Tuesday, November 17, 2015

only those who edify their hearers

Chapter 38 of the rule of St Benedict deals with the choosing of the weekly reader. For those of you for whom this is alien territory, it is common in monasteries for meals to be taken in silence while some suitable matter is read aloud by one of the community. Part of St Benedict's instructions on how the reader for the week is to be chosen is as follows:

The brothers are not to read or chant in order, but only those who edify their hearers.

In other words, this task isn't simply about everyone taking turns, as it is with working in the kitchens or serving at tables. The person doing the reading has to have some talent for it. The saint doesn't go into details, but common sense would suggest that the role would probably require the reader to have reasonable diction, a good speaking voice that can be clearly heard by all in the room, and perhaps even some small ability to convey the sense of what they are reading in an intelligent manner. After all, what is the point of a person reading who can't be heard or who so mangles the sense of the material in such a manner that no one listening has any idea of what the writer was trying to communicate?

It is a wisdom that some would do well to take beyond the walls of the monastery. I don't know about you, but I've lost track of the amount of church services I've attended where the person reading might as well have been speaking a foreign language for all I understood of what they were saying. We wouldn't dream of asking someone to sing a solo in church who was not a talented singer. Why then do we think it reasonable to ask someone to read aloud the Word of God who is not a talented when it comes to reading?

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