Chapter 35: Kitchen Servers of the Week

1 The brothers should serve one another. Consequently, no one will be excused from kitchen service unless he is sick or engaged in some important business of the monastery, 2 for such service increases reward and fosters love. 3 Let those who are not strong have help so that they may serve without distress, 4 and let everyone receive help as the size of the community or local conditions warrant. 5 If the community is rather large, the cellarer should be excused from kitchen service, and, as we have said, those should also be excused who are engaged in important business. 6 Let all the rest serve one another in love. 7 On Saturday the brother who is completing his work will do the washing. 8 He is to wash the towels which the brothers use to wipe their hands and feet. 9 Both the one who is ending his service and the one who is about to begin are to wash the feet of everyone. 10 The utensils required for the kitchen service are to be washed and returned intact to the cellarer, 11 who in turn issues them to the one beginning his week. In this way the cellarer will know what he hands out and what he receives back.

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

The theological foundation for this Chapter is given right at the beginning: “The brothers should serve one another.” The reason for this service is to love one another. The Gospels and he entire New Testament are very clear: to love is to serve. Jesus Himself tells us that the one who is greatest is not the one who sits at table, but the one who serves.

Saint Benedict continues by saying that there are some who serve the community in other ways and should be excused from this service. Others are weak but should still serve even if they need to be helped to do that. The principal is again stated: “Let them serve one another in love.”

Too often we forget that we serve one another because we follow Christ. We begin to serve one another only because it is something that we are assigned to do and we cannot get out of it. If we live in that attitude, we will never be monks! Instead, we must be converted so that we begin to see the presence of Christ in our brothers and we can serve them because we know that in doing that, we serve our Lord Himself.
We can see in the Chapter also that monks, who did not often bathe in the time of Saint Benedict, at least washed their hands and their feet. This washing of the feet of the brethren on Saturdayis clearly a ritual washing as well, reminding the brothers that they must care for one another, even to washing one another’s feet. The challenge is to live each day as though we are washing one another’s feet. That takes enormous humility and love.

May the Lord give each one of us this humility and love so that we can wash one another’s feet.

Chapter 35, Verses 12-18

12 An hour before mealtime, the kitchen workers of the week should each receive a drink and some bread over and above the regular portion, 13 so that at mealtime, they may serve their brothers without grumbling or hardship. 14 On solemn days, however, they should wait until after the dismissal. 15 On Sunday immediately after Lauds, those beginning as well as those completing their week of service should make a profound bow in the oratory before all and ask for their prayers. 16 Let the server completing his week recite this verse: Blessed are you, Lord God, who have helped me and comforted me (Dan 3:52; Ps 85[86]:17). 17 After this verse has been said three times, he receives a blessing. Then the one beginning his service follows and says: God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me (Ps 69[70]:2). 18 And all repeat this verse three times. When he has received a blessing, he begins his service.

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

In this last half of Chapter 35, we have another sense of the compassion of Saint Benedict. He insists that the servers for the week, who will not have eaten at all up to this point in the day, must be given some food and drink before the meal, so that they don’t end up grumbling or feeling the hardship of having to serve others while they themselves have not yet had anything to eat or drink. We should always note that the bread ration was weighed out and the drink ration was measured out and each monk was given a particular amount of bread and a particular measure of drink. Here, Saint Benedict gives extra bread to the servers and extra drink as well.

This extra bread and extra drink are the norm for the daily life. On Sundays and solemnities, the servers have to wait until after Holy Mass. This is because of the fast for everyone that preceded Holy Communion at that time. Today we are not used to having long fasts in order to receive Holy communion.

At the end of the Chapter, Saint Benedict puts into effect what he has stated before: before every good work, let the monk pray. Here the servers, both those completing their week of service and those beginning their service, are to receive a blessing.

What an enormous difference happens in our lives when we begin to recognize that we can and should pray before we start any activity and after we have finished it. We need to pray when we rise in the morning and pray when we go to bed at night. We need to pray before we begin work and pray when we have completed work. We need to pray when we begin lectio and pray when we complete lectio.

All of this personal praying is for the purpose of keeping us aware of the presence of God at all times and for the sake of us renewing that prayer within us which we are to try to keep at all times.

May the Lord help us as we serve one another and help us pray at all times.