Chapter 11: The Celebration of Vigils on Sunday

1 On Sunday the monks should arise earlier for Vigils. 2 In these Vigils, too, there must be moderation in quantity: first, as we have already indicated, six psalms are said, followed by a versicle. Then the monks, seated on the benches and arranged in their proper order, listen to four readings from the book. After each reading a responsory is sung, 3 but “Glory be to the Father” is added only to the fourth. When the cantor begins it, all immediately rise in reverence. 4 After these readings the same order is repeated: six more psalms with refrain as before, a versicle, 5 then four more readings and their responsories, as above. 6 Next, three canticles from the Prophets, chosen by the abbot, are said with an “alleluia” refrain. 7 After a versicle and the abbot’s blessing, four New Testament readings follow with their responsories, as above. 8 After the fourth responsory, the abbot begins the hymn “We praise you, God.” 9 When that is finished, he reads from the Gospels while all the monks stand with respect and awe. 10 At the conclusion of the Gospel reading, all reply “Amen,” and immediately the abbot intones the hymn “To you be praise.” After a final blessing, Lauds begin. 11 This arrangement for Sunday Vigils should be followed at all times, summer and winter, 12 unless–God forbid–the monks happen to arise too late. In that case, the readings or responsories will have to be shortened. 13 Let special care be taken that this not happen, but if it does, the monk at fault is to make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

Here it is very clear that Saint Benedict expects the monks to keep Sunday as a very important day of prayer. The monk should get up earlier than on the other days of the week. Today most people want to get up later on Sunday because that is a way of celebrating. Saint Benedict is strong on the prayer aspects. If we celebrate Sunday, it is because Jesus Christ rose from the dead and we should be keeping Vigil even earlier than normal on the Sunday, waiting for the Lord.

Kardong thinks that verse 2 should be translated simply as “the following order should be observed.” The “moderation in quantity” referred to in the translation from RB1980 can too easily be misunderstood as if Saint Benedict wants to reduce the amount of prayers. Certainly Saint Benedict is proposing for the coenobitic monks a measure of prayer much less than many of the Desert Fathers.

Vigils is the same on Sundays as on weekdays except that there is third nocturn added, which has canticles instead of psalms. Also there are four lessons after the first nocturn, instead of three, and ther are another four lessons after the second nocturn and then another four lessons after the third nocturn. This makes the Sunday Vigils very long and very strong.

After the lessons and responsories comes the Te Dum and the Gospel and the Te decet laus. And so the end. It is a daunting kind of prayer service when it is done fully and it is also very impressive.

Again we note here that if for any reason the Divine Office must be shortened, then the readings and responsories are what are shorted, never the Psalms. This points again to the very important place of psalms in the life of the monk.

We are challenged over and over to make the psalms the basis of our prayer here in the monastery. Until we come to understand the importance of the psalms in our lives, we will not understand the Rule of Benedict. May our Holy Father guide us and help us.