February 21, June 22, October 22

Each of the day hours begins with the verse, “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps. 69[70]:2), followed by “Glory be to the Father” and the appropriate hymn.

Then, on Sunday at Prime, four sections of Psalm 118 are said. At the other hours, that is, at Terce, Sext, and None, three sections of this psalm are said. On Monday three psalms are said at Prime: Psalms 1, 2, and 6. At Prime each day thereafter until Sunday, three psalms are said in consecutive order as far as Psalm 19. Psalms 9 and 17 are each divided into two sections. In this way, Sunday Vigils can always begin with Psalm 20.   

In this chapter, Benedict completes the arrangement of the psalms for communal prayer. He has spent the previous ten chapters doing this. There has been emphasis on the structure, the rhythm, and the importance of this communal way of the psalms being grounded in the ordinary, the now. Benedict has asked that this approach be humane and cooperating with grace. In this way, the psalms are supporting our growth away from self-conscious preoccupation, into consciousness, and so into silence. What else might we be able to say about this way of prayer?

As a way that aids movement into silence, this way with the psalms is distinctly contemplative. As a fellow God-seeker, Benedict has created a way of communal prayer that is also helping to draw us into the silent possibility of contemplation. In contemplation, the God of our heart moves to fill us with divine life and love, wisdom and presence. With attention in the heart and with the mind quiet enough, this divine movement can radiate into the whole of us. 

This contemplative way with the psalms, as it moves attention, over time, into the heart, resonates with our meditation practice. As we meditate, the same dynamic is at work: the mantra is also moving attention into the heart. And because we have chosen the mantra as a prayer word to be with faithfully every day, it is well placed to be a way through which the divine life can, both personally and communally, move to make the human and the divine deeply and irrevocably one.      

For Benedict and his contemporaries, there was no obvious distinction between the personal and the communal of prayer; this is a distinction that later years developed[1]. For them, communal prayer and liturgy was the event in which a loving God could move personally, not just for the person, but for the whole community. The personal and the communal were interwoven, as they still are.

The rule shows us today, in this individual age, that the gift of contemplation, along with any insight arising from this gift, regardless of who it is given to or not given to, is a gift given for all.

To you I call; for you will surely heed me, O God. Turn you ear to me; hear my words. Display your merciful love. By your right hand you deliver from their foes those who put their trust in you. (Ps. 17[16]:6-7, RNJB)

[1] See Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer (London: DLT, 2005), especially chapters 6-10, pp 55-81.