Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 38: On the Weekly Reader, November 16, 2016

March 17, July 17, November 16

Chapter 38: On the Weekly Reader

The meals of the sisters should not be without reading.

Nor should the reader be

anyone who happens to take up the book;

but there should be a reader for the whole week,

entering that office on Sunday.

Let this incoming reader,

after Mass and Communion,

ask all to pray for her

that God may keep her from the spirit of pride

And let her intone the following verse,

which shall be said three times by all in the oratory:

“O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth shall declare Your praise.”

Then, having received a blessing,

let her enter on the reading.

And let absolute silence be kept at table,

so that no whispering may be heard

nor any voice except the reader’s.

As to the things they need while they eat and drink,

let the sisters pass them to one another

so that no one need ask for anything.

If anything is needed, however,

let it be asked for by means of some audible sign

rather than by speech.

Nor shall anyone at table presume to ask questions

about the reading or anything else,

lest that give occasion for talking;

except that the Superior may perhaps wish

to say something briefly for the purpose of edification.

The sister who is reader for the week

shall take a little ablution before she begins to read,

on account of the Holy Communion

and lest perhaps the fast be hard for her to bear.

She shall take her meal afterwards

with the kitchen and table servers of the week.

The sisters are not to read or chant in order,

but only those who edify their hearers.

Some thoughts:

Readers are not like dishwashers! Not everybody has the knack to read out loud, so not everyone is called to do it. The key seems to be that the purpose of this custom is to “edify”, not entertain or provide background noises. Makes a lot of sense, especially in an age when literacy was not a given.

The reading is not necessarily something exotic. Sometimes, it is a  history book, or something else edifying, but not necessarily  “spiritual”, per se (though, of course, ultimately everything really is  “spiritual”, for good or ill). At another larger Abbey with a separate  dining area for its many guests, recordings might be played of  talks by notable contemporary spiritual teachers still set to the same  silent background.

In a world where so many families no longer sit down to eat meals  together, how might this apply to us outside the monasteries? We might not want complete silence and a designated reader, but… could we make an effort to do shared meals more often? Could we somehow make that shared time more edifying by applying a little focus to how we interact? Maybe we could leave the TV off and listen more to each other? There seems to be something to do with “focus” going on here. What do you think?

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