Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Feast of St Benedict 2018

Listen carefully, my child, to the master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart; willingly receive and effectively fulfill the admonition of your loving father, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience. To you, therefore, my discourse is now addressed, whoever you may be that renounce your own will to do serve under the Lord, Christ the true King, and take up the most mighty bright weapons of obedience. And first of all, as you begin to do any good work, beg of Him with most earnest prayer that it may be perfected, so that He who has now deigned to count us among His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us, that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions, deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory. (The Prologue of the Rule of St Benedict.)

Saints Benedict and Bernard, by Diogo de Contreiras, 1542; painted for the Cistercian convent of Santa Maria de Almoster  in Portugal. (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
The second half of the Hour of Prime is sometimes called the Chapter Office, from the Benedictine custom of reading a part of the Rule of St Benedict at the end of it every day. The text of the Rule was divided into roughly 120 sections, and read in order over the course of four months, making for three full readings a year. At Citeaux, however, this reading began not on January 1st, as in most other houses, but on March 21st, which is both the feast day of St Benedict, and the day the abbey was founded in 1098. Beginning the reading of the Rule on this day became an annual reminder not only of the Order’s founding, but more specifically of the Cistercians’ role as the “strict constructionalists” of Benedictine monasticism, almost as if to say that the observance of the Rule itself began again with the coming of the new Order.

The first two pages of the Rule of St Benedict, with the Prologue to be read on March 21st, from a Cistercian Martyrology printed at Paris in 1689.

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