Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ordo notes for week of January 29

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in the Extraordinary Form.  The Gospel this week, to which the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for Sunday refer, is from Matthew 8, where a boat the apostles are on is caught in a storm, and Jesus calms the waters.

There is also a memorial of St Frances de Sales.

The Feast of the Purification: change of Compline antiphon

The major feast this week is of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, on Thursday, which marks the end of the last remnants of the Christmas season (for example in the Saturday Office of Our Lady, which reverts back to the antiphons and prayers used throughout the year after the feast). 

It also marks a change of Marian antiphon at Compline: from Wednesday night, Ave Regina Caelorum is said or sung.

Saints in the traditional Benedictine and Roman EF calendar this week
The Ordinary Form calendar

This is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The Gospel is St Mark 1:21-28, Our Lord preaches at Capernaum and expels an evil spirit from a man.

Friday, January 27, 2012

From the martyrology - St John Chrysostom (Jan 27)

"St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, confessor and doctor of the Church, and the heavenly patron of preachers, who fell asleep in the Lord on the 14th of September.  His holy body was brought to Constantinople on this day in the reign of Theodosius the younger; it was afterwards taken to Rome and placed in the basilica of the Prince of the Apostles."

You can read Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience on this important Doctor of the Church here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

From the martyrology: SS Polycarp and Paula (Jan 26)

In the Office today we celebrate the feast of St Polycarp:

"St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and martyr, who gained the crown of martyrdom on the 23rd of February."
St Paula and her daughter with St Jerome
Francisco de Zurbaran, c1638-40

The martyrology also lists, however, St Paula (347-404), who assisted St Jerome in his translation work and established a monastery for men and women in Bethlehem:

"At Bethlehem of Judea, the death of St. Paula, widow, mother of St. Eustochium, a virgin of Christ, who abandoned her worldly prospects, though she was descended from a noble line of senators, distributed her goods to the poor, and retired to our Lord's manger, where, endowed with many virtues, and crowned with a long martyrdom, she departed for the kingdom of heaven.  Her admirable life was written by St. Jerome."

St Jerome wrote a life of her, and a number of their letters also survive.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ordo notes for the week of January 22

Codex Egberti, c10th

This Sunday is the Third Sunday after Epiphany in the EF/traditional Benedictine calendar, and the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time in the OF.

This week in the traditional Benedictine and EF calendars

This Sunday's Gospel is St Matthew 8:1-13, Our Lord heals a leper and the Centurion's servant.
Ordinary Form calendar

This week's Gospel is St Mark 1:14-20.
  • Tuesday 22 January, St Frances de Sales;
  • Wednesday 23 January, The Conversion of St Paul; St Cadoc (English Congregation);
  • Thursday, January 26: SS Angela Merici, Timothy and Titus (OF); St. Robert, St. Alberic and St. Stephen, abbots of Citeaux - Optional Memorial (Benedictine Confed);
  • Saturday, January 28: St Thomas Aquinas.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Benedictine FAQ's Part II: Is there such a thing as "the Order of St Benedict"?

I want to continue today, my series of Frequently Asked Questions about the Benedictine Order and its spirituality.  As I've previously flagged, a key issue whether there is in fact any such thing as the "order of St Benedict'!

If you hunt around Benedictine websites and books, particularly those of recent decades, one of the more bemusing things to stumble across are assertions to the effect that there is no such thing as the Order of St Benedict. 

It is often followed by claims that St Benedict had no intention of forming an order, and that the saint is not the founder in any real sense, of monasteries claiming to be Benedictine.

Are these claims correct?  Personally I don't think so. 

Here is why.

The 'Order of St Benedict' has, for centuries, appeared in the lists of historico-canonical precedence for religious orders put out annually by the Vatican in its annual statistics book, Annuario Pontificio, and is listed as having been founded in the sixth century for this purpose.   It still appears in the modern version, under Institutes of Consecrated Life. 

So if there is no such thing as the Benedictine Order, it would appear to be news to the Vatican!

