Reflections on the Rule of St Benedict: Introduction
(please scroll down for daily reflections)


We wanted the Rule of St Benedict (RB) to pulse through the website as it does through our life, hence the decision that the daily portion of the Rule, read in most Benedictine monasteries and by many individuals, should feature on the Home Page. The version selected is that of Dom Justin McCann of Ampleforth published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1937 and used by kind permission of the Ampleforth Abbey Trust. There are several reasons for this choice: first of all, we feel it still reads as an elegant translation, then we wish to celebrate cooperation between the Ampleforth and Stanbrook communities over many years, and thirdly, perhaps the old-fashioned ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ can actually help us approach the Rule of St Benedict thoughtfully. For all its relevance, RB remains an ancient text which needs careful ‘unpacking’.

To accompany the extracts of the Rule we hope to post regular reflections, from members of the Stanbrook Community and Stanbrook Oblates. These do not aim to be scholarly commentaries of which there are many excellent editions available. Rather, the reflections allow us to re-visit the Rule, to try to listen to its familiar voice anew, and to share thoughts via this forum.

Your comments are welcome via secretary@stanbrookabbey.org.uk



Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37

Reflections for October 2020 are by Fr Chris Jackson, Oblate of Stanbrook

11th The ladder of humility is the foundation to the Work of God – the Divine Office. Benedict now turns his attention to the way in which the Liturgy of the Hours is to be celebrated. Ever practical, he knows that prayer on a full stomach is likely to be sluggish; there must be what is known in the USA as a ‘comfort break’ before Lauds begins. Those of us who celebrate the Divine Office without a visible community do well to be equally practical: find a time that ‘works’ with your schedule and stick to it; silence your phone; if you can pray daily in the same place then you are less likely to be distracted by your surroundings, and yes, ‘a comfort break’ before you start.

12th Psalm 94 [95] lays a firm foundation to the Work of God at the beginning of a new day: The depths of the earth, no matter how dark, are in God’s hand.  The heights of the mountains, the great things to which God may be calling us, or those moments of prayer when we are most conscious of his presence. To him belongs the sea: in Scripture, the sea is a symbol of the unknown: whatever the day may hold and however interrupted our plans may be God is there, in the storm, the uncertainty, and even the disaster.

13thA Christian Bible contains both the Old Testament and the New so the Rule ensures that we do not neglect it. When Jesus walked to Emmaus with Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple he led them on a journey through the Hebrew Bible and ‘interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures’ (Lk.24:27). As we hear the Word of the Lord in the Old Testament our prayer can be that Jesus will reveal himself to us in the words that are known and loved by our elder sisters and brothers in faith – the Jewish people.

14th ‘God forbid [that] the monks should arise too late.’ St Benedict is concerned that there should nothing harsh, nothing burdensome’ in his school for the Lord’s service but the monks have come to seek God wholeheartedly, rising early to sing God’s praises; there is to be an urgency about their lives. Those of us who live outside of a monastery can look for ways in which we  reflect that sense of giving God priority at the start of every day.

15th ‘God made me to know him, love him and serve him’ is the Catechism’s answer to the question ‘Why did God make you?’ The People of God begin each day serving God with the praises that are the psalms: as we give God ‘glory, laud and honour’ we are fulfilling the purpose for which we were created; we are most truly being ourselves.

16th  The reading from the Apostle is ‘to be said from memory.’ The custom of learning passages of Scripture by heart has long disappeared. As we pray the Divine Office however, the Scripture that we re-read frequently does become familiar so that we know it literally ‘by heart.’ If we hold and cherish Scripture in our heart then we will find that it becomes a significant part of our daily nourishment.

17th The Lord’s Prayer has a central place in the Office just as it has in the celebration of Mass. The words that the Lord has given us echo throughout the psalms, and indeed all of the Scriptures. Praying it as the conclusion of the Office reminds us that we pray with Christ and in him and through him.

18th Negotiating one’s way through the Divine Office can be a challenge. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) comments that sometimes there was ‘more business to find out what should be read than to read it when it was found out.’ Nevertheless, St Benedict insists that the special character of a saint’s day or solemnity must be reflected in the Office; finding the right place in the breviary is part of the Work of God.

19th ‘Alleluia is our song,’ – words which have been attributed to Pope St John Paul II; they are, in fact, words of another great saint: Augustine of Hippo. The frequent punctuation of the Divine Office with this shout of praise serves to remind us of the heart of all liturgy.

20th The number seven is of great significance in the Bible, occurring something like 770 times. In Genesis the creation is completed within seven days. The Apocalypse, or Revelation is addressed to the seven churches. A sense of completion or perfection then, at the beginning and the end of the Christian Bible. And, of course, seven sacraments, works of mercy, deadly sins. No surprise then, that the Rule of St Benedict takes up David’s ‘seven times a day will I praise you.’ Circumstances may mean that 2 or 3 of the hours are joined together but the sanctification of the whole day remains their purpose. Rising at night to praise God is impractical for most people living outside of a monastery but those who work night shift, or in health care, those who watch by the bedside of one who is dying, a priest called out in the middle of the night, may all be sustained to know that somewhere, people are singing the praises of God.

21st

If the community is small then a concession is made to the way in which the Office is celebrated: at Terce. Sext and None they sing the psalms without antiphons. (When the plague of AD 688 drastically reduced the number of choir monks in the monastery at Jarrow, Abbot Ceolfrid adopted this very custom, but after a week could bear it no longer. He and a boy – probably the young  Bede – began again to sing the psalms with their antiphons.) The point of the concession St Benedict makes however, is that he does not want monks to be overburdened; they are to adapt according to their capacity. Those who pray the Divine Office away from a monastic community should likewise adapt the prayer to their circumstances.

22nd

God come to my aid; Lord make haste to help me. The beginning of the Hours provides us with words that may well serve as an ‘arrow prayer’ at moments of need and perplexity during the day.

23rd

As a young boy from a poor home in Scotland, David Livingstone was promised a copy of the New Testament by his teacher if he could learn Psalm 118 (119) by heart. With a few very minor mistakes Livingstone succeeded. How often did this psalm at the heart of the Divine Office sustain the great missionary and explorer in his endeavours? How may it sustain us in our daily work uniting us, as it does, to the prayer of Christ himself.

24th

Praying the Office on one’s own is not conducive to the singing that the Rule assumes; however, even if one is not gifted with a great voice, singing part of it is worth trying. As St Augustine points out ‘the one who sings, prays twice.’ Singing the hymn, and perhaps the Gospel Canticle can serve to remind us that we join our voices to those of many others.

25th

 While urging the recitation of the whole psalter over the course of a week St Benedict wisely allows a community some latitude. The vast majority of oblates would be dismayed at the prospect of praying all the psalms over a week; so would religious engaged in work outside of the enclosure. One of the many strengths of the Divine Office is the assurance that it is the Prayer of the Church offered for, and on behalf of, the whole world. Those who lack the time to pray the whole of the Office can pray part of it, or at least say the Gospel Canticle, the Glory be and the Our Father in order to unite ourselves with the praying heart of the Church.

26th

Distractions in prayer: who does not struggle with them? Benedict reminds us that our prayers are always in company with the angels. Simply remembering this, especially at the beginning of each Hour, makes us aware of the great company with whom we pray and strengthens our resolve to give of our best.