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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 ...

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