The oratory

St Benedict says in Chapter 52 of his Rule that “if at other times than at the Work of God someone chooses to pray privately, he may simply go in and pray.”

This one word “simply” betokens St Benedict’s always-and-everywhere, almost prosaic intention for his monks, in whatever area of monastic life, to just get on with it, transcending self. The drawing-toward, the initiative, is all on God’s side; it is left to us to respond with as much directness and as little self-conscious drama as possible.

As for the oratory itself, the chapel with its chairs ranged around the altar encloses the largest contiguous open space in the monastery.

Contemplative monastics are sometimes asked “why don’t you go out and do something useful, since there is so much need in the world?” So with the monastery chapel, since in other areas of the monastery some things can be fitted in only with a shoehorn—what is all this blank space about?

This arrangement is iconic of the contemplative life itself: one room, one life given over to nothing and to no other purpose than the praise of God, and all that entails.

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