1 It is the abbot’s care to announce, day and night, the hour for the Work of God. He may do so personally or delegate the responsibility to a conscientious brother, so that everything may be done at the proper time. 2 Only those so authorized are to lead psalms and refrains, after the abbot according to their rank. 3 No one should presume to read or sing unless he is able to benefit the hearers; 4 let this be done with humility, seriousness and reverence, and at the abbot’s bidding.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
We can here almost immediately how important Saint Benedict considers having the various Offices and meals and other activities on time! If we reflect on this, we can understand that a community that never knows when something is going to happen will soon have problems functioning well. If we never know when the meal is going to take place, there soon arises a frustration on the part of the brethren. If we never know if the Divine Office will start on time or 5 or 10 minutes later, then there is difficulty in planning our day. Pretty soon everyone comes at the time that he thinks that something might happen.
We must remember of course, that there is time between the bell and the beginning of an activity. Saint Benedict was clear in Chapter 43: On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed, yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity. Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.
This practice of setting aside whatever one is doing and going with utmost speed to the Church is not very well observed. Instead, we have a practice of knowing that the Office will begin at a certain time and we can delay our entrance until the last moment. The Rule teaches us otherwise!
The last half of this already short Chapter is given over to repeating what we heard in Chapter 38. No one should read or sing unless he can benefit those who hear him. This is always more difficult in a community in which many languages are spoken and in which the language of the house is not the first language for the majority. Yet we must continue trying to improve our reading and our singing.
So often the injunctions of the Rule are not meant to prevent monks from doing certain things, but rather to encourage the monks to learn how to do them well. That is the spirituality of this Chapter of the Rule: live our lives well! Be on time, participate, do what is assigned with good well and always work to do it better!