Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Matins Patristic Readings**

A reader has kindly alerted me to the fact that the book providing the English version of the Patristic readings for the Benedictine Office is once more in print.

The Matins readings

The book, entitled The Lessons Of The Temporal Cycle And The Principal Feasts Of The Sanctoral Cycle According To The Monastic Breviary was originally published by St Meinrad's Abbey in 1941, and is now available in a reprint (you can find it on Amazon here).

It basically provides the Patristic readings for the second and third nocturns of Matins on Sundays and other days with set Gospels (such as during Lent), together with the readings for most first and second class feasts.  Note though that it doesn't contain the commons of saints, nor does it contain the first nocturn Scriptural readings (though it mostly notes what they are).

There are, I'm afraid some differences to the 1962 readings.  First, the book was compiled before the old octaves were mostly abolished, so the readings given cover the octaves, not the newer texts that often substitute on those days.  Secondly some feasts have been added or abolished since then, and a few readings changed.

Nonetheless, this is a very worthwhile book to obtain if you say Matins (unless your Latin is already superb!), or just want to do lectio divina on the readings for Sundays.

Lectio Divina in the mind of the Church

The patristic readings on the Gospels are, I think, and important resource for us to employ when doing Lectio Divina.  There are many advocates, these days, for just opening the Bible (or your Missal or whatever) and reading it unaided.  That might be fine if you already have a very good grounding in theology, but most of us need a bit more help than that, lest we fall into heresy!

In Verbum Domini, for example, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that:

 "Saint Jerome recalls that we can never read Scripture simply on our own. We come up against too many closed doors and we slip too easily into error." (30)  

In that Exhortation, Pope Benedict argued for the need to employ all four senses of Scripture, and to listen to the interpretations of Scripture provided by the saints:

"The interpretation of sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening 
to those who have truly lived the word of God: namely, the saints.  Indeed, “ viva lectio est vita bonorum ”.  The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation." (48)

The Pope urged us to reappropriate the great Patristic tradition as a guard against individualistic readings of something that is essential a communal property.  Viewing our lectio in the context of the liturgy is one guard against this, but so to is drawing on the tradition of interpretation of Scripture:

"As such, it is important to read and experience sacred Scripture in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium”. (86)

One of the fascinating survivals of the medieval monastic record are the collections of lectio notes left by so many monks.  Many of them are nothing more than anthologies of the Fathers commentaries on the psalms and other texts, along the lines of St Thomas' Catena Aurea on the Gospels.  Others are more developed commentaries such as those of St Bede, that reflect careful study, meditation and prayer.

The readings especially selected for the Office by the Church are an excellent starting point for our own efforts in this area, so do consider obtaining this book, or investigating other such collections and sound commentaries to guide your lectio efforts!

Lectio divina on the psalms

And by way of postscript on the need for study of Scripture under the guidance of the Fathers, I'd like to draw your attention to the latest (Number 3) in the series of Fr Cassian Folsom's talks on Praying Without Ceasing, which very much goes to the need to study the psalm, particularly for their Christocentric, spiritual interpretation, in order to get the most out of the Office. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Praying without ceasing: St Benedict's numerical theology

If you've been listening to the excellent talks on prayer given by Fr Cassian, Prior of the monastery of Norcia, you will know that a lot of this week's talk (the second in the series) deals with the question of how we can be said to pray without ceasing in the context of the Divien Office.

Sacred numbers

Fr Cassian notes that the Fathers, including St Benedict, placed a lot of meaning on numbers.

In particular, he points out that St Benedict uses two numbers to signal completeness or totality -  praying seven times a day in the day hours, and the twelve psalms of Matins (leaving aside the two said daily) - to indicate that the Divine Office enables us to meet this Scriptural injunction.

Seven, he notes, is frequently used in Scripture to denote completeness, or continuous prayer.  And twelve is also used to indicate universality or completeness, for example in the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, the saints in the canon of the Mass and so forth.

