From Easter until the first of November, the winter arrangement for the number of psalms is followed. But because summer nights are shorter, the readings from the book are omitted. In place of the three readings, one from the Old Testament is substituted. This is to be recited by heart, followed by a short responsory. In everything else, the winter arrangement for Vigils is kept. Thus, winter and summer, there are never fewer than twelve psalms at Vigils, not counting Psalms 3 and 95.
The Office is both faithful and flexible. In its organisation there is a consistent focus on its purpose, while being adaptable enough to not make this focus become a burden. It is unreasonable to expect winter prayer in summer. The Office works best when it draws our humanity into the divine life and into the journey of loving. If it is not flexible, then it is not itself loving. This flexible approach to community prayer is consistent with the spirit of the Rule.
What is it in us, however, that can move us toward inflexibility during prayer? Perhaps we are like those musicians in an orchestra performing the symphony to the letter of the score without allowing the music to breathe its ineffable spirit? Perhaps, during these ‘official’ and communal prayer times we are more mindful of making mistakes rather than being conscious. Perhaps, at some level, we want to be seen to be doing things the correct way. We might grow nervous, even anxious. In all this we are too self-conscious. In self-consciousness the idea of ego, that who we think we are, plays the music.
All this is ok. It is all a part of living with ourselves and each other. The gentle art of practicing conscious living is all that is required. Part of this practice is straying from it. All we need do is faithfully return, again and again. In this returning grace is working. Prayer will not fall apart when mistakes and distractions happen; it will instead become more human. In the human the fullness of grace exists and operates.
The reality of life is that our personalities can be somewhat inflexible. Psychologists say that the personality is set in its ways by the time we turn 35. The Rule, in its practice of prayer and conscious living, asks us to lean into this tendency towards set-ness and so allow grace to lovingly undermine it. This can be quite a challenge because the events of life have the potential to take personality to its breaking point, and beyond. However, in all this a flexibility can grow as our personalities are stretched.
Community is sometimes about allowing this stretching to happen in measured ways. Take for example the Rule’s recommendation to pray together in choir. Here, all voices meld, all character is together, not one person above, louder than the others, or doing something different unless it serves the common practice. In this we become conscious of each other. This is a practice that can diminish the I of ego. How might we feel about this practice as we practice it? Is there a reaction? Perhaps someone might feel somewhat diminished, subsumed into what is common, no longer special, somehow of lesser value? It is good to allow our feelings, as best we can, whatever they might be, without harbouring them. Do not analyse, simply be conscious of them as community prayer continues. Welcome the reactions as you can. Perhaps they are the same or similar to other reactions happening at other times. The feeling of these now is them coming into the light of consciousness. Perhaps later, talking them over with someone we trust might help. Over time the divine life will heal and integrate them. This can be the advantage of structured prayer; it can provide a framework within which grace can operate. So it can also be with the structure of community life in general.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8: 26-27, NRSV)