The prophet says: “Seven times a day I have praised you” (Ps. 119:164). We will fulfil this sacred number if we satisfy our obligations of service at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, for it was of these hours during the day that it was said: “Seven times a day I have praised you” (Ps. 119:164). Concerning Vigils, the same prophet says: “At midnight I rose to give you praise” (Ps. 119:62). Therefore, we should “praise our Creator for just judgements” at these times: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; and “Let us arise at night to give you praise”. (Ps. 119:164, 62).
After setting out the plan for Vigils and Lauds, and before going on to describe the rest of the daily communal prayer, Benedict pauses to emphasise the scriptural foundation of the rhythm he is recommending. He uses psalm 119 to guide our prayer times: seven times during the day, and once at night. In this way too, he introduces us to the times of prayer that are to come in the following chapters: Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.
In this chapter, Benedict moves from the details and particulars of daily prayer together, to emphasis the cyclical rhythm that makes this prayer scared, before plunging back into the particulars of our daily prayer in the chapters that follow. Twice Benedict quotes psalm 119’s “Seven times a day I have praised you”, and twice he uses the same psalm to invite prayers at night: “At midnight I rose to give you praise” and “Let us arise at night to give you praise”. This repetition gives the chapter a rhythmic, cyclical feel – the same feel that permeates a daily commitment to this way of prayer.
It might be easy to see this rhythm as simply repetitive, and the obligation that Benedict speaks of here as dry duty. What experience shows us, however, is that repetition is actually characteristic of the journey into deep commitment, both personal and communal; a commitment that, as time goes on, enriches obligation with meaning and purpose.
The nature of this commitment resonates with our daily meditation. Meditation, too, is a rhythmic commitment to this personal and communal journey that grows in meaning and purpose. As we practice both this prayer of the Rule and meditation, we come to experience just how compatible they are. In the end, the combination shows us what they are both about: an everyday and practical growth in authenticity and kindness, humility and love.
For all prayer to be real, to be effective, it must have its rhythm held in the everyday of life. Only in this can prayer be a part of the transformation of us in the moment; only in the moment can the grace in ordinary experience act as prayer. The rhythm and commitment that this chapter emphasises is the foundation needed if prayer and meditation are to be of the moment and thus transformative.
Whatever might be happening now – joys, sorrows, reaction, reverence, whatever it might be – the rhythm of our prayer keeps drawing attention back to the heart, into God, and clarifying experience.
In the end, all of this leads to praise – the end of the psalms themselves. No matter what might be happening in life, praise is the result of being grounded in the divine life; it pours forth from that heartfelt experience of God we need not think about. Here, Benedict teaches the psalms as a way of prayer that fulfil in praise.
Why so downcast, why all these sighs? Hope in God! I will praise him still, my saviour, my God. (Psalm 43:5, NJB)