Saint Benedict says in his Holy Rule, c.43: “Let nothing whatsoever be put before the Work of God”, the Opus Dei, meaning the sacred liturgy which the monks celebrate in their church throughout the day. In ordering the daily routine, he says, following the psalm 119: “Seven times a day have I have given you praise…..and at midnight I rose to give you praise.” It may seem strange to modern sensibilities that so much time should be devoted to what might be deemed to be “unproductive” work. This is hardly surprising in today’s secular society which has become quite divorced from the idea of worship. But for Saint Benedict, who is only following ancient Christian and monastic practice, worship holds a primacy in the monk’s life.
The sacred liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is the meeting of God with his people, who celebrate therein the new and eternal Covenant in the sacrifice of Christ. It is the Work of God in two senses: firstly what God the Father has done for his people in his only Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ and secondly how we respond to that initiative by offering ourselves to the Father in Christ Jesus, our High Priest, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian Church has always been aware that this earthly liturgy is not an end in itself, but is a foretaste of the liturgy of heaven. Saint Benedict reminds his monks that when they are at the Work of God in choir, they are standing in the presence of the angels. The liturgy we celebrate on earth brings together the divine and the human. We have the sacred Word of God in Holy Scripture. We have music, poetry, art and architecture, but above all in the Holy Eucharist, we have the true Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. All this is possible because of the supreme mystery of the Word of God incarnate, Christ Jesus, truly God and man, whose Holy Spirit fills the Church and all creation. So we are led even now into the sublime mystery of the blessed Trinity. One day the veil will be taken away when we will see God face to face.
Meanwhile here on earth Saint Benedict sees the liturgy as extending into the basic realities of human life, to the community meals, to the reception of guests and the poor, to the care of the sick. In all these areas we meet Christ in one another.
It would be mistaken to view the significance of the monastic liturgy as something entirely confined to the life of monks. Although in form it may be more elaborate than what one would have in a parish church, it is still part of the one liturgy of the Church, the worship offered to the Father, through Christ the Son, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. It is offered not just for Catholics, not just for Christians, but for all mankind, for all who do the Work of God in the world, who seek to bring justice and peace, who strive to bring healing out of pain, who search for that Truth and Beauty which is God alone, even though they themselves may be unbelievers. God wills all to be saved and it is that saving will of the God who is Love which is celebrated in the sacred liturgy.