Canon law and the Order of St Benedict

But let's take a look at the arguments of those who claim there is no such thing as the Order of St Benedict. 

Take for example, Fr Luke Dysinger OSB's version of the storyline, which pretty well encapsulates most of the standard arguments. 

He starts his treatment of the subject by saying:

"PREPARE yourself for a shock: from the perspective of canon law there is no such thing as "The Benedictine Order."

That's sort of true. 

But only because, in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there is no longer such a thing as a 'religious order' at all, technically speaking! 

I'm not a canonist, but the old 1917 Code of Canon Law (and pre-1917 canonical conventions) did talk about religious orders, and basically defined membership of them in terms of those religious who took solemn (as opposed to simple) vows. 

What made a religious a member of a religious order prior to 1983, rather than a 'religious congregation', in other words, was not a matter of how they were centrally organized, but about the effects of their vows.

And on that definition of course, most, though not all, Benedictines were considered members of a religious order (the story is complicated by the existence of active, missionary institutes, and the loss of the right to take solemn vows by American Benedictine women's monasteries).

It is true though that the 1983 Code however drops all these older distinctions and talks only about Institutes of Consecrated Life.  Still, if you are going to talk about religious orders, then the weight of ecclesial tradition would suggest that 'the Order of St Benedict' certainly is one'!

The arguments don't just rest on canonical history or technicalities, however.

The early history of the Benedictine 'order'

Fr Dysinger goes on to argue that there is no order because Benedictine monasticism predates the very concept:

"Are you surprised? You should be. After all, everyone knows that O.S.B., the letters which Benedictine monastics (sisters, nuns and monks) sign after their names stand for Ordine Sancti Benedicti - the Order of St. Benedict. However, there is no Benedictine "Order." There were Benedictine monks and nuns long before anyone spoke of religious orders: in fact, for several centuries, Benedictine monasticism was the only form of religious life in the Western Church. Benedictines are thus much older than the concept of a religious order."

But is it really true that Benedictine monasticism was the only form of religious life in the Church for several centuries?  Well actually no.

In fact of course there were a wide variety of forms of religious life, and many different rules (and collections of rules) in use throughout the first millennium of the churches life.

Indeed, when the Benedictines, at the time of Pope St Pius V, tried to argue for precedence for the Order over all later comers using just the type of argument adduced by Fr Luke, that claim was rejected in favour of the Canons Regular of St Augustine on the basis that their rule was dated earlier, and two popes ruled the canons regular concept at least in fact had apostolic origins!  To this day, the Annuario Pontificio credits them as having been founded in the fourth century.

Does continuity matter?

Some argue that one of the reasons for rejecting the idea that there is an 'order of Benedict' is that there is no clear chain of continuity from the founder himself down through history.  The continuity, they argue, rests only within individual Benedictine Congregations.

It should be noted first that Pope Pius V's sixteenth century ruling on the precedence of the Augustinians didn't rest on any claim of continuity, because there was none in their case!  After the death of St Augustine, Africa was largely lost to Christianity, and there is no evidence that his concept of organising the priests of a diocese in a quasi-monastic way survived that destruction.  Rather, the Augustinian Canons were a later revival of the charism.  So even if it were true, as some have argued, that Benedictine monasticism is a Carolingian invention (a view I for one reject!), that doesn't mean that there is no such thing as the Benedictine Order.

I also think a reasonably strong case for some considerable degree of continuity in the Benedictine charism can actually be made.  The case rests, it is true, partly on an oral tradition written down much later, partly on extrapolation from what we do know.  But the counter-argument basically starts from a hermeneutic of suspicion: if a hard document such as a charter can't be produced proving that the rule was passed on by a disciple of St Benedict and used, then it clearly didn't happen.  Yet we know perfectly well that very little of the records of this period have survived.  But what has is consistent with the traditional storyline of how the Order spread!  In any case, I've set out some of the possible links in the chain my series on St Benedict for the Novena leading up to his feastday. 

