The Liturgical Code of the Rule of St Benedict

Why read a sequence of chapters which do little more than spell out how psalms, readings and canticles are to be arranged in the Divine Office, given that few Benedictine monasteries now follow Benedict’s original schema? Indeed, some communities omit the chapters altogether, and I know of at least one translation of the Rule (made by  a monk, forsooth) that consigns them to an appendix. The answer we give says a great deal about how we understand the Rule as a whole, and the place of chapters 8 to 20 within it.

Monks and nuns are not canons or canonesses. Singing the praises of God is something we do, but it does not define what we are. We are professional seekers of God, if you like, for whom prayer, work, lectio divina and the common life are, so to say, compass-points. The prayer of the Divine Office orders our day, sanctifying each hour, reminding us over and over again why we are here, why we have embarked on this quest. It answers the human question ad quid venisti? and it allows scope for the divine answer to permeate our being. The liturgical code may make dull reading, with its catalogue of psalm numbers and its references to standing for this and sitting for that, but reading it again and again makes it impossible ever to forget that there is only one way to God: that which he has chosen for us. As St Benedict says at the end of his Rule:

Keep with Christ’s help this little rule for beginners, and then at last, under God’s protection, you will attain the more exalted heights of wisdom and virtue described above. Amen.

That ‘Amen’ turns the wish into a prayer, just as the liturgical code turns the whole of monastic life into one.