That Monk Does What? Part 2
A look into the little-known titles of monastic assignments
Read Part 1 here: That Monk Does What? Part 1
What kind of work do the monks do? In the Fall-Winter 2020 issue of Tower Topics, we offered a look into monastic assignments not commonly known. In addition to those and many other assignments, the monastic community also has weekly assignments to maintain the routine and rhythm of the monastery, according to The Rule of St. Benedict. What do the titles of weekly assignments mean? What responsibilities do they entail? In order to help you understand these assignments, we present to you some of the weekly monastic assignments.
— Descriptions written by Br. Bernard Montgomery, OSB
Hebdomidarian? Yes, it is a word that is not in most people’s vocabulary. Even monks often shorten it to “Heb.” When you have a community chanting the Divine Office in common, someone has to take the lead, to get it started and to conclude it. That is the assigned role of the Hebdomidarian, or Choir Leader, who leads the monks in prayer for a week at a time. “Brother, I have a parish assignment today. Can you be Heb for me?” We hear it from time to time.
One of the brethren on a weekly basis is assigned the duty of preparing the Church for the next hour of the Divine Office or Mass. The porter, as the name signifies, takes care of opening doors, lighting candles, marking the hymn board and distributing worship aids for monks, students and visitors — an unending task.
Priest-monks of the community are assigned by the Prior to be the celebrants of the community Mass, generally appointed on a daily rather than a weekly rotation. With a wide variety of priest-presiders, the Abbey community is thus blessed with a rich variety of homilists who open up the depths of God’s Word for us on a daily basis.
Several minutes before the beginning of one of the liturgical services in the Basilica, it is not unusual to pass by a monk in a monastery hallway who is heading in the direction of the Basilica. He is making his way to the north tower in order to ring bells which will call the community to either an hour of the Divine Office or else to Mass. We have been tempted to automate, but for the time being when you hear bells ringing at the Abbey, you know that there is a monk (or monks) pulling ropes, calling the brethren to prayer.
St. Benedict devotes one chapter in his Rule to the monks who will serve as waiters in the refectory. He writes in Chapter 35, “let them serve their brothers without murmuring or hardship.” To show the importance of this service, at the beginning of each week a new set of monks receives a blessing from the Abbot at the evening meal as they begin their seven days of service. This blessing indicates that the waiters are ministering in imitation of Christ, who came “not be served but to serve.”
St. Benedict is clear in the Holy Rule: Reading will always accompany the meals of the brothers (RB 38,1). Thus, the community is nourished both bodily and spiritually at the same time. The monk assigned to this task prepares in advance so that the reading may benefit the hearers. Listening to reading during a meal is an ancient monastic custom, and in fact a most enjoyable one.