In fact I think in many ways a stronger case for continuity in the Benedictine Order can be made for the earlier period than for more recent times.  The founder of the nineteenth century revival of Benedictine Monasticism, for example, Dom Prosper Gueranger, didn't even meet his first Benedictine monk until four years after his the foundation of his monastery.  And that meeting (with the English Congregation monk, Dom William Ullathorne) was on the road to Rome where Gueranger did a whole fortnight by way of 'noviciate' at St Paul Without-the Walls before making his solemn profession and being formally appointed Abbot of Solesmes!

I'm not suggesting that there was in reality no continuity with the earlier form of the Benedictine charism in the case of Solesmes: quite the contrary.  In fact Dom Gueranger and his monks undertook detailed studies of earlier monastic customs and interpretations of the Rule.  But the continuity in the end came mostly from living the Rule, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not some notional apprenticeship system down the centuries!

Lack of a central organizational structure

Another argument often put is that the real distinction between Benedictines and other religious orders has to do with organizational structures.  Dysinger says:

"THE TERM "religious order" usually implies an international structure in which common observance is maintained through submission to a single authority figure, usually a "superior general." Benedictines have never had such a structure. That is, there has never been a single abbot who could claim jurisdiction over all Benedictine monasteries. Only the Holy Father in Rome can claim that privilege."

It is true that Benedictines lack a central governing structure with the sort of powers that many other orders give to a superior general. 

You can't just set up a monastery and claim to be members of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) for example, unless the official order accepts you.  Mind you, of course, these days there are more than a few Dominicans by any other name (such as the traditionalist Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer) who don't call themselves OP, but do claim the spirituality!

By contrast, you can (in theory at least; in practice the bishop and/or the Holy See will need some convincing that you really are Benedictine) set up a Benedictine monastery and write OSB after your names without the agreement of any official Benedictine central governing body. 

There is, it is true, a 'Benedictine Confederation' (established in the nineteenth century) which monasteries and groups of monasteries can affiliate with. 

But there are also more than a few very prominent, indisputably Benedictine monasteries, that are not, or have not been until very recently (such as Le Barroux for example) members of it.

It is also true that many do think of religious orders as highly centralized affairs with a central governing body. But in reality, there are others who, like the Benedictines, do not have such a structure - including those old rivals, the Augustinian Canons - yet have always been accepted as religious orders

The root of the problem: agreeing on what it means to be Benedictine!

The root cause of the modern reluctance to lay claim to being an order in any real sense, I would suggest, goes to some very longstanding, often quite bitter, and in many cases still unresolved disputes about just what the nature of the Benedictine 'Black Monk' charism really is.

When it comes down to it, when we talk about a particular religious order, we usually really mean a distinctive spirituality and mode of operation associated with a particular founder or foundress.  Benedictines have always been extremely diverse, but the last several decades have seen major divides in most religious orders as to just what their charism really is.  And some, I would suggest, just don't want to be associated with certain other views of Benedictine spirituality...

In reality the first grouping of monasteries to look like the later religious orders, in the sense of having a central governing authority and many closely regulated offshoots, was arguably the Cluniac Congregation of Benedictines, founded in the tenth century. 

And the first really public great debate on the nature of the Benedictine charism was in the twelfth century between the Cluniacs (particularly under Peter the Venerable) and the Cistercians (particularly under Bernard of Clairvaux).  So great was the divide between the two interpretations of the Rule, that the Cistercians became a separate religious order(s) to the Black Monks.

In reality, many of the issues debated back then and down the centuries in subsequent outbreaks of hostilities within the Order about what it means to follow the Rule are still much contested. 

There are those, for example, who have held, from the nineteenth century revival onwards, that the Benedictine charism is strictly contemplative, and that those congregations or monasteries who undertake active apostolic works should be considered oblates only, not monks or nuns.  This view gained ground in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with more than a few monasteries of women in particular being forced to either abandon their limited apostolic works (such as schools within the cloister) or lose the right to make solemn vows. Others, however, point out that the Benedictine charism has historically embraced a very wide variety of forms indeed, and point to the early missionary tradition!

