Introductory Note:

Whether or not the phrase itself is found in the Rule of St. Benedict, the idea of ora et labora (pray and work) is so closely in alignment with the daily rhythm espoused in this book that it has become a de facto Benedictine saying. The simple beauty of this directive appeals to us as a balm on a sin-sick, busy world.

It would seem, though, like Benedict himself might add on one more admonition to this imperative: lege (read). In today’s excerpt from the Rule, we look at the rhythm of a monk’s work life throughout the seasons of the church year. Might it surprise us a bit to see the careful balance between manual labor and times of reading? Complete with a Reading Proctor to ensure the brothers kept to their lectio divina and optional extra reading time in lieu of a nap, this quiet cycle has manifold attractions for any bookworm.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from The Rule of St. Benedict

48. On the Daily Manual Labor

Mar. 28 — July 28 — Nov. 27

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and again at fixed hours in sacred reading. To that end we think that the times for each may be prescribed as follows.

From Easter until the Calends of October, when they come out from Prime in the morning let them labor at whatever is necessary until about the fourth hour, and from the fourth hour until about the sixth let them apply themselves to reading. After the sixth hour, having left the table, let them rest on their beds in perfect silence; or if anyone may perhaps want to read, let him read to himself in such a way as not to disturb anyone else. Let None be said rather early, at the middle of the eighth hour, and let them again do what work has to be done until Vespers.

And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty should require that they themselves do the work of gathering the harvest, let them not be discontented; for then are they truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands, as did our Fathers and the Apostles. Let all things be done with moderation, however, for the sake of the faint-hearted.

Mar. 29 — July 29 — Nov. 28

From the Calends of October until the beginning of Lent, let them apply themselves to reading up to the end of the second hour. At the second hour let Terce be said, and then let all labor at the work assigned them until None. At the first signal for the Hour of None let everyone break off from his work, and hold himself ready for the sounding of the second signal. After the meal let them apply themselves to their reading or to the Psalms.

On the days of Lent, from morning until the end of the third hour let them apply themselves to their reading, and from then until the end of the tenth hour let them do the work assigned them. And in these days of Lent they shall each receive a book from the library, which they shall read straight through from the beginning. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.

But certainly one or two of the seniors should be deputed to go about the monastery at the hours when the brethren are occupied in reading and see that there be no lazy brother who spends his time in idleness or gossip and does not apply himself to the reading, so that he is not only unprofitable to himself but also distracts others. If such a one be found (which God forbid), let him be corrected once and a second time; if he does not amend, let him undergo the punishment of the Rule in such a way that the rest may take warning.

Moreover, one brother shall not associate with another at unseasonable hours.

Mar. 30 — July 30 — Nov. 29

On Sundays, let all occupy themselves in reading, except those who have been appointed to various duties. But if anyone should be so negligent and shiftless that he will not or cannot study or read, let him be given some work to do so that he will not be idle.

Weak or sickly brethren should be assigned a task or craft of such a nature as to keep them from idleness and at the same time not to overburden them or drive them away with excessive toil. Their weakness must be taken into consideration by the Abbot.

Excerpted from the The Rule of St. Benedict, public domain via Project Gutenberg.