Tonight, after supper dishes were washed and put away, we gathered in the chapel for one of our occasional choir practices. It’s a chance for us to learn new music, review seasonal antiphons, and in general try to keep us singing as one voice. As we gradually assembled in our choir stalls, you would have thought we were gathering for prayer, not for practice. It was the same silence, the same reverence, the same sitting in prayerful expectation as it is for Lauds or Vespers on any given morning or evening. The only thing that gave it away that we were not gathering for prayer was the absence of lit candles and bells.
In the monastery chapel, we fall readily and naturally into the reverence that befits the space, no matter whether our purpose is cleaning the chapel, music rehearsal, or preparation for liturgy. There’s no idle chatter, no loud gestures, no needless extravagance. The only extravagance is that of God’s goodness and glory, of our prayer and praise, and the extravagance of reverent silence in the midst of this often noisy and chaotic world. As we gathered and departed tonight in the most natural of silences, I realized the extent to which we’ve internalized St. Benedict’s instruction about the Oratory of the Monastery:
Let the oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer;
and let nothing else be done there or kept there.
When the Work of God is ended,
let all go out in perfect silence,
and let reverence for God be observed…
(From the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 52, “On the Oratory of the Monastery”)