The ins and outs of the various debates on the nature of the charism  are perhaps best left for possible future posts.

Suffice it to suggest that the tradition of the fiercely guarded autonomy of individual monasteries and/or congregations, and resistance to central authority, is a reaction to the Order's long history.


All the same, there surely is such as thing as the 'Order of St Benedict' - after all, would so many write it after their names if it doesn't actually mean anything?

But do let me know if you agree or not, or want more detail or references for any of the points I've made.

And if you have suggestions for future FAQs to cover, do let me know.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Notes on the Office for the week of January 15

Duccio di Buononsegna, the Marriage at Cana
Epiphanytide is now over and we are now back in 'time throughout the year'!

Second Sunday after Epiphany

The Epiphany themes, however, are not altogether left behind in the Sundays after Epiphany (which, once upon a time was a distinct season), as this post on the Second Sunday after Epiphany) explains. This week's Gospel tells the story of the wedding at Cana.

Saints this week in the traditional Benedictine Office and EF

The saints celebrated in this week's Office are:
  • Monday 16 Jan - Pope St Marcellus I (pope from May 308 to 309) - he died not long after being banished by the Emperor Maxentius;
  • Tuesday 17 Jan - St Anthony (251-356), made famous by St Athanasius' life, which did much to promote monastic life in both the East and West;
  • Wednesday 18 January - commemoration of St Priscus, martyred under the Emperor Claudius, in the EF only.  The Feast of St Peter's Chair was also formerly celebrated on this day;
  • Thursday 19 January – SS Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abachum, a family from Persia martyred in Rome under the Emperor Aurelian;
  • Friday 20 January - SS Fabian and Sebastian.  St Fabian was Pope from 236 to 250 when he was martyred; St Sebastian was a layman martyred under Diocletian;
  • Saturday 21 January - St Agnes, one of the saints mentioned in the Roman canon.
In some places and Benedictine monasteries, Saturday is also the feast of St Meinrad OSB, a swiss monk killed by thieves attempting to raid a shrine at his monastery in 861.

Ordinary Form calendar

In the Ordinary Form, this Sunday is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The Ordinary Form General Calendar also celebrates St Anthony, SS Fabian and Sebastian and St Agnes this week.

The OSB General Calendar (1975) also celebrates the feast of SS Maurus and Placid on January 15 (in the traditional calendar, their feast is in October).

The English Congregation also celebrate the feast of St Wulfstan OSB, Bishop of Worcester (d 1095) on January 19.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Order of St Benedict FAQs, Part I

This is a slightly edited version of an article originally posted on my Australia Incognita blog which mysteriously started getting a lot of hits last year (I'd love to know who was recommending it?), so I thought it might be useful to repost it here.

It was essentially written to counter some misinformation and misunderstandings about the Order of St Benedict that I'd heard, so doesn't pretend to be either comprehensive or systematic! 

I do plan to do more parts of this though (starting of the question of whether there is such a thing as 'the order of St Benedict'!), so do let me know if you have any particular questions you'd like answered about Benedictine spirituality or the nature of the Benedictine Order/monastic practices, and I'll see what I can do!

Please do feel free to provide corrections or additional information, or to comment and disagree on my take on the subject!

1. Do Benedictine nuns have to practice papal enclosure?

No, not necessarily. Strict papal enclosure was imposed on all female religious after the Council of Trent as a way of responding to Protestant propaganda about religious, but (unlike many other Orders such as Franciscan, Dominican and Carmelite nuns) it was not part of the original charism.

St Benedict certainly encouraged a strict division from the world for both his monks and nuns, but a good case can be made that the charism was originally for the 'mixed life' rather than strictly contemplative (his monks acted as chaplains to nearby communities, and their immediate successors, both monks and nuns, included many missionaries; and St Benedict's emphasis on hospitality is pretty much incompatible with strict enclosure) of the type allowed for under current canon law as 'constitutional enclosure'.