Number of psalms in the day

By way of a possible footnote to Fr Cassian's talk for those who enjoy number symbolism, I want to suggest another way in which St Benedict uses numbers to indicate the Office's fulfillment of the requirement to pray continuously.

In particular, I want to suggest that it is not just in the number of psalms he sets for Matins that plays on sacred numerology, but also the other hours of his Office.

Fr Cassian noted St Benedict's reference to the twelve psalms of Matins (RB 10).

But note that the number of psalms said each day at Lauds (except Saturday) is seven - Psalms 66, 50, two psalms of the day, 148, 149, and 150 (RB 12-13).

The number of the psalms (provided you count as a psalm anything said under a Gloria Patri) said at Prime to None is twelve (RB 17).

And the number of psalms said at Vespers (four) and Compline (three) again adds up to seven (RB 17).

And note that in RB 17, the number of psalms is carefully discussed in groupings: Matins and Lauds (already settled); Prime to None; and Vespers and Compline.

So we have a pattern: 12 (+2), 7, 12, 7.

Of course there is a bit of fudging in this but I don't think we should be too fussed at this, but rather consider the point he is trying to make in his modelling of the basic structure of the Office.

Am I onto something or reading too much into it?!

Friday, February 14, 2014

St Valentine (Memorial, Feb 14)

St Valentine is one of a small band of martyrs (along with St Thomas More) who died not least in the defence of the Christian conception of marriage.  Accordingly, a saint to whom we might particularly ask help for those who are attempting to defend the institution once again today.

Martyred during the reign of Claudius II, the saint was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome.

Here is a reading previously used in the Office for his feast, from St Augustine:

The illustrious day whereon the blessed Martyr Valentin conquered, doth this day come round to us again and as the Church doth rejoice with him in his glory, so doth she set before us his footsteps to be followed. For if we suffer, we shall also reign with him. In his glorious battle we have two things chiefly to consider the hardened cruelty of the tormentor, and the unconquered patience of the Martyr the cruelty of the tormentor, that we may abhor it; the patience of the Martyr, that we may imitate it. Hear what the Psalmist saith, complaining against sin: "Fret not thyself because of the evil-doers, for they shall soon dry up like the grass." But touching the patience which is to be shown against the evil-doers, hear the word wherewith the Apostle moveth us Ye have need of patience, that ye may receive the promise. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fr Cassian Folsom OSB conferences on prayer

An alert just in case you missed it - to a series of talks given by Fr Cassian Folsom, Prior of St Benedict's Monastery, Norcia, Italy, on praying without ceasing.   The talks were originally given as a retreat at Still Water Monastery, MA.

The first talk, on the desert Father tradition on praying without ceasing, is available online now from the monastery's website, which also contains further information on them.  A new part in the series of ten will be released each Friday until just before Holy Week.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Feast of St Scholastica OSB (Feb 10, Class I/II)

The Second Nocturn readings for the feast of St Scholastica are from St Gregory's Dialogues, Book II, chapters 33-34:

(Reading 5): The worshipful Scholastica, the sister of our Father Benedict, was hallowed unto the Lord Almighty from a child. Her custom was to come to see her brother once every year. And when she came, the man of God went down unto her, not far from the gate, but, as it were, within the borders of his monastery. And there was a day when she came, as her custom was, and her worshipful brother went down to her, and his disciples with him. Then they passed the whole day together, praising God, and speaking one to the other of spiritual things. And when the night came, they brake bread together. And while they were yet at table, and conversed together on spiritual things, the hour was late. Then the holy woman his sister besought him, saying Leave me not, I pray thee, this night, but let us speak even until morning of the gladness of the eternal life. He answered her: What is it that thou sayest, my sister? I can by no means remain out of my cell. Now the firmament was so clear that there were no clouds in the sky. 

