The Covenant of Forgiveness

Once upon a time, and still now in some communities for aught I know, chapters 8 to 19 of the Rule of St Benedict, the so-called Liturgical Code, dealing with the structure of the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), the distribution of psalmody and so on, are omitted from public reading. The reason usually given is that the said communities have adopted a different form of the Divine Office, so there is no point in reading what St Benedict had to say about it. For those of us who do persevere with reading those neglected chapters, there is a very striking and important passage in today’s section, RB 13. 12–14.

Benedict remarks that the Offices of Lauds and Vespers should never end without the superior’s finally reciting the Lord’s Prayer. No surprise there, you might think. What Christian service does not include the Lord’s Prayer as a matter of course? But note the following.

First, it falls to the superior as promoter of peace and unity within the community, to say or sing the prayer aloud, not the community as a whole, though we are all expected to join in at the end with ‘deliver us from evil’, even at the lesser Offices where the bulk of the prayer is said silently. (RB 13.12). Second, the reason given for the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is ‘the removal of those thorns of scandal or mutual offence’ that are apt to occur in community (RB 13. 12). How true that is! Finally, we come to the stinger: we are reminded that we make a covenant of forgiveness by saying the Lord’s Prayer (RB 13. 13). A covenant is a solemn, unbreakable agreement. We ask forgiveness as we ourselves forgive, so any tendency to reserve just a teeny weeny bit of unforgiveness, to put the other on probation as it were or harbour a little resentment or grudge, rebounds on our own head.

During this time of COVID-19 pandemic many people have taken to singing ‘Happy birthday’ twice over as they wash their hands. Personally, I have used the Lord’s Prayer. It takes the same amount of time, and the fact that it accompanies the washing of hands has acted as a reminder both of the Lord’s forgiveness and our need to forgive and accept the forgiveness of others. It doesn’t make it any easier, but constant dripping may wear away the heart of stone — even one’s own.

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7 thoughts on “The Covenant of Forgiveness”

  1. Wonderful idea. I’ll try it! Thank you dear Sister. I’m gaining excellent advice … from St Benedict – and from you – and from the Lord’s Prayer.

  2. I hope this doesn’t sound irreverent or frivolous but I have always said the Lord’s Prayer while using the hand dryer at work or wherever I find myself. Now I’m mostly at home I have lost this practice so thank you for your suggestion!

  3. That’s really interesting. I sometimes suffer from mild palpitations if I’m anxious or worried and silently saying the Lord’s Prayer is usually very effective at calming me down. (It is good for timing hand-washing too, I agree. 😉 )

  4. Amen! I try to close each night with the Lords prayer…unfortunately…i always have a long list of offenses i need to be forgiven for….a temper towards injustice and uncaring attitudes…which in turn causes more thorns….when has indignation and accusations ever helped someone to change their behaviors??? For longterm progress…like water on the stone as you say…i pray for Gods touch on my heart and his hand on my mouth…and to let action preach the message. Thank you for a timely meditation……Bless you for the time you take to write for all of us….

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