Friday, November 15, 2013

Monday (feria secunda) in the Benedictine Office, masterpost

Monday in the Benedictine Office

Monday for us today represents the start of the working week; liturgically however, it is labelled 'feria secunda', for Sunday is both the first day of creation, and, for Christians, the eighth day, or day of the Resurrection.   That inherent tension between beginnings and endings is certainly reflected in St Benedict's Office.

The start of the week?

Liturgically, Sunday represents the start of the week in many ways: a new collect is allocated to the week from the Sunday Mass for example.  St Benedict's structuring of his Office in part reflects this new start too, by commencing the recitation of that great foundational psalm of the law, Psalm 118 on that day.

Yet in many ways, it is Monday that really represents the start of the liturgical week in the Benedictine Office.

My contention is that St Benedict made a number of judicious changes to the structure of the Office he started from, namely the old Roman one, in order to provide a more thematic approach to the Office.  In fact, I want to suggest, taking his cue from the customary (ferial) Office canticles, each day in the Benedictine Office traces the journey of Christ's life, from the Incarnation, public ministry, through his crucifixion, death and up to the Resurrection.

The beginnings of our salvation: from the Incarnation to the Temptation in the Desert

That early medieval monks understood his Office this way is, I think, suggested nicely captured by the summations of the message of these canticles provided by the Hrabanus Maurus (780-856).  In the case of Monday, Maurus argues that the canticle for Lauds focuses on those events of Christ's life prior to the start of his public ministry:

On Monday [feria secunda], truly the second day, the canticle of Isaiah, in which the coming of the Saviour and the sacrament of baptism is preached, is decreed to be said, because these are the beginning of our salvation.” Hrabanus Maurus, Commentary on the Canticles

Many of the psalms of the day, and particularly the changes St Benedict made to the ordering of the day work well to fit this focus.

At Matins, many of the psalms of the day contain phrases that were incorporated in the New Testament Benedictus and Magnificat canticles, or are redolent of its promises.

Prime contains the two psalms that are generally regarded as both an introduction to the entire psalter and a summation of it, in Psalms 1 and 2.  Psalm 1 presents the picture of Christ, the perfect man, and the choice we must all make between walking in his way, or the way of evil.  Psalm 2 chronicles the history of his coming, particularly  with the verse used in the Introit of Christmas Day: the Lord said to me: you are my son, this day have I begotten thee (Dóminus dixit ad me: fílius meus es tu, ego hódie génui te).

At Vespers, one can perhaps see the psalms as a meditation on the baptism of Christ, his forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert, and his temptation by Satan.

A call to conversion of life

All of these events have deep implications in the life of the Christian.

The Incarnation is not just the coming of God to earth, not just the birth of a baby, but the fulfillment of specific promises made to our forefathers in faith that affect us in the here and now.  One of the most important of these promises is that God will raise up the poor and humble, and confound the proud.  The day's hours constantly come back to this theme, with each of the hours concluding the variable psalms with a reiteration of or plea for this promise to be fulfilled: at Lauds, Psalm 35; Prime, Psalm 6; at Vespers Psalm 128 (which can also be seen as echoing Jesus' final dismissal of Satan after his temptation in the desert).

There is a call to action implicit in this for us to, for Christ's baptism in the Jordan by St John comes with the message that we must all repent and be converted anew: we all have past sins to be ashamed of our past sins, and need to be washed anew in the waters of baptism so that we can be reborn with Christ.  Accordingly, the whole day constitutes an invitation 'turn away from evil and do good' (Ps 33 at Matins), to open ourselves to grace, to taste and see that the Lord is good.  And, as we shall see, the psalms of Vespers in particular provide an opportunity for us to renew our baptismal promises: to affirm that God is our creator and saviour, and reject Satan and all his works.

The Benedictine Office though, is above all a Monastic Office, intended to be said by monks and nuns who have deepened their baptismal promises through the vows made at solemn profession.  St Benedict's ordering of the Office, I think, provides a weekly opportunity for the religious to renew those vows afresh.  At Lauds the psalms summon us to a preparatory examination of conscience, and many of the other psalms of the day could be used to prompt meditation on commitment to the Benedictine way of life.

The high point of the day for the monk, though, is surely the recitation of the Suscipe verse (of Ps 118) used in the profession ceremony at Terce, for if the birth of Christ and our rebirth in him are key focuses for the day, the concrete realisation of our own baptismal promises is, for the monk, nun or oblate, the living out of the Benedictine Rule.



(Psalm 3 &Psalm 94 said daily)

Psalm 32
Psalm 33
Psalm 34
Psalm 36 (divided)
Psalm 37 (in the context of Tenebrae)

Psalm 38
Psalm 39 (in context of Tenebrae)
Introduction to Psalm 40 (in the Office of the Dead)
Introduction to Psalm 41(in the Office of the Dead)
Psalm 43
Psalm 44


(Psalms 66, 50 and 148-150 are said daily)

Introduction to Psalm 5
Ps 5:v1-4a
Ps 5:v4b-7a
Ps 5: v7b-9
Ps 5: v10-12
Ps 5:v 13-15

Introduction to Psalm 35  (see also Ps 35 in the context of Tenebrae of Holy Thursday)

Ferial Canticle: Isaiah 12 (Confitebor tibi Domine) (Introduction)

or Festal Canticle: Canticle of David (1 Chron 29: 10-13)


Introduction to Psalm 1 (see also  Commentary of St Basil on Psalm 1)
Introduction to Psalm 2 (see also Psalm 2 in the context of Tenebrae for Good Friday)
Psalm 6 (Series with introduction and verse by verse notes)


Psalm 118 (Nun)
Psalm 118 (Samech) and Part 2
Psalm 118 (Ayin)


Psalm 118 (Phe)
Psalm 118 (Sade)
Psalm 118 (Coph)


Psalm 118 (Res)
Psalm 118 (Sin)
Psalm 118 (Tau)


Monday at Vespers (overview notes)

Psalm 113 (In exitu) Introduction and series providing verse by verse notes.
Psalm 114 (Dilexi) Introduction and series providing verse by verse notes.
Psalm 115 (Credidi) Introduction and series providing verse by verse notes.
Psalm 116 (Laudate Dominum)
Psalm 128 (Saepe expugnaverunt)

Compline (same psalms said daily)

Psalm 4 (in the context of Tenebrae)
Psalm 90
Psalm 133

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