February 25 (26), June 27, October 27

Whenever we want to ask a favour of a powerful man, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption. How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the Lord God of all with the upmost humility and sincere devotion. We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.

This chapter formally concludes the chapters on community prayer. As this is done, Benedict recalls us to humility. Humility was the subject of chapter 7, before the turn to community prayer in chapters 8 through 20. Here, in this final chapter, community prayer and humility unite. A fruit of this union is reverence.

Reverence can show when we are humbly in touch with created reality, that is, when we are not caught in the illusion of separation and independence from each other, creation, and the divine life. As humility grows, egocentricity fades. With fading egocentricity comes the embrace of our conditional and vulnerable created life, as well as our mutuality with and in God. The experience of this conditionality, vulnerability, and divine mutuality fills us with awe and wonder, amazement, and respect. Reverence is a ripening of these traits; it is the fruit of a oneing with God expressed wonderfully in the nature of things.  

Compunction, that healing and heartfelt mix of sorrow, remorse, self-knowledge and faith, is a sure sign that someone is humble before our loving and mysterious God. From this comes a reverence not in need of words, a reverence that shuns words for words sake. Reverence is at home in silence.  

Like any grounded spirituality, the rule is always practical. Benedict invites a practical reverence. If we are in the oratory too long, this can undermine not only what grace can do there, but also what a loving God could be doing for all in the kitchen or the garden – unless, of course, grace has moved us to remain in the meditation room after formal prayers have ended. Here, once again, the rule shows its flexibility.  

The reverence engendered during communal prayer extends and flows into all action, both inside and outside the meditation room. How attentive, for example, are we to the leader of prayer; are we praying at the pace and volume they set? Do we leave the room tidy; are we straightening cushions and chairs, returning books to their place? What of our body language while together; a still body during meditation, bowing to the altar, as well as our practice of waiting for the community leader to leave first? These are all a sign and a practice of humility and reverence. These have their origins in silence shared, and continue beyond the oratory, expressed simply and consciously in whatever aspects of ordinary life we attend to.    

We have been given possession of an unshakeable kingdom. Let us therefore be grateful and use our gratitude to worship God in the way that pleases him, in reverence and fear[1]. For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29, RNJB)

[1] Other translations of scripture use here the word ‘awe’.