March 21, July 21, November 20
Chapter 42: That No One Speak After Compline
Monastics ought to be zealous for silence at all times,
but especially during the hours of the night.
For every season, therefore,
whether there be fasting or two meals,
let the program be as follows:
If it be a season when there are two meals,
then as soon as they have risen from supper
they shall all sit together,
and one of them shall read the Conferences
or the Lives of the Fathers
or something else that may edify the hearers;
not the Heptateuch or the Books of Kings, however,
because it will not be expedient for weak minds
to hear those parts of Scripture at that hour;
but they shall be read at other times.
If it be a day of fast,
then having allowed a short interval after Vespers
they shall proceed at once to the reading of the Conferences,
as prescribed above;
four or five pages being read, or as much as time permits,
so that during the delay provided by this reading
all may come together,
including those who may have been occupied
in some work assigned them.
When all, therefore, are gathered together,
let them say Compline;
and when they come out from Compline,
no one shall be allowed to say anything from that time on.
And if anyone should be found evading this rule of silence,
let her undergo severe punishment.
An exception shall be made
if the need of speaking to guests should arise
or if the Abbess should give someone an order.
But even this should be done with the utmost gravity
and the most becoming restraint.
Silence is sometimes viewed as a penance or deprivation by those new
to monastic life. Worse still, it can even seem depressed or
introverted, because silence, in our chatty culture, is often equated
with unhealthy withdrawal or even with contempt.
Monastic silence is nothing negative and, actually, not very passive,
either. It is an active opening of the ears and of the heart, a
listening for things which the drone of modern life and the noise of
our own mouths can readily obscure. Monastic silence is the hushed
and breathless quiet of the Lover, not the lonely isolation of the
As monastic life blossoms- and this is a subjective process that
happens at different speeds for different people- one finds more and
more that silence is at the heart of the tightly wrapped bud. A word
of caution here for impatient types like me: one cannot PRY the bud
open. Those delicate petals are prone to easy tearing! (Ah, an
English pun of spelling here and it applies all too well! Yes, those
petals are prone to BOTH "teering" of weeping and "taring" of
rips!) It opens gradually. You can thwart that chain of events by non-
cooperation, but there is little you can do to safely speed it up.
Put another way, the monastic heart grows more and more to love
silence, to love solitude for the best reasons. Oblates here must be
very careful. One's first vocation is one's spouse and children. The
demands of everyday life must be respected as one's primary vocation
and that can make chiseling out a niche of silent time or solitude
well-nigh impossible. That is a cross we are asked to bear. God knew
from all eternity where He would place our monastic hearts, in what
environment they would grow. We must assume quite safely that god
does, after all, know what He is doing!
Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB jeromeleo@...
St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA