is to prostrate himself at the Abbot’s feet, then at the feet of all, that they may pray for him. 5If then the Abbot orders it, he may be received back into the choir in the place which the Abbot assigns. 6Even so, he should not presume to intone a psalm or a lesson or anything else in the oratory, unless the Abbot again bids him to do so. 7Then, at all the Hours, when the Work of God is ended, he must prostrate himself in the place he occupies. 8He will continue to make satisfaction until the Abbot again bids him finally to cease from this penance. 9Those who are excommunicated for lesser faults from the table only are to make satisfaction in the oratory for as long as the Abbot commands, 10and let them perform this until he gives his blessing and says, “It is enough.”
Chapters 43-46 address the process of dealing with mistakes, and the disciplines associated with righting wrongs. What Benedict is saying here is that when one has repeatedly failed, erred, or made a mistake in oratory or broken something belonging to the community, and has refused to acknowledge his wrong, he is to be barred from the Table of the Lord and from the offices in the oratory—he is to be excommunicated. If the one who has done the wrong wishes to be restored, he is instructed to prostrate himself before the Abbot and community (vv. 2-5). This humbling act is designed to refocus the individual on God and to accentuate the penitent’s submission to God, to those in authority, and to the community as a whole. And the restorative aspect of this discipline is the act of the entire community granting forgiveness and pledging their support to the process of restoration and conversion.
When we have done a wrong to one member of the Body, we have offended not only that individual, but done harm to the whole Body. This is sometimes hard for us to comprehend. We don’t want to be embarrassed by making confession before the whole community, and there are times when such a penitential act would be inappropriate. But the need for the whole Body to receive back one who has been severed from the Body by excommunication is exactly what Benedict is proposing in this chapter. It is the parable of the prodigal made real. When the prodigal son returned home, the father was ecstatic, but the older brother was unwilling to receive him. The father rebuked the older brother for his hard-heartedness. When we do not welcome back someone who desires to return it thwarts healing in the Body. We may want justice, retribution, or retaliation, but God wants restoration. That is why Benedict directs that the penitent one “is to prostrate himself at the Abbot’s feet, then at the feet of all, that they may pray for him.” It is very hard to hold animosity toward one for whom we are praying. The prayer is as much for ourselves as it is for the one seeking to be restored. That is a prayer designed to change hearts—our hearts.