Friday, November 29, 2013

CHAPTERS 15: Concerning the Occasions When ‘Alleluia’ Should be Said

Then from holy Easter until Pentecost let the Alleluia be said without exception—with the psalms and with the responses.  However, on all Sundays outside of Lent, let the canticles, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, and None be said with Alleluia. Let Vespers be said with the antiphon; but let the responses never be said with Alleluia (except from Easter to Pentecost).

Saint Benedict devotes a whole chapter to this one word: Alleluia.
During Easter especially, the monks sing Alleluia like it was going out of style.  We sing it during the opening prayers and during the psalm responses, in hymns and before the gospel, at all the hours of the Divine Office and even before we go to bed at night.  There’s Alleluia all over the place.  It’s like a big truck of Alleluia overturned in our driveway and we’ve been swimming in it ever since.  “Of all the Christian mysteries,” says Saint Leo the Great, “we know that the paschal mystery is the most important.”  So we respond with the Alleluia, which is our song of triumph and joy.
            There is time, of course, for meditating on the sufferings of Our Lord.  After all, Saint Paul instructs us always to keep our eyes fixed on Christ crucified.  And to be sure, no Christian church—no Christian home—is complete without a crucifix.  But adoration, thanksgiving, praise, and blessing are what it’s all about, and these, Saint John the evangelist tells us, will be dissolved into a single expression of religious devotion:  “I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven saying: "Alleluia!  Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God…then a second time: "Alleluia!” …then the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, "Amen. Alleluia." …and a voice coming from the throne said: "Praise our God, all you his servants, and you who revere him, small and great." And I heard something like the sound of a great multitude or the sound of rushing water or mighty peals of thunder, as they all said: "Alleluia!”
This is why Holy Mother Church repeats this word throughout her liturgy.  She would have us all be living Alleluias—souls fundamentally ordered to God—obsessively, compulsively God-centered in everything we do.  So the monks repeat this Alleluia again and again throughout the Easter season.  Then we repeat it some more when it’s not the Easter season.  We repeat it and repeat and repeat it until our whole life becomes a hymn of praise to the glory of the Father.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CHAPTER 14: Concerning Saints Days

         On the feasts of the saints and on all solemnities, let the night office be performed as it would be on a Sunday; except that the psalms, the antiphons, and the lessons proper for that day should be said.
I used to worry that being a monk would be boring.  I was wrong.  In fact, I often wish it were more boring than it is.  Even so, the prayers can feel repetitive at times, so the Church in Her wisdom has arranged the liturgical year in such a way that it is punctuated by feasts, fasts, seasons, and solemnities, all of which are accompanied by special devotions and patterns of prayer.  So a ‘normal’ day in the life of a monk turns out to be rather uncommon.  That’s actually pretty great though, because it keeps us on our toes and focused on what we’re doing, which is, after all, the Work of God.
The important thing to remember is that venerating the saints is a way of celebrating the mystery of Christ’s Body.  It is a way to acknowledge that we are all in this together—we, the living members of the Church, but also the deceased members of the Church together with all those who have made it to Heaven.  Traditionally, we refer to these three groups as the Church Militant (us living folk), the Church Suffering (the folks in Purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (the saints in Heaven).
In this way, we remind ourselves of the consoling truth that we are never alone.   We don’t fight this battle in isolation, nor are we saved in isolation, nor do we enter Heaven in isolation.  In other words, it’s not enough merely “to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.”  We humans are social beings.  God Himself is a social being.  We need the support of all our brothers and sisters in Christ—the living ones as well as the dead, who intercede for us even now.[1]

[1] Here are some of my favorite, though lesser-known saints:  Saint Hilarius, Saint Mamas, Saint Blathmac, Saint Radbod, Saint Mungo, Saint Olav the Thick, Saint Wigbert, Saint Wilibald, Saints Boris and Geb, Saint Lando, Saint Rudolph, Saint Barfhion, and my all-time favorite, Saint Tron.  You can go with Anthony or Francis, of course, but I like to think that, since these saints don’t have all that many fans, they’ve got more time to spend listening to me…

Monday, November 11, 2013

CHAPTER 13: How the Office of Lauds is to be Sung on Weekdays

      No community is without friction.  Therefore the morning and evening office should never end without the Lord’s Prayer.  The superior himself should say it in front of everyone so that the brethren will be reminded of their promise when they say “Forgive us as we forgive others.”  In this way, they will cleanse themselves of such failings.

