"As soon as the cantor begins to sing 'Glory be to the Father,' let all the monks rise from their seats in honor and reverence for the Holy Trinity."
Rule of St. Benedict 9.7
Looking at the nooks and crannies of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict in an attempt to find little gems of spiritual insight, I find this little verse that I quote above from Chapter 9.
The chapter is about a seemingly minor concern: the number of psalms the monks are prescribed to pray at the night office (which, as I wrote last time, is the first prayer of the day). Twenty-first century Benedictines don’t typically adhere to the prescribed details of most of Benedict’s “liturgical code,” choosing instead to cling to the spirit rather than the letter.
When I hear this chapter read (each day a portion of the Rule is read by the table reader before the main meal is served), I hardly think much about it; it seems so obscure. But there is in every chapter of the Rule something to hear if we are really listening, and the risk in not listening is missing something worth hearing!
One of the things many people first notice about the monks at prayer in the Archabbey Church is the reverence they demonstrate. They bow to the altar when entering the choir for prayer and upon departure at the end of each service; they also bow to one another before going into the choir stalls when entering the Church in procession; and they rise to pray the “Glory be.”
Benedict commands the monks to rise from their seats when pronouncing or chanting the Divine Name “in honor and reverence for the Holy Trinity.” In addition to rising from our seats, as required by the Rule, we also bow reverently as we speak or chant the Divine Name. Praying the “Glory be” is a way to end the chanting of the psalms in a finale of praise, in a sense ending in God, our final goal.
At the beginning of Chapter 9, we also read that Benedict directs the monks to begin Vigils each day with a verse from Psalm 50 – Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Thus, the monks begin each day’s cycle of prayer by praying that God will initiate our praise. It is a statement of faith that only by God’s grace are we empowered to praise God; in effect, our prayer begins in God and is itself a gift from God.
Spiritually, this reminds us that, without grace, God’s gift of inspiration and strength, we cannot find our way to life’s finale! Our praise is itself God’s gift to us, which adds nothing to God’s dignity, but rather serves us as a means to salvation. This is an important point that can all too easily be missed if we don’t listen carefully to the instructions of the Master, even the seemingly obscure ones!