Tunc dixit: Ecce venio

crucifi1CHAPTER XXXIII. Whether Monks Ought to Have Anything of Their Own

11 Mar. 11 July. 10 Nov.

The vice of private ownership is above all to be cut off from the Monastery by the roots. Let none presume to give or receive anything without leave of the Abbot, nor to keep anything as their own, either book or writing-tablet or pen, or anything whatsoever; since they are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power. But all that is necessary they may hope to receive from the father of the Monastery: nor are they allowed to keep anything which the Abbot has not given, or at least permitted them to have. Let all things be common to all, as it is written: “Neither did anyone say that aught which he possessed was his own.” But if any one shall be found to indulge in this most baneful vice, and after one or two admonitions do not amend, let him be subjected to correction.

A Mectildian Anniversary Today is the 375th anniversary of the profession of Catherine de Bar under the Rule of Saint Benedict. It was the feast of the Translation of Saint Benedict, 11 July 1640. Catherine de Bar was 25 years old; she changed her name to Catherine de Sainte–Mectilde in honour of the medieval Benedictine mystic of the liturgy, the famous “Nightingale of Helfta”. Mectilde de Bar was to become in the Benedictine Order a Doctor of the ever–flowing Mystical Life that finds its source and its summit in the Most Holy Eucharist.

Neither Body nor Will in Their Own Power I find it remarkable that the daily reading of the Holy Rule in course should, on this feast of our glorious father Saint Benedict, fall on Chapter XXXIII, "Whether Monks Ought to Have Anything of Their Own". It is precisely this chapter that contains the sentence that best expresses and sums up the distinctively Mectildian hermeneutic of the Holy Rule: They are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power. Saint Benedict's radical uprooting of the vice of proprietorship, far from being a merely negative list of prohibitions — Let none presume to give or receive anything without leave of the Abbot, nor to keep anything as their own, either book or writing-tablet or pen, or anything whatsoever — leads to an oblative poverty, to the disappropriation by which a victim laid upon the altar, a hostia, a sacrificial lamb, is made over to God. Herein, according to Saint Augustine, lies the essence of sacrificium.

This Is My Body Given Up for You

The core sentence of Chapter XXXIII — They are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power — cannot be understood apart from the very words of Jesus on the night before He suffered, "This is my body, which shall be given up for you" (1 Corinthians 11:24), nor apart from the first priestly utterance of the Word upon taking flesh in the sanctuary of the Virgin's womb: "Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me" (Hebrews 10:5), and again, "Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7).

Configuration to Jesus the Host

The monk who, according to Saint Benedict, has not even his own body and will at his disposal, has entered into the way of a mystic configuration to Jesus the Host, the Victim, the sacrificial Lamb. With Jesus, the Benedictine monk called to live a specifically Mectildian hermeneutic of the Holy Rule, learns to say, day by day and hour by hour, "This, O Father, is my body given up to Thee in Christ, the body thou hast fitted to me, that I should do thy will".

One Same Victim with Christ Himself

It is in contemplating the Host — Christ in the state of sacrificial victimhood — that the monk begins to learn the depth of what Saint Benedict says when he prescribes that monks are permitted to have neither body nor will in their own power. The monk has nothing, not even his body and his will, because, by receiving the Body of Jesus daily in Holy Communion, he is drawn into the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice, becoming as the liturgy says, "one same victim with Christ Himself." This is the ultimate meaning of Benedictine disappropriation.

Haec munera, Domine, mediator noster Iesus Christus Tibi reddat accepta; et nos, una secum, hostias Tibi gratas exhibeat.

May our mediator Jesus Christ, O Lord, make these offerings acceptable to Thee; and together with Himself may He present us to Thee as victims.

(Secret of the Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest)