Book Binding And The Theology Of The Hours Of Prayer

St. Benedict wrote that monastics are most themselves when they work by the labour of their hands. Without physical work we most definitely feel off balance both physically and spiritually.  Moreover, the best work allows us to do the work while being conscious of the presence of God in the moment.  In other words, good work helps us to pray effortlessly throughout our day and not only in the times that we regularly set aside  according to the schedule of prayer we maintain here on the farm as Benedictine Oblates.  This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote that we should pray without ceasing.



It will be noticed that in this chapter Cassian [c. 330 – 426] alludes to five offices: (1) A morning office; (2) the third hour; (3) the sixth hour; (4) the ninth; and (5) Vespers; and gives the grounds for their observance.  Similar grounds are given by Cyprian [Bishop/martyr c. 200 – 258], De Orat.Dominica sub fine: For upon the disciples, at the third hour, the Holy Spirit descended, who fulfilled the grace of the Lord’s promise. Moreover, at the sixth hour,Peter, going up to the housetop, was instructed as well by the sign as by the word of God, admonishing him to receive all to the grace of salvation, whereas he was previously doubtful of the receiving of the Gentiles to baptism.  As from the sixth to the ninththe Lord, being crucified, washed away our sins by His blood; and that He might redeem and quicken us, He then accomplished His victory by His passion.  But for us, beloved brethren, besides the hours of prayer observed of old… the times…have now increased in number.  For we must also pray in the morning, that the Lord’s resurrection may be celebrated by morning prayer. . .. Also at the sun-settingand decline of day  we must pray again.  For since Christ is the true Sun and the Day, as the worldly sun and day depart, when we pray and ask that light may return to us again,we pray for the advent of Christ, which shall give us the grace of everlasting light.  Cf. also S. Basil [c. 330 – 379], The Greater Monastic Rules, Q xxxvii., where the same subject is discussed, and Apost. Const. Book VIII. c.xxxiv.  In later times the Seven Canonical Hours were all connected with the events of our Lord’s Passion, and supposed to commemorate His sufferings, as the following stanzas show: –

At Mattins bound, at Prime reviled,
Condemned to death at Tierce,
Nailed to the Cross at Sext, at Nones
His blessed side they pierce.

They take him down at Vesper-tide,
In grave at Compline lay;
Who thenceforth bids His Church observe
Her sevenfold hour always.

(Chapter III, Book III, ’Of The Canonical System Of The Daily Prayers and Psalms,’The Institutes of John Cassian in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, ed. Schaff and Wace, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, reprinted 1986).

Outside -10F / -23C and blustery wind; indoors 76F / 22C with a fire gently burning in the stove.  All day we printed and cut and bound with nary a word, all the time nurturing the undistracted subtle presence and pleasure of God in our work and bodies.  And with each workbook imaging the person who would hold it.  God holding them in God’s arms.  Psalm 131.  Our mantra.

It was great work.

The conjoining beauty and brilliance of being a Benedictine Catholic Worker.

[Did you know that nary is the contraction of never – ne’er?]

…and the easiest instructions for coil binding…