      Saint Benedict insists on saying the Our Father at the beginning and at the end of the day.  Because when you’ve got this many guys living together, there’s bound to be disagreements—even very serious ones.  We need, therefore, to remind ourselves to forgive one another before the day even starts.  Then we need to do it again at the end of the day to be sure we’ve lived up to that promise.  This is an easy monkish practice for anyone to adopt, and I highly recommend it.  As Saint Paul says, “Do not let the sun set on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).  At the end of the day, take an inventory of all the people who have angered you, and forgive them. Then you can go to bed.
      Mind you, forgiveness doesn’t mean hiding your anger or covering it up with pleasant feelings.  Forgiveness is an act of the will, so whether you feel like it or not, you have in fact forgiven your enemies the moment you ask God for the strength to do so.
      A few years ago, I was asked to preach at my best friend’s wedding.  I find it fairly easy preaching to strangers, because they don’t know what a hypocrite I am.  But my friends know about all the trouble I’ve caused.  It’s hard to think of anything serious to tell them.  So I did what I always do when I’m running low on wisdom: I went looking for the oldest monk in the monastery.  I found him asleep in a chair in the Calefactory (that’s monkish for living room).  “Wake up, Father,” I said, “I need something to tell my buddy at his wedding.”  Father Patrick opened his eyes, looked around the room for a moment, then said, “Tell him that there will come a day when he will want the window open and she will want the window closed.”  Then he went back to sleep.
      It took me a while to figure out what he meant, but the longer I live in community, the more I get it.  You see, when it comes to living with someone, everything boils down to forgiveness.  “Love is patient and kind,” says Saint Paul, “it is not arrogant or rude. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4).  So true love is more about endurance than it is about chocolates and teddy bears.  We prove our love at precisely those moments when the people we love test our patience, put a strain on our kindness…tempt us to anger.  “Love,” says Saint Paul, “Is not irritable,” but how would we know this if the ones we loved were not so irritating?  Love is truly love—and not just infatuation—when it proves itself in the crucible of suffering.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

CHAPTER 12: Concerning the Office of Lauds

  Let Psalm 66 be said without an antiphon, drawing it out a little, that all may arrive for Psalm 50, which is to be said with an Alleluia. After this let two other psalms be said according to custom.  Then let the psalms of praise follow; then one lesson from the Apostle, the response, the Ambrosian hymn, the verse, the canticle from the Gospel, the litany, and it is finished.

The name, ‘Lauds’ comes from the Latin laus meaning ‘praise’ or ‘glory’.    Once the night is over and the sun has risen, the monks come back to church and sing another set of psalms.  We do it right after dawn to celebrate the victory of light over darkness—the rising of the Sun (and the rising of the Son).  Remember that the office of Vigils began with “How many are my foes, O Lord.  How many are rising up against me” (Psalm 3).  But Lauds begins on a completely different note with Psalm 66: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!  Sing to the glory of his name!”

The sun has risen.  The battle against evil is won. 

But the Rule of Saint Benedict is no feel-good self-help book.  No “I’m okay.  You’re okay” here.  Sure, Benedict wants his monks to be happy, but he wants real happiness, not the lollipops-and-glitter happiness that you see on TV; because there is no true happiness without penitence.  Until we have a really accurate understanding of our sinfulness, until we recognize the depth of our unworthiness, we can’t possibly appreciate the miracle of our redemption.

And this is where guilt comes in.  Folks are always criticizing Christians for their sense of guilt as though it were something that keeps us repressed and miserable.  But I’m not convinced that guilt is such a bad thing.  After all, if you do something bad, you should feel guilty about it, just as when you see something evil, you should feel angry about it.  Perhaps our parents’ generation spent too much time feeling guilty about stuff, but I don’t think that’s our problem.  We may indeed have problems with low self-esteem (the popularity of reality television suggests as much), but I have to wonder if that’s because we don’t feel guilty enough.  Think about it: why do you feel guilty when you do something bad?  Because you have done something unworthy of yourself.  Get rid of that guilt, and what do you have?  Someone who does something bad and is okay with it because that’s the sort of person he is.[1]

At Lauds (as at Mass), we start off our celebration by first acknowledging our sinfulness and unworthiness—by coming face-to-face with our guilt—only then can we start the party.  Why?  Because we know that all of creation and life itself is a gift.  We doesn’t deserve any of it, and we doesn’t have to earn it either.  So we sings, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!  Sing to the glory of His name!”

[1] One proviso: There’s a difference between guilt (feeling bad for doing a bad thing) and shame (the self-punishment and self-hatred that comes from obsessing over it).  When you feel guilty, you say to yourself, “I did a bad thing.”  When you feel shame, you say to yourself, “I’m a bad person.”   Guilt is a good thing.  Shame—of the sort I’ve described—is not.