Chapter 19: The Discipline of Psalmody

1 We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov 15:3). 2 But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office. 3 We must always remember, therefore, what the Prophet says: Serve the Lord with fear (Ps 2:11), 4 and again, Sing praise wisely (Ps 46[47]:8); 5 and, In the presence of the angels I will sing to you (Ps 137[138]:1). 6 Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, 7 and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.

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

In the last two Chapters about the Divine Office, we find very clear and pure teachings about prayer. It is important that we pay attention to these teachings. The earlier Chapters have been about structures with some teachings able to be implied from them. Here we find clear and open teaching.

First, we hear that the divine presence is everywhere. We do not need to go to Church or be in a monastery to experience the divine presence. On the other hand, when people are gathered together to pray the Divine Office, we should be aware of a very strong divine presence. This clearly echoes the teaching of our Lord Jesus in the New Testament: When two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

When we are gathered together in prayer, there should be this deep awareness of the divine presence and it is expressed in reverential awe, almost always described as “fear of the Lord” in our monastic tradition. More than just reverential awe, however, we must praise our God with heart and mind in harmony with our voices. This is a strong and important teaching in the Rule of Benedict. It is far too easy to go to Church and say all the words of praise and love to the Lord and never once give our hearts and our minds to Him.

At times, prayer is a real struggle because our hearts and our minds are drawn strongly elsewhere. We must learn how to struggle and not to give in to other attractions in the time of prayer. This will strengthen us as we struggle with other temptations in our lives as well. Spiritual learning has a similarity in every struggle for virtue and every struggle against vice.

Perhaps we struggle with gossip or envy or anger or lust or any of the seven great vices. The struggle is almost always the same or at least similar. We must learn how to bring our attention to the Lord our God, who loves us, rather than leave our attention tied to the vice that attracts us. Or perhaps we are struggling to develop good habits in our lives, virtues. Again, the challenge is to keep our hearts and our minds in tune with the words that we can say as prayers.

May our Lord Jesus show us how to struggle so that we may remain faithful. No matter how many times we fail, may we return to faithfulness through His compassion and mercy.