Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 43: On Those Who Come Late to the Work of God or to Table, November 21, 2016

March 22, July 22, November 21

Chapter 43: On Those Who Come Late to the Work of God or to Table

At the hour for the Divine Office,

as soon as the signal is heard,

let them abandon whatever they may have in hand

and hasten with the greatest speed,

yet with seriousness, so that there is no excuse for levity.

Let nothing, therefore, be put before the Work of God.

If at the Night Office

anyone arrives after the “Glory be to the Father” of Psalm 94 —

which Psalm for this reason we wish to be said

very slowly and protractedly —

let him not stand in his usual place in the choir;

but let him stand last of all,

or in a place set aside by the Abbot for such negligent ones

in order that they may be seen by him and by all.

He shall remain there until the Work of God has been completed,

and then do penance by a public satisfaction.

the reason why we have judged it fitting

for them so stand in the last place or in a place apart

is that,

being seen by all,

they may amend for very shame.

For if they remain outside of the oratory,

there will perhaps be someone who will go back to bed and sleep

or at least seat himself outside and indulge in idle talk,

and thus an occasion will be provided for the evil one.

But let them go inside,

that they many not lose the whole Office,

and may amend for the future.

At the day Hours

anyone who does not arrive at the Work of God

until after the verse

and the “Glory be to the Father” for the first Psalm following it

shall stand in the last place,

according to our ruling above.

Nor shall he presume to join the choir in their chanting

until he has made satisfaction,

unless the Abbot should pardon him and give him permission;

but even then the offender must make satisfaction for his fault.

Some thoughts

Since we all live in some sort of community it’s very hard to hide our faults and failings from the others who share our life. They can react to our faults and failings with censure, rejection and punishment or with understanding, inclusion and encouragement to improve. The RB in this section seems to be looking at the latter option. Specifically, Benedict does not want the latecomer to remain outside, but to come in and join the rest of the community in the Work of God. There is no rejection here, but inclusiveness. It’s even laid down that the psalm should be said very slowly and protractedly to give a chance to someone who’s been delayed to get there before its end. And yet, the offender ‘must make satisfaction for his fault’, and until he does, he is not to ‘presume to join the choir in their chanting’. This is an encouragement to the offender to mend his ways and to be sure to come early, or at least on time, on future occasions.

There is emphasis on the fact that the Divine Office is the Work of God. If we come late are we not giving offence to God as well as to our fellows? And yet, God welcomes even the latecomer – think of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Some started work early in the morning and knew they would receive a gold coin for their labours. Others came just before sunset, and although they had worked such a short space of time, they still received the gold coin for their labours. We are left to assume that any worker who turned up after the gold coins had been distributed would not have received one, because no work at all had been performed!

‘Liturgy’ actually means ‘the work of the people’, but I think we’ve mostly lost all connection with the idea of church services as being ‘work’, something that we do – and furthermore do for God. It’s become a matter of choice as to when we go to a service, and at what time we arrive for it. We’re inclined to be critical if the service doesn’t follow our desired pattern; people leave church saying ‘I didn’t get anything out of that this morning.’ Yet it’s not the measure we get out that we should be concerned with, but the measure we put in. I have been known to say worship is a particapatory and not a spectator sport. Our contribution is work for God and for the community. Together, in harmony with our community or congregation, the Work of God becomes ever more beautiful, a lovely offering – even sacrifice – that can be compared with the woman who broke a vial of precious perfume over the Lord. That woman wasn’t thinking, ‘I didn’t get much from Jesus this morning’, she was just so joyful that she’d had something to give to **him**.

It’s good to have a regular appointment with God, because in our busy lives it’s the easiest thing in the world to put him to one side while we get on with ‘urgent tasks’ or try to recover from a heavy workload by sleeping late, thus arriving late or altogether missing an opportunity for Divine Office – or even private prayer. But we’re usually not accountable to an abbot or a community so we lapse into further bad habits. What I really appreciated about being part of a vibrant faith community was the sense of accountability it gave me; church attendance wasn’t about my feelings or even my circumstances but about the fact that I would be missed if I wasn’t there, that a little part of the pattern of praise would have a hole in it. Not that I was indispensable, but that in a close-knit community one is instinctively aware of gaps. Waiting for someone to arrive who’s usually there can be a huge distraction, and one goes on hoping that maybe the missing person will arrive in time for the Eucharist even if not there for the opening worship. It seems that today’s reading has something like this in mind.


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