In fact the most famous story we have about the first Benedictine nuns concerns St Scholastica's annual trip to visit her brother St Benedict at the foot of his monastery, something certainly not possible under papal enclosure.

St Benedict's Rule (except for the section on priests) in principle applies equally to men and women, and includes provisions on how to behave outside the monastery, rituals for long journeys, and instructions on dealing with guests within the monastic enclosure.

In the nineteenth century revival of monasticism, the charism split two ways - in the US Benedictine nuns became actives, and lost the right to solemn profession, whereas most of their European sisters accepted papal enclosure. Today canon law allows more leeway, and while some traditional nuns (such as Le Barroux) continue the tradition of strict papal enclosure, others (such as Jouques), while maintaining the forms of enclosure (grille and parlour so forth) take turns at extern duties, and practice hospitality in the spirit of the Rule.

2. How is the seeming affluence of some Benedictines compatible with the vow of poverty?

Actually, Benedictines don't technically make a vow of poverty (though it is certainly encompassed in the vows they do make) - they actually promise stability, conversion of life, and obedience, in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict.

And there is an interesting difference between Benedictines and Franciscans. St Francis wanted his friars to both be poor and look poor - to wear patched habits and so forth. St Benedict by contrast instructed his monks to wear the patched habits within the monastery - but when going outside on a journey, to be given a nicer outfit stored up for the purpose.

Similarly, Benedictines generally wear choir cowls over their normal habit in Church to present a nicer face to the outside world. Benedictine poverty and austerity, in other words, was to be practiced in secret within the monastery, but not to be made obvious to the outside world. So don't make assumptions about how the monks or nuns are living based on the little glimpses you get to see!

Secondly, though, religious poverty in the Benedictine tradition is about collective ownership of goods - no solemnly professed monk or nun 'owns' anything personally, anything they use is supposed to be allocated to them by the abbot/abbess on the basis of need only. That means that if you give a monk a gift, the abbot decides whether or not he gets it, or it goes to someone else.

3. Can the monastery buy up lots of nice stuff under the guise of common ownership?

It depends!

If we are talking expensive tvs/entertainment equipment, aeroplanes (yes one new Cistercian community, now defunct, actually owned a plane) and the like, then I personally think that is totally inconsistent with the Rule.

St Benedict, after all, specifies a certain degree of austerity - no more clothes than are needed for the locality and type of work done for example.

But the Rule does assume the monastery will spend up big on necessary things - like books in particular, since reading and study is a big part of the life.

He also put a lot of emphasis on adapting the Rule of the monastery to individual needs - if some needed more things in order to persevere in the life, then the abbot should allow what was necessary (and others should not be jealous of whatever privileges they were allowed), since perseverance is far more important than uniformity.

And whereas St Dominic, for example, specified that the chapels of his order should not be filled with expensive items, prohibiting for example the use of silk, Benedictines have always prized beauty, particularly in the worship of God (Cistercians of course, split off in the more austere school of monastic life, with whitewashed chapels instead of wall paintings and so forth).

Benedictines have also traditionally tried to make their monasteries appear attractive - they live in them for life, remember, not wondering about as friars and others do, and shouldn't often leave them. They do not generally get four week overseas holidays a year; or to go out to visit art galleries or attend a concert, or have a meal. Instead their recreation periods are strictly regulated, and are generally communal (typically a group walk). So if they are allowed an occasional more relaxed form of entertainment in the monastery as a special treat, or spend some communal money on entertainment, that's not (necessarily) inconsistent with poverty.

By way of context, it's worth knowing that the most ascetic Order of them all, the Carthusians, filled their monasteries with some of the greatest art works of the middle ages until the Reformation (and subsequent waves of anti-catholic forces) destroyed so many of them.

4. Do the monks/nuns eat the same food as guests?

St Benedict's Rule puts a lot of emphasis on hospitality. The monks were supposed to maintain a separate kitchen (where meat could be served, in contrast to the diet specified for the monastery itself), and the abbot or a senior monk was to dine with the guests. Even the internal fasts of the monastery were to take second place to the duty of hospitality, with an instruction to break the fast in order to dine with a new arrival.

