Prologue To the Rule of St. Benedict
Section 9 Verses 45 and 48
And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow.
And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord.
- Up to this point St. Benedict has been expounding a Biblical vision of the Christian life. In almost extreme brevity, he has summarised the key Biblical themes and understandings we need to be familiar with if we are to get the balance right. In this section we take a brief look at the state of the Church in the world and humbly offer a few thoughts on how to continue living the Christian life in our society.
- Though we hope much of our commentary on St. Benedict’s Prologue can be usefully read by Protestant readers, it is essentially for traditional Catholics who are unable to travel to Church for regular Sunday worship. For their spiritual survival in our contemporary pagan culture, traditional Catholics often find they need to travel great distances. As this is quite impractical for many, some assistance is needed to help them practise their Faith in their own localities.
- This paper does not tackle the issues which are the real problem for traditional Catholics. That is done elsewhere by competent writers whose works can be trusted and respected. Our purpose, here, is to offer a traditional Christian model which may help Catholics in some situations to maintain traditional Catholic culture, and pass it on to their young.
- In verse 45 of his Prologue, St. Benedict talks of establishing “a school for the service of the Lord”. His phrase in Latin is, “dominici schola servitti”. The highly esteemed commentary of the Rule of St. Benedict (Liturgical Press, Collegeville 1980), makes this comment, applying “schola” (school) to the monastery:
In this noble and often quoted phrase, a school “for” rather than “of” seems best to catch the idea that the monastery is a place where the monks both learn how to serve the Lord and actually do so. In the Latin of this period, schola could mean not only a place where instruction was received but the group receiving instruction as well as, more generally, a vocational corporation (such as a guild) of people devoted to a common craft or service.
A similar usage can be seen in the English “school of painters” or “school of porpoises”. The “school for the Lord’s service” may certainly be regarded as the central idea of the Prologue. It implies that the monastery (the school) is the place where Christ continues to teach his disciples the baptismal renunciation of sin and the ways that lead to the repose of eternal life. It implies that the life in the monastery is a service of Christ, the Lord. It implies, finally, that service calls for strenuous obedience and suffering with Christ but that such service leads even now to a joyful and loving observance of the commandments of God.
- We believe this concept of the schola can be applied to our contemporary context to great advantage. The word schola today is sometimes used as a term for a group of singers or cantors who specialise in chanting or singing particular parts of liturgical worship. We are retaining St. Benedict’s traditional use of the Latin term as embodied in verse 45 above, which means a school for the Lord’s service. It is our belief (from experience as well as from a theoretical position) that in any location where there are Catholics unable to travel each Sunday to a Catholic Church centre, any number of interested persons can form a type of schola. Such a group can establish themselves as a “school for the service of the Lord”.
The schola could consist of one or more families or individuals who would see themselves as constituting a small unit for the purpose of living and practising their Faith according to traditional Catholic culture. Insofar as this is appropriate or desirable, we would see them being established and operating under the distant auspices of a parish priest or other appointed cleric who would maintain whatever level of interaction is possible.
- A schola would not exist for its own sake, but to help provide an organic link between a Catholic parish church or religious community somewhere and help facilitate visits by members of the schola to that Church or community if and when practicable, as well as provide an organised setting for a priest to visit it when this can be arranged.
- A schola could therefore, as stated, consist of a family or a group of families together with other individuals. Those familiar with religious community methods of organisation may be familiar with the traditional “laura” model. This was a community of dispersed individuals who came together according to an agreed rhythm, for prayer, study and worship.
The schola could, in fact, be a Christian lay laura and operate as a unit attached to a parish or religious community despite being some considerable distance from that centre.
- We see the schola potentially as a cluster of satellite individuals and families who would:
— develop a rhythm of coming together for a time and then dispersing;
— establish a defined range of activities (including prayer and worship, study and reflection, social and charitable);
— send one or more representatives to a major parish church, Mass-centre or religious community when able to do so;
— maintain communication with their chosen centre as practicable.
Hopefully, a priest travelling on an extended circuit may be able to celebrate Mass, administer the Sacraments from time to time, and meet with leaders to encourage them and ensure the educational direction of the schola is in harmony with that of its parish centre or associated religious community, and Diocesan programmes.
- In elaborating a little on how we see the schola groups developing, we do not see them as the modern “base” or “ecclesial” communities. The latter are something quite different, which should not be compared nor confused with the subject of this paper.
- A schola, as we have described, could facilitate traditional Catholic culture in its smallest unit (of the family) as well as in the connected group of units. With this understanding the schola would be a localised Catholic group coming together for:
— religious education;
— corporal and spiritual works of mercy;
— social activities.
St. Benedict, in his Prologue, gives considerable emphasis to the concept of the schola being a place of on-going learning. This is an essential feature of these centres. Together with the other activities listed above, it would ensure traditional Catholic culture is fostered for the benefit of the members as well as the wider community.
- A schola is likely to gather in the home of one of its members, and this is an excellent practice. However, the schola may, due to its particular circumstances, maintain some other meeting place for its members to gather e.g. worship or education or social events or perhaps for all of these. There is no reason why the schola should not, under appropriate guidance, set up an oratory or chapel in a spare basement, garage or unused hall, or even an unused Church. The setting aside of a place specifically for worship would be a great help. Otherwise, the devotional centre in a private home is another option, never to be under-valued. In another part of this web site we have provided ideas to guide the establishment of a private oratory.
- We ask you to read again the quoted commentary above on verse 45 of the Prologue and to visualise the schola not as a monastery envisaged by St. Benedict, but as a lay laura — a dispersed community which functions as a satellite of a distant parish centre or religious community to which it is linked.
In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.
- The Rule of St. Benedict is known for its balance and utter reasonableness. St. Benedict avoided cluttering up his Rule when things could be presented simply without over-complicating any aspect. He was totally down-to-earth and disliked excessive sophistication . Thus, in the spirit of this Rule the regulations put in place to guide members of a schola should be the minimum needed for good governance. Having said this, it would be entirely in the spirit of the Rule to have some form of leadership structure in place, with the allocation of duties to different members. A schola is not a casual affair, but an organised and well-run form of a community.
- St. Benedict goes to great lengths in his Rule to outline how those appointed or elected to be in charge must see themselves as servants of the community and never lord it over the other members.
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow.
- St. Benedict is realistic. There are going to be leaders, agreed practices and regulations. These are necessary for good order and ensuring the schola services the spiritual needs of its members. He paves the way for leaders to seek support for new or revised rules. He also sounds a warning to would-be members, that when they choose to enter the schola, the way at first may seem narrow and a little bit disconcerting, for whatever reason. “Persevere”, he says, “Give yourself a chance”.
- A schola, then should not hesitate to set clear guidelines for itself, as well as parameters and restrictions. These can be very simply presented and should always be seen as protecting the schola as well as the very reason people wish to belong to it: their sanctification as active members of Christ’s Body, the Church.
- For this reason, a schola should always comprise of enthusiastic members who take their Faith seriously and apply themselves in a systematic and organised way to reflect Christ to the wider community. A schola should not be inward-looking but see itself as an organic part of its local setting and take care to engage warmly with other people and community initiatives. Non-Catholic visitors should be made welcome and given sufficient explanation to help them participate as may be appropriate, without any pressure or obligation.