Chapter 44: Satisfaction by the Excommunicated

1 Anyone excommunicated for serious faults from the oratory and from the table is to prostrate himself in silence at the oratory entrance at the end of the celebration of the Work of God. 2 He should lie face down at the feet of all as they leave the oratory, 3 and let him do this until the abbot judges he has made satisfaction. 4 Next, at the bidding of the abbot, he is to prostrate himself at the abbot’s feet, then at the feet of all that they may pray for him. 5 Only then, if the abbot orders, should he be admitted to the choir in the rank the abbot assigns. 6 Even so, he should not presume to lead a psalm or a reading or anything else in the oratory without further instructions from the abbot. 7 In addition, at all the hours, as the Work of God is being completed, he must prostrate himself in the place he occupies. 8 He will continue this form of satisfaction until the abbot again bids him cease. 9 Those excommunicated for less serious faults from the table only are to make satisfaction in the oratory for as long as the abbot orders. 10 They do so until he gives his blessing and says: “Enough.”

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

Saint Benedict returns several times to how the sanctions in the monastery are supposed to work. Here we return to the challenge of a monk who has a major excommunication. We can hardly imagine this type of penance today. Think of one of our brothers leaving the Church early so that he can lie face down on the floor when the monks come out of Church and walk by him!! Wow! Here again it is clear that only the abbot decides when penance is enough! It is not up to the monk himself and even less so is it up to the other brothers.

We can also imagine a brother at the end of each of the hours of the Divine Office going flat on the floor. This might not be a bad idea for a sanction in our community. It could at least be thought about and everyone, monks and guests alike, would know right away that the brother had some fault to atone for. Probably even in the time of Saint Benedict, lay people might come to the Church and see this penance. The penance that happens only in the refectory would be more private and thus is given here for lesser faults.

As we have mentioned so many times, the challenge is to find a sanction that really works in our own time to make a brother aware that he has committed a fault and that he must correct the fault.

It is far too easy to simply speak one’s fault out loud in a Chapter meeting and receive a small penance and then simply keep repeating the same fault over and over again.

The point of the sanction is to be strong enough that the brother will not want to have to suffer the sanction a second time.

May the Lord help us be good monks, monks who seek to lead a strong monastic life, monks who do not need lots of penances but who can accept penance when it is given.