It's an approach that has firm roots in the desert monk tradition, where two visiting monks were scandalized by the rich meal offered to them by a famous monk - they didn't realize that what he offered them was very far from his normal fare.

Within the monastery proper, the Rule specifies a regime of either one or two meals a day depending on the season (but able to be modified by the abbot if the needs of the time and place demand it), with no meat of four-hoofed animals (so birds and fish are ok). The monastic fasts specified by the Rule are generally about how many meals and when the meal is taken (in Lent, the one meal is delayed until the evening, rather than being mid-afternoon for example) rather than quantity consumed.

St Benedict's emphasis was on moderation in food (and other things) rather than strict asceticism (he specifically allows wine with meals for example, even while noting that many see it as unsuitable for monks), and on ensuring that everyone has enough to eat to cope with the other rigours of the life. In this light, over time the Rule has generally been modified somewhat - most monasteries do allow some light breakfast, and many eat at least some red meat (Dom Gueranger didn't think frenchmen could survive without it, so his Solesmes Congregation set the trend)! But most also have regular stricter fasts.

Some men's monasteries allow male guests to eat in the refectory, so you do actually get to see what the monks eat. But elsewhere, if the religious are feeding you, don't assume - what you are consuming in the guesthouse may not be what the monks or nuns are eating (or not eating)!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The week after Epiphany...

c15th book of hours,
Jesus among the doctors

Holy Family or First Sunday after Epiphany?

In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, this Sunday is titled the feast of the Holy Family, and the Monastic Diurnal includes the texts for that feast in the supplement section at the back.  In the universal Benedictine Calendar, however, the Office for Sunday is actually that of the First Sunday after Epiphany.

The Gospel is the same either way: the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple with the doctors.

The reason for this oddity in names is that the Feast of the Holy Family is quite recent - it was instituted in 1893 - and was never picked up by the Benedictines.  The Gospel though, creates provides a bridge between the Adoration of the Nativity and the Baptism of Our Lord on January 13, which marked the end of the old Octave of the Epiphany.

You can read more on this in my post from last year on the subject.

Epiphanytide and the Commemoration of Our Lord's Baptism (Friday, January 13)

This week we are in epiphanytide, which uses texts that are the remnants of the old Octave.

The major feast of this week, the commemoration of Our Lord's baptism marks the formal end of Christmastide (of which epiphanytide is a part) in the liturgical calendar, and a move into 'time throughout the year'.

Saints in the calendar this week

This week's saints in the Benedictine Calendar are:
Another great saint, whose feast is included this week (January 12) in the calendar of the English Congregation, is St Benet Biscop, a great saint for the traditionally inclined, who played a key role in the preservation of Western civilization in the 'dark ages'.

As a monk he had a reputation as being pious, ascetic, learned and holy. He is particularly honoured as the founder of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth whose Church still stands and Jarrow, where he was St Bede the Venerable's first abbot.

But his particular interest is the way his fascinating career illustrates the cross-fertilization of cultural currents at the time, and his work in importing books and skills to England where they were preserved and re-exported back to the Continent a century later.  Do go and read my full post on him.

Ordinary Form calendar

In the Ordinary Form, the Benedictine calendar this week includes the optional memorial of St Gregory of Nyssa (January 10).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Feast of Epiphany (January 6)

Vicente Gil, 1498-1519
January 6 is, in some countries, as well as in the Extraordinary Form, the feast of the Epiphany. 

Christmastide and the date of the feast

In many more places, unfortunately, where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is celebrated this coming Sunday instead.  And that is unfortunate, because the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany (the word means manifestation) on January 6 is very ancient as a decree of the Holy See dating back to 376 attests.

It marks, among other things, the end of the traditional twelve days of Christmas, and is traditionally one of the great feasts around which the Church year is traditionally arranged (with Sundays after the Epiphany).

