Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 38

We've been covering some of the everyday life in the monastery lately. This next chapter covers some more of the spiritual, but still everyday life.


Chapter 38. THE READER FOR THE WEEK

  1. Reading will always accompany the meals of the brothers. The reader should not be the one who just happens to pick up the book, but someone who will read for a whole week, beginning on Sunday. 
  2. After Mass and Communion, let the incoming reader ask all to pray for him so that God may shield him from the spirit of vanity. 
  3. Let him begin this verse in the oratory: Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise (Ps 50[51]:17), and let all say it three times. 
  4. When he has received a blessing, he will begin his week of reading.
  5. Let there be complete silence. No whispering, no speaking―only the reader's voice should be heard there. 
  6. The brothers should by turn serve one another's needs as they eat and drink, so that no one needs ask for anything. 
  7. If, however, anything is required, it should be requested by an audible signal of some kind rather than by speech. 
  8. No one should presume to ask a question about the reading or about anything else, lest occasion be given [to the devil] (Eph 4:27; 1 Tim 5:14). 
  9. The superior, however, may wish to say a few words of instruction.
  10. Because of holy Communion and because the fast may be too hard for him to bear, the brother who is the reader for the week is to receive some diluted wine before he begins to read. 
  11. Afterward he will take his meal with the weekly kitchen servers and the attendants.
  12. Brothers will read and sing, not according to rank, but according to their ability to benefit their hearers.
We read that the Reader isn't just whoever feels like reading for that meal, or that day - rather, the Reader is appointed weekly and that the Reader should pray to be shielded from vanity. This allows the brothers in the monastery to recognize that each of them are equal and none are favored over the others.

The monks also dine in silence, which seems odd to those of us who grew up sitting and talking to our family at the dinner table. But, of course, there is a good reason to take meals in silence. The reading is being done during this time, and it is profitable for the brethren to listen to the Scriptures so that they may learn. This also keeps down idle chit chat, which can lead to idle thoughts and gossip, and other things which could harm the community. 

We also see that the Reader for the week is allowed to have some diluted wine before he starts his reading so that he may be strengthened before he breaks the fast. I've seen something similar at the parish level where the Cantor (or whoever is doing the chanting for Matins and Liturgy) has some holy water to drink so his throat does not become parched.

Reading these things makes me remember when I was thinking about converting to Catholicism (from Protestantism) and becoming a monastic. Could I have done such a deed? Could I really live my life on par with these other monastics? It seems so harsh to live life in this way, sometimes. But these men - and women even - choose to live their lives in this way for the glory of God. Truly their reward in Heaven will be great.
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