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The Richness of Benedictine Liturgy

Interview With the President of Pontifical Liturgical Institute

SANTO DOMINGO DE SILOS, Spain, OCT. 2, 2006 (Zenit) - Is there a Benedictine liturgy?

In this interview with us, Benedictine Father Juan Javier Flores Arcas, president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome, explores this question.

Q: Can one speak specifically of a Benedictine liturgy, or is it an inadequate expression?

Father Flores: There is no "monastic liturgy," as there is no Benedictine liturgy, nor has it ever existed, as the liturgy belongs to the Church and is planned, acted and lived for all Christians. What does exist is a monastic or Benedictine way of celebrating the sacred liturgy.

Monks do not distance themselves from the liturgy of the Church; rather, they take advantage of it and live from it, as the liturgy belongs to the Church.

With this principle as base, I believe that, in today's monasteries, the liturgy must be one that reflects the spirit and letter of the liturgical books renewed after the liturgical reform.

Without nostalgias or returns to a romantic past, monasteries were in the vanguard of the liturgical movement and, in line with this, must continue to be places where the liturgy of today is celebrated and lived with the same spirit as always.

St. Benedict's Rule has no peculiarity in regard to the Eucharist or the rest of the sacraments. It is a 6th century document; immediately reflecting the ecclesial situation of the moment.

Only with reference to the Divine Office, which we now call Liturgy of the Hours, does it have a great peculiarity and originality. In the course of time and until today, there have been two types of offices in the Latin Church: the monastic office and the cathedral or clerical office.

The Benedictine Office is based on principles of the previous monastic tradition; it brings together and orders liturgical elements that, at the time, were in use in different churches. Both as a whole as well as in innumerable details, the Divine Office of the Benedictine Rule has great originality.

Q: What has been the influence of the Benedictines in the history of the liturgy?

Father Flores: Since their beginning, therefore, Benedictine monasteries have had a Divine Office different from that of the diocesan clergy and other religious, based on the distribution of the Psalter made by St. Benedict.

The principle of the Rule which has been categorically maintained over the centuries until now is that "care be taken that each week the whole Psalter of 150 Psalms is recited ..." (BR 18).

And one must also acknowledge that from the beginning monastic piety has been marked to a great extent by the piety of the Psalms.

Given that it is true that Benedictine monasteries should not be museums of Church history or of the history of the liturgy, they should consequently not be transformed into this. Nevertheless, the hope is very legitimate that the Psalterium per Hebdomadam, which has more than 1,500 years of tradition, might be maintained in Benedictine monasteries, at least in the monastic office.

However, Benedictine monasteries adapt to time and place. The possibility to move away from the principle assumed by monasticism of praying 150 Psalms in a specific way, was already foreseen in chapter 18 of the Benedictine Rule: "Above all we note that if, perhaps, some one might not like this distribution of the Psalm, that he order them in another way, if it seems better" (BR 18,22). But, St. Benedict adds, maintaining the previous principle of the weekly Psalter.

Q: How is the distribution of the Psalms organized?

Father Flores: The reform of the Divine Office in Benedictine monasteries is based solely on the "Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae," prepared by and for the Benedictine Confederation, where other ways of distributing the Psalter were not being set out according to the possibilities of the different monasteries.

Among the four possibilities that monasteries can choose is plan A -- or of the Rule -- plan B -- Fuglister -- which distributes the Psalter in one or two weeks with different exegetical and biblical criteria other than those that St. Benedict had in his day, in addition to two other plans that have had less resonance.

Therefore today the different monasteries have the choice to opt for a Divine Office that responds more to the exigencies of time, place and work of each monastery.

Some have opted for maintaining the traditional Benedictine plan; a great majority today follow plan B with the distribution of the Psalter in one or two weeks. Some have actually opted for adopting the Roman Liturgy of the Hours itself.

It is, therefore, more the responsibility proper to each Benedictine monastery to choose one or another plan, knowing that among the elements of Benedictine life the Divine Office must occupy first place (BE 8,20; 43,3) , and nothing must be preferred to it.

Q: What repercussion do Benedictine monasteries have in the liturgical life of the Church?

Father Flores: In the course of the centuries Benedictine monasteries have been places of spiritual and liturgical radiance; more than that, they maintained culture during the Middle Ages and from their schools arose the personalities of the Church of the moment. Let us think of the great monasteries, such as Cluny, Saint Gall, etc.

In 1909, specifically around the Belgian monastery of Mont Cesar, a "liturgical movement" arose led by Dom Lamberto Beauduin who from being a priest dedicated to the labor world became a Benedictine monk in the said monastery. From this liturgical movement the Church moved to the liturgical reform stemming from the Second Vatican Council.

The Benedictine monasteries were centers of spiritual -- and therefore of liturgical -- radiance. Let us think of Solesmes (France), Beuron and Maria Laach (Germany), Montserrat and Silos (Spain), Montecasino and Subiaco (Italy), Maredsous and the already mentioned Mont Cesar (Belgium), etc.

All these monasteries have their doors open to their most precious treasure, their liturgical prayer, so that the prayer of the community living there is shared with guests and visitors, who are thus introduced to the great prayer of the Church.

This can be considered the monastic apostolate par excellence; monasteries have evangelized in this way. Also today there is an excellent way of spending one's "vacations" by staying in a monastic guest house and participating in the different Hours of the day, to the rhythm and with the help of the Benedictine monks and nuns.

Q: Has Pope Benedict XVI been influenced by this Benedictine liturgical spirituality?

Father Flores: Benedict XVI has expressed great love and appreciation of the Benedictine Order and St. Benedict throughout his trajectory. The fact that he chose the name of the father of Western monasticism is very significant, as he himself explained a few days after his election.

The liturgy has been part of his life, as he himself says in his autobiography, already from his seminary years. He regularly visited the German Benedictine monastery of Scheyern in Bavaria and every year, for the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, now living in Rome, he went to the convent of the Benedictine nuns of Rosano, near Florence, where he participated in the nuns' liturgy and presided personally at the Corpus Christi procession.

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Benedictine, Liturgy, Arcas

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