February 13, June 14, October 14
On Sunday the monks should arise earlier for Vigils. In these Vigils, too, there must be moderation in quantity: first, as we have already indicated, six psalms are said, followed by a versicle. Then the monks, seated on the benches and arranged in their proper order, listen to four readings from the book. After each reading a responsory is sung, but the “Glory be to the Father” is added only to the fourth. When the cantor begins it, all immediately rise in reverence.
After these readings the same order is repeated: six more psalms with refrain as before, a versicle, then four more readings and their responsories, as above. Next, three canticles from the Prophets, chosen by the abbot, are said with an “alleluia” refrain. After a versicle and the abbot’s blessing of the abbot or prioress, four New Testament readings follow with their responsories, as above. After the fourth responsory, the abbot begins the hymn “We praise you, God.” When that is finished, they read from the Gospels while all the monks stand with respect and awe. At the conclusion of the Gospel reading, all reply “Amen,” and immediately the abbot intones the hymn “To You Be Praise.” After a final blessing, Lauds begin.
This arrangement for Sunday Vigils should be followed at all times, summer and winter, unless – God forbid – the monks happen to arise too late. In that case, the readings or responsories will have to be shortened. Let special care be taken that this not happen, but if it does, the monk at fault is to make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.
For the community of Benedict, Sunday Vigils included twelve psalms, eight pre-approved readings, three canticles, four New Testament readings, then the Gospel. This is a lot of words. What can be noted here, however, is that Sunday Vigils marks the beginning of the week and sets the tone for the week to come. Also, Sunday is a special day in that it is the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and so communal prayer turns to this event, this reality happening now, revering it and doing all it can to soak the members in it.
We can look at this concentration on scripture, particularly Christian scripture, and ask where might scripture fit into our lives today? Is it just a Sunday church thing? Has it fallen away completely? If we do give time to it, how do we approach it? Is scripture something we approach only intellectually, through college courses or bible study? Are the words simply proof texts, or are they affecting us at deeper levels?
This time of Sunday morning scripture would have been a time for the community of Benedict to practice allowing the Spirit of scripture to touch and change them. Just like the psalms, all scripture has the potential to heal and shape us – if we are attentive and open enough. Contemplatives past and present call this attentiveness and openness to the life of scripture Lectio Divina.
Regular Lectio Divina (or Sacred Reading), is a practice that oblates of the WCCM commit themselves to, and is a practice for anyone drawn to the ways in which the Spirit uses scripture as a way of healing and wise guidance.
During Lectio, the divine life speaks into the circumstance of our lives, providing comfort, sometimes challenge, as well as a deep, quiet, and abiding consolation that draws attention away from the surface of consciousness.
As meditators practicing Lectio, we have discovered that the grace of the mantra makes space in us for the grace of scripture to have its way. Just as the mantra falls into the heart, so does scripture. In a clear heart there is no analysis, no thought; just an emptiness in and through which love can move. It is worth remembering here, that the word we use as a mantra, maranatha, is itself from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 16:22).
Lectio Divina, typically, has four movements: the reading of the text (lectio), the interior repeating of a word or phrase that has drawn our attention (meditatio), the quiet, heart listening for what the Spirit might be doing in us with this word or phrase (oratio), and a simple being, without thought or observation, with whatever is happening; a time of communion as ourselves in and with God (contemplatio).
Lectio Divina, like meditation, is a contemplative practice taking us beyond our own agendas and into the field of the heart; in that field is buried a great treasure: being, who we are in the divine life. To practice is to buy the field, that is, to become people of the heart, fully conscious. The price is all we thought we were.
‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field’. (Matt. 13:44, RNJB)