Recovering the Opus Dei

Those who read the traditionally oriented blogs may be aware that there have been a number of posts of late arguing that the 'reform of the reform' is a lost cause.

I'd like to draw you attention in particular to two posts by two Benedictines on this topic that are well worth reading, namely by Dom Mark Kirby, and Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman.

Dom Hugh's initial post on this subject (there are two follow-ups) focuses mainly on the Mass; Dom Mark's also draws attention to some of the issues around the wreckovation of the Benedictine Office.

The Mass and the Office

Personally I think the Office is in many ways the bigger issue, at least for Benedictines.

It is not, of course that the Mass is unimportant, far from it!  The spirituality of the vetus ordo Mass is closely bound up with that of the Office, and for the wider Church, the recovery of the traditional form of the Mass is vitally important in my view.

All the same, in terms of Benedictine spirituality, the core is arguably the Office: St Benedict, after all, barely mentions the Mass in his Rule, and in his time daily Mass was not the norm.  Moreover, the expectation that most monks would be priests is actually a late medieval innovation imposed by Popes rather than a reform generated from within, albeit one now absorbed into the tradition.

In praise of St Benedict's liturgical genius

Still, it is arguably St Benedict's particular form of the Office, together with the Rule and the Life by St Gregory the Great, that shaped the Benedictine mindset for centuries.

St Benedict devotes almost a third of his Rule  - some twenty-two chapters (RB 8-20; 45; 47; 50; 52  plus numerous other references - to the Divine Office.  It is one of the great ironies then, of Vatican II's call to recover the patrimony of religious orders, that most Benedictines now observe fewer provisions of the Rule than they did before the Council by virtue of the wholesale jettisoning of St Benedict's Office.  Even more ironic given that some argue that the liturgical provisions are actually the most innovative part of St Benedict's Rule, much of the rest being based on the Rule of the Master.

This irony is even greater when one prays and studies the Office over several years, and becomes aware of the great care and deliberation the saint exercised in selecting the pattern of repetitions and particular groupings he specified for each hour and day.  These patterns are not unimportant: whether the monk is aware of them consciously or not, they shape his thinking, for as the great scholar Laszló Dobszay argued, "If it is true to say, Chorus facit monachum (Office in common makes the monk), then we may complete the proverb thus: Hic chorus facit hunc monachum (The order’s own  Office shapes the self-identity of the monk).”

If we want to restore those bare-ruined choirs then, and see the reemergence of a genuinely Benedictine spirituality, a return to St Benedict's own form of the psalter is vital, and it is good to see that this is increasingly being publicly advocated.


Aloysius Gonzaga said...

I would be interested in your opinion on something.

What edition of the traditional Benedictine office/monastic diurnal would you most recommend?

The books are not cheap so a good decision should be made early on.

Ideally I would like something that is in English and Latin, but I will settle for English only if that is what's available.

Kate Edwards said...

I would strongly recommend acquiring the Farnborough Abbey Press edition of the Monastic Diurnal. It is parallel Latin -English, and contains all the day hours (ie not Matins, but you will have quite enough to do saying some or all of the day hours!).

There is an English only version around, but it is an Anglican production and reflects that, whereas the Farnborough is effectively a reprint of an older edition of the Diurnal that carries an imprimateur so can arguably claim to be officially approved, as all liturgical books are required to be.