CHAPTER 38 - The Reader for the Week

Reading will accompany the meals. ... The members should by turn serve one another's needs as they eat and drink, so that no one need ask for anything. RB 38: 1, 6

The practice of reading at table had been going on long before Benedict. For Pachomius the meal was an ascetical, penitential experience. During Cassian's time table-reading was a way to keep silence in the dining room. Augustine arranged for table-reading because "not only should your mouths eat food, but your ears should take in the Word of God." This pointed to Luke 4:4: "One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." The scene described in the Rule of the Master was more like a master/student relationship: the monastics were quizzed on the reading during the meal.

Benedict drastically abbreviated his major sources and by doing so leaves us with little reason for why he continued table-reading, but he makes it clear, with out explanation, that reading is to be done. He does add something very valuable to the tradition of monastic meals: the element of charity. Benedict calls us listen to the Word of God and to watch out for the needs of one another. He is making it clear that we should be attentive to God speaking to us in the Word and in the neighbor. One without the other makes no sense to Benedict.

Listen! Be attentive!