The Lord’s Prayer and the Liturgical Code in the Rule of St Benedict

Today’s feast of St Ignatius of Antioch is one I have written about many times, but I don’t think I have ever really thought about it in the context of today’s reading from the Rule of St Benedict, RB 13. 12–14, which gives the reasons for ending the offices of Lauds and Vespers with the Lord’s Prayer said or sung out loud.

Benedict was clear-eyed about community life and knows how often we offend one another. However, we make a solemn pledge in the Lord’s Prayer to forgive one another, and Benedict insists that we remind ourselves of this covenant of forgiveness frequently and always at the end of the two peak periods of the Divine Office, Lauds and Vespers. It is the superior who is to recite the prayer, not because he is set above the brethren but because he must provide the unity and leadership the community needs. We give our assent by saying Libera nos a malo – deliver us from evil.

The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is not a mere matter of routine, the expected ending of a Christian service of worship: it goes to the heart of the monastic enterprise. We seek God in community under a rule and an abbot. That means frank acknowledgement of failure and a readiness to begin again — and allowing others to begin again, too. At the other offices, most of the prayer is said silently, except for the conclusion. For myself, I find in that a reminder that we do not always have to articulate everything, that sometimes forgiveness is better mediated through an accepting silence rather than an attempt to clear up every detail of misunderstanding and hurt.

Ignatius of Antioch left us seven letters which breathe charity and forgiveness. He remarks of the soldiers who guarded him that the better they were treated, the worse they seemed to behave; but that did not stop him trying to treat them well. He met a martyr’s death with courage. ‘I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.’ May we too meet the challenge of being transformed by grace as he was. We can start by making the Lord’s Prayer the rhythm of our lives.

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The Whole Assembly of Charity

Thinking about today’s feast, that of the Lateran Basilica, I was struck by a phrase used by St Ignatius in the second century and often quoted in reference to it. He refers to the Church as ‘the whole assembly of charity.’ (Ep. ad Rom. Pref.) The one thing everyone knows about Christianity is that it is, or should be, characterised by love and forgiveness. Alas, that is not always the experience people outside have of the Church — and by ‘Church’, I mean you and me and all our fellow Christians. It is not always the experience of those inside the Church, either. We can be harsh, unkind, even cruel. We justify our behaviour by appealing to a higher purpose (one we have decided for ourselves, of course) or excuse ourselves (ourselves, please note, not usually the other person) by saying we are only human. We are indeed human, and to be fully human is to strive to be all the things we most admire in Jesus Christ our Lord. If we look at the Church, big ‘C’ or little ‘c,’ and don’t see ‘the whole assembly of charity’ in any meaningful sense, we should take ourselves to task. Charity — love — is the one thing that cannot hurt another, the one thing that lasts for ever.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

St Ignatius of Antioch: an Encouragement from Apostolic Times

The feast of St Ignatius of Antioch seems to become more poignant year by year. He is so close to the sources of our faith. He knew St John the Apostle and had important things to say about ecclesiology, the role of bishops, and the sacraments. It was he who coined the phrase ‘the Catholic Church’ we still use today, and his Letters remain a wonderful source of encouragement. But there is a darker side. After five years of brutal war in Syria, who would not find uncomfortably familiar what he says of his captivity:

From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated. (Letter to the Romans, 5)

The leopards proved real enough when he finally reached Rome and was tossed straight into the arena where the words he had uttered previously became fact:

I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.

There is something heartening about such clear-eyed faith, and I must admit I have often thought of Ignatius as an encouragement to those of us with cancer or any other terminal illness. I cannot identify with all those brave, smiling people in the glossy magazine articles that seem to be appearing everywhere this month. For me, the unpredictability of such diseases is one of their worst aspects. One can feel nearly normal one day, utterly exhausted the next. Mood swings and treatment take their toll; and even if one has survived longer than expected, as I have, there is always the thought that one’s last day may overtake one like the proverbial thief in the night. Ignatius lived his whole life trembling on the brink of eternity. He knew what his end would be, yet he looked forward in faith and hope. That is what I find so encouraging. No nonsense about a pardon or release; no false hope; no ‘bucket list’ of things he wanted to do before he died; just a quiet acceptance that everything — everything — came within the dispensation of God’s mercy; that just going on, as best he could, was his way to become ‘the pure bread of Christ’. May he pray for us all, especially those who suffer in Syria today.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

St Ignatius of Antioch: a Favourite Saint

St Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast we celebrate today, has always been one of my favourite saints. He is one of the five so-called Apostolic Fathers, and was martyred at Rome very early in the second century A.D. According to legend, he was one of the children Jesus took in his arms and blessed. More certainly, he wrote seven letters which are important for the history of Christian theology and was, incidentally, the first to use the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning ‘universal’/’complete’/’whole’ to describe the Church, writing:

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.
(Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8)

His understanding of the bishop’s role is an important element in his ecclesiology. I like, too, his writing on the Eucharist. It always seems to me that Igantius did his theology on his knees, and it is fitting that when he came to die, he saw himself as so much grain, ready to be transformed into that which he most loved:

I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ. (Letter to the Romans)

If you would like to read Ignatius yourself, here are some suggestions you can search out online:

  • The Letter to the Ephesians,
  • The Letter to the Magnesians,
  • The Letter to the Trallians,
  • The Letter to the Romans,
  • The Letter to the Philadelphians,
  • The Letter to the Smyrnaeans,
  • The Letter to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

The Wikipedia article on him is also better than most.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail