We have already established the order for psalmody at Vigils and Lauds. Now let us arrange the remaining hours.
Three psalms are to be said at Prime, each followed by Glory Be. The hymn for this hour is sung after the opening versicle, “God, come to my assistance” (Ps. 70:2), before the psalmody begins. One reading follows the three psalms, and the hour is concluded with a versicle, “Lord, have mercy,” and the dismissal.
Prayer is celebrated in the same way at Terce, Sext, and None: that is, the opening verse, the hymn appropriate to each hour, three palms, a reading with a versicle, “Lord, have mercy”, and the dismissal. If the community is rather large, refrains are used with the psalms; if it is smaller, the psalms are said without refrain.
At Vespers the number of psalms should be limited to four, with refrain. After these psalms there follow: a reading and responsory, an Ambrosian hymn, a versicle, the Gospel Canticle, the litany, and, immediately before the dismissal, the Lord’s Prayer.
Compline is limited to three psalms without refrain. After the psalmody comes the hymn for this hour, followed by a reading, a versicle, “Lord, have mercy,” a blessing, and the dismissal.
Here we have more of the rhythm in practice, the repetition of the psalmody that leads us deeper into ourselves, into healing, and into commitment. And yet, as we move through these chapters of the Rule regarding communal prayer, we are faced with a question: how can we fit into the everyday of our lives this way of praying with the psalms? The minimum meditation practice (20 minutes twice a day) can take years to establish, and now Benedict is inviting us to pray with the psalms multiple times during the day.
The Rule asked a lot of the monks and contemplatives of Benedict’s time. How can we, in this age, with our family, personal, and working commitments, commit to the whole of this prayer, and meditation?
The reality is that we cannot. The majority of us are not living a lifestyle in communities that are set up around these times of prayer. Generally speaking, our working and personal lives don’t have room for Prime and Terce (in the morning), Sext (lunch), None (mid-afternoon), and Compline (night). And family life, particularly when children are involved, has a life of its own that cannot be organised around the Rule’s ongoing rhythm of multiple-times-a-day prayer with the psalms.
A good thing to keep in mind here is that grace and prayer are not limited to the Rule’s way of the psalms. It might be easy to think that, because we ‘fail’ this way of the Rule we ‘fail’ our growth in divine love. This is not the case. The psalms serve God and life; God and life do not serve the palms.
So, what can be done? How are we to fit psalms and meditation into the everyday of our lives? What is recommended for an oblate of The WCCM is a good example, in this instance, of what could be practically done here. An oblate of The WCCM is someone who, before they become an oblate, already have an established meditation practice. They are also someone who has felt drawn enough into the spirit of the Rule to move through a process of discernment that includes adding to their meditation practice some of the Rule’s recommendation of prayer with the psalms.
The reality of an oblate’s life (one of being ‘in the world’ rather than ‘in the cloister’) means that not all, if any, of the daily prayer times of this chapter will be used by most oblates during their working lives. It may not be until retirement that they are prayed regularly.
Generally, some combination of the rhythm of Vigils (night prayer), Lauds (morning prayer), and Vespers (evening prayer, see chapter 17) will accompany an oblate’s meditation practice. Perhaps this oblate is a morning person? If so, they might choose Vigils and/or Lauds as a prayer priority. If they prefer Vespers, it could be, for example, that their partner and family understand the importance of evening prayer for the oblate enough to make room for the 45 to 50 minutes that Vespers and meditation requires. It may even be possible to combine, say, both Lauds and Vespers with a morning and evening meditation rhythm.
What is important here is that the Rule’s spirit of a compassionate and flexible commitment be allowed to permeate our treatment of communal prayer with the psalms. When Benedict’s full recommendation is not, as yet, possible, we maintain our commitment by doing the best we can in the circumstances we are in.
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, NRSV)