Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 47

To be read: March 29, July 29, November 28

Let it be the Abbot’s care to announce the time for the Work of God both by day and by night. He may either announce it himself or entrust this charge to a careful brother, so that everything may be done at the proper time. 2Only those who have been authorized may intone the psalms or the antiphons in their turn after the Abbot. 3No one should presume to sing or read unless he is able to edify the hearers; 4and let it be done with humility, seriously, and with reverence as the Abbot has ordered. 

This section of the Rule, chapters 47-52, covers instructions regarding the Work of God and the need to maintain the discipline of the hours.  There is a delicate balance that must be kept between prayer and work, and Benedict is addressing those issues in these chapters. 

Benedict and his monks did not have the benefit of wrist watches, cell phones, or even electric clocks.  This created a need for someone to be responsible to keep an eye on the time and to announce the hour for the Work of God.  It was crucial that some form of notification of the hours be given that all of the brothers could be summoned to attendance in the oratory for the Work of God.  Benedict says that it was “the Abbot’s care to announce the time for the Work of God both by day and by night.”  However, he could delegate that responsibility “to a careful brother”.

As non-cenobitic followers of the Rule, we do not have a common worship space for the daily hours, nor do we have a brother designated as the watchman and herald of the hours.  But we do have clocks; we are surrounded by them.  The monks of Benedict’s day needed the herald because when they were out in the field, ensconced in the work of the kitchen, or tending the garden, it would be easy for them to lose track of the time.  They needed a reminder to lay down the manual work and pick up the Work of God.  We can do the same thing.  We can create our own herald.  I have programmed into my phone a reminder at 9:00 AM, Noon, 3:00 PM, and 5:00 PM.  So, in the midst of my busy day, if I have become lost in my work and the little hours are in danger of being left unsaid, I am reminded.  And often, if I am busy cooking dinner I lose the hour for Vespers.  But with my phone reminder, I have a herald to call me to the Work of God.  The early morning services of Vigils, Lauds, and Prime are easy for me to keep, so I do not need a reminder for them.  And as for Compline, I have a printed copy of the service on the bookcase headboard of my bed, together with a copy of the Psalms.  Before I lay down, I am reminded by their presence to lay the day’s work and events in the hands of the Lord, and to commend the night hours to Him.

It is good to maintain the discipline of the hours.  If you need to, you can combine the hours, and we will discuss that in more detail in tomorrow’s meditation.  Even if you are keeping a modified discipline, with only Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer, with Compline, a little reminder via a phone alarm can help you stick to that discipline.  It is good to have a herald to call us to the Work of God, “so that everything may be done at the proper time”.

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