Mar. 27 – July 27 – Nov. 26
Chapter 47: On Giving the Signal for the Time of the Work of God
The indicating of the hour for the Work of God
by day and by night
shall devolve upon the Abbot
either to give the signal himself
or to assign this duty to such a careful brother
that everything will take place at the proper hours.
Let the Psalms and the antiphons be intoned
by those who are appointed for it,
in their order after the Abbot.
And no one shall presume to sing or read
unless he can fulfill that office
in such a way as to edify the hearers.
Let this function be performed
with humility, gravity and reverence,
and by him whom the Abbot has appointed.
I hope by now we all understand that by “work of God” Benedict refers to the daily prayer which takes place at various times throughout the day and night.
This passage reminds me of training to be a lay minister and how those who train us are extremely exacting about the standards to be reached and upheld. All things were indeed to be done with ‘humility, gravity and reverence’, whether in procession, in prayer, reading, preaching or singing. Trainers of lay ministers, like Benedict, encouraged leaders and readers to fulfil their office in such a way as to edify the hearers. It was no use mumbling, or speaking too fast, or not putting meaning into the scripture readings – but on the other hand, these were not to be over-dramatised either (unless there was a rehearsed drama on the order of service). When we processed into church as altar-party, we were to be as graceful as possible, and all turns were
to be made at proper right angles, not sloppily, just ‘drifting’ into our places in the chancel. Needless to say, this stringency wasn’t always appreciated, but in fact, it made such a positive difference to the reverence of the service and to the meaning of the words we heard, said, and responded to. St Paul’s words ‘All things decently and in order’ spring to mind.
I realise that all people are different in personality and in what helps them to worship and come into God’s presence, and there’s certainly a time and place for spontaneity, but having the shape of the service – its skeleton – set solidly in place enables those involved in The Work of God to focus fully and reach that incomparable state where the Lord’s transcendence and immanence are equally present to us, so that in intimacy there is still awe, and in awe there is deep tenderness to be received.
Some time ago I read a Miss Manners column in which the writer sought Miss Manners opinion about the temerity of someone inviting them to a wedding and including a dress code of no bare arms or exposed bosoms, skirts at least knee length and jacket and ties. Miss Manner’s response was a reminder that a church was a place to worship God, not show off couture.
Benedict would agree with Miss Manners.
Something else that came to mind was that Benedict foresaw that there would be those in the community who would most officiously take it upon themselves to determine the proper time for the Work of God.
Makes me think of all the times when I have officiously decided that such and such is up to me. Have any others had moments like that? Has your experience been like mine? That my busyness about whatever produced the opposite of my intention.