It is worth noting, though, that Epiphany does not in fact mark the end of the broader Christmas season: the 1963 breviary rubrics split  'de tempore natalicio' into two sections: Nativitytide and Epiphanytide, which runs up to and includes 13 January (ie encompassing the old and now abolished octave of the Epiphany).

Manifestations of the divinity of Our Lord

The Feast actually celebrates three different 'manifestations' of our Lord's divinity:
  • the visit of the Wise Men from the East (the primary focus of the liturgy of the feast of the Epiphany);
  • the baptism of Our Lord by St John the Baptist (especially remembered on the old octave day in the feast of the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 13; and
  • the changing of wine into water at the wedding feast of Cena.
It is perhaps worth noting that the recent publication of an early account of the Magi's journey, The Revelations of the Magi, which suggests that there were in fact quite a large group of wise men who travelled to worship the Christ child, in no way contradicts the Gospel, which is silent on the size of the group...

The feast is rich in devotional traditions, including the blessing of holy water (of the 'super-charged' variety!), frankinsense, gold and chalk (to be used in the annual blessing of your house).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Make reading the Benedictine Rule daily a new year's resolution!

A Benedictine spiritual practice that you might want to consider adopting (or picking up again) is to read a section of the Rule of St Benedict each day.

St Benedict's Rule, probably written for his monastery of Monte Cassino before the death of the saint in 547, was originally primarily a legislative work, setting out the broad outlines for how a monastery should work for the benefit of novices.  But it has proved remarkably durable - adaptable to many times and places, and able to be used as a spiritual guide by religious, priests and laity alike.

Because St Benedict wanted the Rule to be read to novices three times before profession in full, it became the custom, maintained in many monasteries up to this day, to divide it up into daily sections so as to read it aloud in chapter (traditionally said immediately after Prime) three times a year.  Many oblates and others have likewise adopted this custom, and you can find an online edition of the Rule divided up for daily reading here (the website will send you a daily email if requested).

It is helpful to read it with a good commentary.  You can find links to Simon's Commentary for Oblates and Dom Delatte's classic commentary in the sidebar at the right.  But for something online, I'd suggest a read of that by Abbot Philip Lawrence of Christ in the Desert Monastery.  It is aimed at monks, and you may not agree with all of it, but it provides some very solid food for thought.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Notes on the Ordo for the week of 1 January

Simone Martini, 1333

I'm going to experiment a little this year with the format and content of my notes on the saints of the calendar - please do let me know whether or not you like it, or any suggestions you may have.

In particular, rather than repeat previous notes on individual saints, in most cases I will simply provide a link to relevant posts from previous years or material on other sites.  Hopefully that will provide some space to add in a few posts on saints from various calendars, as well as other material on Benedictine spirituality...

The liturgical seasons

Up until the evening of January 5 (with I Vespers of the Epiphany) the season is still Christmas (nativitytide), and you can find the texts (chapters, versicles, hymns etc) for this season (Jan 2-5) in the Monastic Diurnal from page 119*. 

The proper texts for Epiphanytide (Jan 7-12), remnants of the now abolished Octave of the Epiphany, are on MD 133*ff. 

If however, you are following the Ordinary Form calendar (or in a place where the 'external solemnity' is transferred to the nearest Sunday) be aware that Epiphany is celebrated this year on January 8.

Note also that Saturdays Office is of Our Lady, said according to the 'After Christmas' rubrics.


Epiphany aside (on which I will post later in the week), the only feast in the universal Benedictine calendar this week is the memorial of St Titus (celebrated on another date entirely in the Roman EF calendar).

In the Extraordinary Form, however, January 2 (January 3 in the Ordinary Form as an optional memorial) is a feast day.  For my previous comments on this, and notes on how to say the Office for the feast, see my previous discussion of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Also in the Ordinary Form, January 7 is the optional memorial of St Raymond of Penyafort.

In some countries and Benedictine Congregations this week also sees the feasts of St Elizabeth Anne SetonSt Andre Bessette and/or St John Neumann.