sacrament is defined as a visible sign of an inward grace. The
Catholic tradition has seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist,
Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Anointing of
They are a constant in the life of the devout Catholic, and yet
St. Benedict does not mention the word "sacrament" in the
Rule. Rev. Timothy Fry argues that Benedict wrote his
Rule primarily for monks, but "its sound principles for
working together and living together have proved relevant to people
of all classes of society through fifteen hundred years" (The
Rule of St. Benedict in English, The Liturgical Press,
Moreover, he says, "Benedict's Rule offered definitive
direction and established an ordered way of life that gave security
and stability" (p. 11). How could it be relevant, however, if the
sacraments, the very basis of the Catholic religion, are never
mentioned? Or are they mentioned, over and over again in terms of
life in community, but not by the specific names that we call
Benedict begins in the Prologue by reminding us to "see how the
Lord in his love shows us the way to life" (Prologue 20). We are
called to be "clothed…with faith and good works," to "set out on
this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see
him who has called us to his kingdom" (Prologue 21).
In other words, those who follow the Rule are called by
Benedict to be sacrament, to be outward visible signs of inward
grace. We are to act differently from the world, putting the love
of Christ before all else (4:20-21), by placing our hope in God
alone (4:41), listening to holy reading and devoting ourselves
often to prayer (4:55-56) and, finally, never losing hope in God's
We are to live in humility and obedience, doing not our own
will, but the will of God (5:13). We are to erect a ladder of our
lives on earth with our body and soul as the sides and the steps of
humility and discipline (7:8-9). It is through ascending these
steps of humility and discipline that we will arrive at that
"perfect love of God which casts out fear," and we will be cleansed
of our vices and sins (7:67, 70).
Moreover, Benedict underscores the importance of prayer by
specifically designating Psalms to be read during the different
hours and the manner of celebrating the office during different
seasons. He reminds us to consider "how we are to behave in the
presence of God and his angels," making our minds in harmony with
our voices (19:6-7), praying "with the utmost humility and sincere
devotion" because, as Benedict says, "God regards our purity of
heart and tears of compunction, not our many words" (22:2-3).
Surely, in these words Benedict is talking about both Eucharist,
the central act of worship in the Roman Catholic Church, but also
what Jeffery D. Von Lehman refers to as a "concrete encounter of
the community with Jesus," and Reconciliation, the action of God
who uses the sacrament to reconcile us to Himself by restoring
sanctity in our souls.
Perhaps Benedict also refers to Baptism, a rebirth to a new and
supernatural life as we are received into the community by doing
the will of God, and Confirmation, reflecting maturity and a coming
of age whose effect is to give strength of faith.
All of these sacramental characteristics are repeated in Chapter
53, when Benedict discusses the reception of guests, who are to be
welcomed as Christ. The monks are to show "all humility" to a guest
and every kindness, and "great care and concern are to be shown in
receiving poor people and pilgrims" (53:6; 15), recalling the
sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
Reading further into the Rule, Benedict describes the
qualifications of the deans (21), the monastery cellarer (31), the
reader for the week (38), the artisans (57), the priests (62), the
abbot and the prior (64, 65), and the porter (66). All of them are
called by the abbot or by each other to be what they are and to do
what they do.
All of these people are clearly called and have a vocation to
the assignment they have been given within the community, and thus
their call is sacramental, similar to the sacraments of Marriage, a
lifelong union symbolizing the divine union between Christ, the
bridegroom and His Church, and Holy Orders, the continuation of
Christ's priesthood through apostolic ministry.
And finally, in Chapter 36, Benedict addresses the issue of the
sick brothers, reminding us that "care of the sick must rank above
and before all else so that they may truly be served as Christ,"
being patiently borne with and suffering no neglect (36: 1; 5-6).
In the same way, the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick brings
spiritual and even physical strength during an illness and conveys
graces and imparts gifts of strengthening against anxiety,
discouragement and temptation.
Thus, as Scott P. Richert says, "When we participate [in the
sacraments] worthily, each provides us with graces - with the life
of God in our soul. In worship, we give to God what we owe Him; in
the sacraments, He gives us the graces to live a truly human
So it is with Benedict in the holy Rule. Although
Benedict never mentions the word "sacrament," the Rule is
filled with the idea of sacrament, in order that the monks show to
each other "the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to
their abbot, unfeigned and humble love."
Through the sacraments, we Christians are outward signs to each
other of an inward grace. And through living the Rule of
Benedict, the monks - and others who follow the Rule-
remain in right relationship not only with each other and their
fellow humankind, but also with God.
Catherine Byers, oblate