Chapter 43: Tardiness at the Work of God or at Table

1 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, 2 yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity, 3 Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God. 4 If at Vigils anyone comes after the “Glory be to the Father” of Psalm 94, which we wish, therefore, to be said quite deliberately and slowly, he is not to stand in his regular place in choir. 5 He must take the last place of all, or one set apart by the abbot for such offenders, that they may be seen by him and by all, 6 until they do penance by public satisfaction at the end of the Work of God. 7 We have decided, therefore, that they ought to stand either in the last place or apart from the others so that the attention they attract will shame them into amending. 8 Should they remain outside the oratory, there may be those who would return to bed and sleep, or, worse yet, settle down outside and engage in idle talk, thereby giving occasion to the Evil One (Eph 4:27; 1 Tim 5:14). 9 They should come inside so that they will not lose everything and may amend in the future. 10 At the day hours the same rule applies to anyone who comes after the opening verse and the “Glory be to the Father” of the first psalm following it: he is to stand in the last place. 11 Until he has made satisfaction, he is not to presume to join the choir of those praying the psalms, unless perhaps the abbot pardons him and grants an exception. 12 Even in this case, the one at fault is still bound to satisfaction.

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

Saint Benedict comes back to treating what he considers unacceptable behavior in a monk: coming late to the Divine Office or to Table. It is clear that Saint Benedict leaves some room for monks to come late, since the “Glory be to the Father…” of Psalm 94 only comes after about five minutes of singing. We have to remember, of course, that this is not an invitation for monks to come in only at the end of Psalm 94. If a person is repeatedly late for Vigils or for any other Divine Office, then the Abbot has to begin to put pressure on the monk to be on time.

The Rule is so very clear that brothers should come to the Divine Office, even if they come late. Otherwise they stay in bed or they return to bed or they might even begin talking with someone else who has come late!! Rather than any of this, let the monk come into the Divine Office!

There is always a sanction for the monk coming late, some type of penance that he must receive. This is a real challenge in our own time when penances do not mean much to the monk. Sometimes a monk is quite happy to sleep in and receive a small penance.

On the positive side, for our spirituality, we want to become monks who are regularly present and on time at the Divine Office and at other community exercises. We need to free ourselves from all of the bad habits that we may have acquired in terms of coming late to the Divine Office.

We need to listen attentively to the injunction of Saint Benedict: when the signal is given, when the bell is rung, we should at that moment stop what we are doing and begin to move toward the Church so as to be on time for the Divine Office. This practice along would change many aspects of our monastic life!

Let us pray for one another, asking that God would put the good zeal of the Rule in our hearts and that we would strive to be present and on time for all of the Divine Office each day.

Chapter 43: Verses 13-19

13 But, if anyone does not come to table before the verse so that all may say the verse and pray and sit down at table together, 14 and if this failure happens through the individual’s own negligence or fault, he should be reproved up to the second time. 15 If he still does not amend, let him not be permitted to share the common table, 16 but take his meals alone, separated from the company of all. His portion of wine should be taken away until there is satisfaction and amendment. 17 Anyone not present for the verse said after meals is to be treated in the same manner. 18 No one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the time appointed. 19 Moreover, if anyone is offered something by a superior and refuses it, then, if later he wants what he refused or anything else, he should receive nothing at all until he has made appropriate amends.

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

Now we come to the end of this Chapter about coming late to the Divine Office or to the meal. We note here that Saint Benedict is very clear: if this failure happens through the individual’s own negligence or fault! This is an important condition that must be considered in all faults. Too often in communities, sanctions are applied without looking at the reality. If a brother comes late, but it is not his fault, then there should be no sanction. If a brother misses a Divine Office but it is not his negligence or fault, then no sanction should be given.

We humans are really subject to habits. When the habits are good, we call them virtues. When they are bad, we call them vices. Good habits in the monastery keep us aware of reality and help us live a strong and fruitful monastic life. Far too often, however, what looks like virtue remains only a habit that we have learned. So often we lose the inner meaning of what we are doing and thus we lose contact with the reality of our lives.

At the end of this Chapter we also have an injunction about eating outside of the normal eating times. This is particularly difficult in our present age when most of us grew up accustomed to eat when we felt like it. Much of modern culture has absolutely no discipline about food at all.

Saint Benedict describes what must have been a normal situation for him: offering a brother some good and being turned down! Later, the monk wants what he turned down earlier and Saint Benedict is clear that it should not just be given to him. Rather the monk needs to humble himself for being so indecisive.

For our spirituality, the teaching is clear: live with strength and vigor the monastic life to which you have been called. If something is really your fault, then accept a penance. If it is not your fault, then don’t just act like it was out of habit! Really we see here in this Chapter: be who you are as a monk!