(Reading 6): Then the holy nun, when she had heard the words of her brother, that he would not abide with her, clasped her hands on the table, and laid her face on her hands, and besought the Lord Almighty. And it came to pass that when she lifted up her head from the table, there were great thunderings and lightnings, and a flood of rain, insomuch that neither the worshipful Benedict nor the brethren that were with him could move as much as a foot over the threshold of the place where they sat. Now when the holy woman laid her head in her hands upon the table, she wept bitterly, and as she wept, the clearness of the sky was turned to a tempest. As she prayed, immediately the flood followed. And the time was so, that she lifted up her head when it thundered, and when she had lifted up her head, the rain came. 

(Reading 7): When the man of God saw that he could not return to his monastery, because of the lightnings, and thunderings, and the great rain, he was sorrowful and grieved, saying Almighty God forgive thee, my sister; what is this that thou hast done? She answered him Behold, I besought thee, and thou wouldest not hear; I besought my God, and He hath heard me; if, therefore, thou wilt, go forth, leave me alone, and go thy way to thy monastery. But he could not, and so he tarried in the same place, not willingly, but of necessity. And so it came to pass that they slept not all that night, but fed one another with discourse on spiritual things.

(Reading 8):And when the morning was come, the worshipful woman arose, and went unto her own cell, and the man of God went back to his monastery. And, behold, after three days he was sitting in his cell, and he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and saw the soul of his sister, delivered from the body, fly to heaven in a bodily shape like a dove. Wherefore he rejoiced because of the glory that was revealed in her, and gave thanks to Almighty God in hymns and praises, and made known to the brethren that she was dead. He commanded them also to go and take up her body, and bring it to his monastery, and lay it in the grave which he had made ready for himself. Whereby it came to pass that they twain who had ever been of one mind in the Lord, even in death were not divided.

Friday, February 7, 2014

St Romuald OSB

Today's saint, St Romuald, founded the Camaldolese Congregation of Benedictines.  Here is the Matins reading on him:

Romuald was born of a noble family of Ravenna, his father's name being Sergius. As a young man, he withdrew to the neighboring monastery of Classis to lead a life of penance. There, fired with great eagerness for the love of God and encouraged by an apparition of St. Apollinaris, he became a monk. He exercised himself un-wearyingly in fasting and prayer, and such joy showed on his face that it gladdened all those who saw him. Burning with desire for martyrdom, he set out for Pannonia, but was taken ill and forced to return. He became the founder of the Order of Camaldolese monks, whom he had seen in a vision as Angels mounting a ladder that reached up to heaven. When he had reached the age of a hundred and twenty, having served God in the greatest austerity for a hundred of those years, he at length made his way to Him in the Year of salvation 1027, and was buried with honor in the church of his Order at Fabriano.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Feast of the Purification of Our Lady (Candlemass)


This Sunday we celebrate Candlemass, aka the Purification of Our Lady aka The Presentation in the Temple.  It is normally a Class II feast, but is treated as if it were Class I when it occurs on a Sunday.

The Gospel for the feast is St Luke 2:22-32 (which includes the Nunc Dimittis, the only Office canticle that rarely features in the Benedictine form of the Office), and you can find the Matins readings for it over at my Lectio Divina Blog, along with what I think is the most beautiful setting of the Nunc Dimittis, by Geoffrey Burgon for the British tv series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

This week in the Benedictine Office

Here is a summary of the week in the Office.  You can find further details in the Ordo provided in the sidebar of the blog.

Sunday February 2 - Purification of the BVM, Class II
Monday February 3 - Class IV; St Blase, Memorial
Tuesday February 4 - Class IV [EF: ST Andrew Corsini]
Wednesday February 5 – St Agatha, Class III
Thursday February 6 - Class IV [EF: St Titus]
Friday February 7 – St Romuald, Class III
Saturday February 8 - Class IV, Saturday of Our Lady [EF: St John of Matha]

Change of seasons

Candlemass, as forty days after the birth of Jesus, marks the end of the Christmas season in the Office.

Accordingly, from Sunday, the Marian antiphon at Compline changes to Ave Regina Caelorum (you can listen to a video of Solemn Tone version of the chant, for use on Saturdays, Sundays and major feasts, below).