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

Click here for pdf of whole Rule: RB37

Reflection on RB 52 ‘On the Oratory of the Monastery’
(written for the website)

As I write this reflection on the first Sunday of Advent, it strikes me that Benedict’s short chapter 52 – just five sentences – is full of Advent themes:
desire, silence, repentance, encounter. It certainly bears meditation as a reflection for this season.

While it is true that life in the sixth century was generally far more communal than it is now, e.g. the monks slept in dormitories, it is a hallmark of the Rule and St Benedict’s genius that the needs of the person are given due weight. This is especially true in that highly personal sphere of prayer. RB 52 shows great delicacy, e.g. by insisting that a person’s desire to pray should not be frustrated by the insensitivity of another. This chapter is one of only four places in the Rule where Benedict expects the monks to observe ‘strict silence’ (they are to exit the oratory, cum summo silentio, v. 2) rather than restraint of speech. For Mother Teresa of Calcutta, ‘the fruit of silence is prayer’.

Benedict shows the same sensitivity he enjoins on the monks: he refrains even from calling the chapter ‘On Prayer’, preferring the more matter-of-fact, ‘On the Oratory of the Monastery’. It’s as if he is happier to speak about the place of a potential encounter rather than to trespass on that intimate meeting between a monk and God in prayer.
His use of the word secretius in v. 4 – should a monk wish to pray secretius, that is ‘apart’/’in solitude’/’secretly’, evokes the Lord’s own teaching on prayer in the gospel which invites us into that ‘secret place’ which is seen by God (Matt. 6: 6).

With his customary realism, Benedict calls our responding to these promptings to personal prayer a ‘work’, opus (v. 5). What kind of work is personal prayer? Certainly not a sort of spiritual Pilates but more surely to do with how we work at a marriage or a close friendship, that is, with faithfulness, patience, persistence, openness, neediness, humility and receptivity. Essentially this prayer is a labour of love, fuelled by desire. It’s a gift God is waiting to renew in us this Christmas and every day as Christ is born in our hearts.

As the famous carol says so beautifully:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear can hear His coming
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.

‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ by Bishop Phillip Brooks, 1825-1893.

Reflection ©Stanbrook Abbey 2019

Oct.-Dec. there will be a weekly reflection from Sr Laurentia. Please scroll down.

'The Way of Benedict: Eight Blessings for Lent' by Laurentia Johns OSB is due to be published by SPCK on 19 December 2019