Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 47: Giving the Signal for the Time of the Work of God

     Let it be the abbot's responsibility to announce the time for the Work of God; either to announce it himself, or to entrust this charge to a careful brother that everything may be done at the proper time.  Let those who have been ordered, intone the psalms or the antiphons in their turn after the abbot. No one, however, should presume to sing or read unless he can do it well; and let it be done with humility, seriousness, and reverence.

The monk’s prayer may not always be interesting or even pleasant (the monk next to you might show up late, or fall asleep half way through, or click his rosary beads, or sing off-key…) but the Work of God is always first in importance.  It takes precedence over everything else.  And it is truly work.  These days, folks seem to think that church services have to be entertaining to be ‘effective.’  How often have you heard someone say, for example, “I don’t go to mass on Sunday because I don’t get anything out of it”?  Such a complaint is understandable so long as you’re only thinking of yourself.  But the purpose of prayer isn’t to “get something out of it.”  It’s not about us.  Remember that prayer is an act of justice.  We owe it to God.  So sometimes it may just be hard work—extremely demanding at times, but extremely important work.[1]

Therefore, it falls to the abbot himself to make sure everyone gets to church on time.  Different monasteries use different methods of calling the monks to prayer, but in my monastery, a monk is designated each week to walk around the cloister first thing in the morning and knock on everyone’s door.  Some places use wooden clackers, others use trumpets or horns.  At one Benedictine convent I know of, a nun walks around shouting “Alleluia!”  But the most common method is to ring a bell.  In fact, this is probably the way they do it at your local parish on Sundays.  Bells have become so important in the Church, that there is a special “Pontifical Blessing” that the bishop has to say over a set of bells whenever a new church is built.  Listen to this:

      “Grant, we pray, that this bell, destined for your holy Church, may be hallowed by the Holy Spirit through our lowly ministry, so that when it is tolled and rung, the faithful may be invited to the house of God and to the everlasting reward.  At its sound let all evil spirits be driven off; let thunder and lightning, hail and storm be banished; let the power of your hand, O Lord, put down the evil powers of the air, causing them to tremble at the sound of this bell, and to flee at the sight of the holy cross engraved on it.  Whenever it rings may the enemy of the good take flight, the Christian people hear the call to faith, the empire of Satan be terrified, your people be strengthened as they are called together in the Lord, and may the Holy Spirit be with them as He delighted to be with David when he played his harp.”

     Is that awesome, or what?

[1] The word “liturgy,” in fact, comes from two Greek words: leitos, which means “people” and ergos, meaning “work.”  Liturgy, therefore, is “the people’s work,” and we do it, not because we ‘get something out of it’ but because it’s our job.

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