March 17, July 17, November 16
Chapter 38: On the Weekly Reader
The meals of the sisters should not be without reading.
Nor should the reader be
anyone who happens to take up the book;
but there should be a reader for the whole week,
entering that office on Sunday.
Let this incoming reader,
after Mass and Communion,
ask all to pray for her
that God may keep her from the spirit of pride
And let her intone the following verse,
which shall be said three times by all in the oratory:
"O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall declare Your praise."
Then, having received a blessing,
let her enter on the reading.
And let absolute silence be kept at table,
so that no whispering may be heard
nor any voice except the reader's.
As to the things they need while they eat and drink,
let the sisters pass them to one another
so that no one need ask for anything.
If anything is needed, however,
let it be asked for by means of some audible sign
rather than by speech.
Nor shall anyone at table presume to ask questions
about the reading or anything else,
lest that give occasion for talking;
except that the Superior may perhaps wish
to say something briefly for the purpose of edification.
The sister who is reader for the week
shall take a little ablution before she begins to read,
on account of the Holy Communion
and lest perhaps the fast be hard for her to bear.
She shall take her meal afterwards
with the kitchen and table servers of the week.
The sisters are not to read or chant in order,
but only those who edify their hearers.
Father Bede and I are rather closely tied for the title of Bad Boy of
the Refectory. Between us, we account for most of the knowing looks,
jests and non-verbal signals during silent meals. If they don't break
silence, they at least stretch it at times. I imagine there are some
who wish we'd stop at times, but I think I know the reason Father
Anselm, our superior, lets our antics continue. There is a lot of
healthy love in playfulness.
Some people, and I think especially some men, express affection by
jest, by teasing. In fact, for some, that is the only way around
their discomfort at expressing affectionate feelings! I personally
love to be teased. It is a sign that I am loved, that I matter. Since
it means so much to me, I often tease others, a projection of my own
esteem for the activity that, alas, is not always shared!
Silence in the refectory began with a rather close comparison to
silence in Church: one fed the body, the other the soul. In some
Athonite and Russian monasteries today there is still the tradition
of a "trapeza" (Greek for "table",) Church, that is, one room serves
both purposes. Of course, in the West, we moved completely away from
that architectural tradition, so silence in the ref, though
important, is not as sacrosanct as that of the choir!
This isn't working out to be much of a reflection per se, but just a
glimpse into the humanness of monastic life. Sometimes the matter
being read is sufficiently boring to make one chew with incredible
speed. (This is as Catch 22, however. The faster one eats, the more
days it will take to finish the gem at hand....) When we were
recently reading a document on consecrated life rich with Vaticanese,
a bureaucratic jargon that could induce sleep faster than any
narcotic known to science, there were ample opportunities for Fr.
Bede and I to enjoy a bit of comic relief.
At one pithy phrase about the crosses and burdens of life religious
must be bear, I made a stage glance of sympathetic patronization to
Br. Bernard on my left and knowingly patted his arm.... There are
moments of love and laughter, even in silence! You may be certain
that Father Bede, who heard the line as well as I did but wasn't
sitting close enough to make use of it, was watching and cracked up.
Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Petersham, MA