St. Benedict built on the teaching of St. John Cassian and St. Basil the Great, as well as the practice of the Church of Rome which he had learned in his brief student days in that city. For anyone who is interested, RB1980 has a thirty-five page essay on the liturgical practice that St. Benedict legislates–the sources that influenced him, the various changes he made to suit the circumstances of his followers.
St. Benedict was both traditional and creative, allowing anyone to offer a different arrangement of the psalms, for example, with no objections from him. He asked, however, that none of the psalms be omitted–the whole Psalter should be said. What is paramount in St. Benedicts teaching is that nothing should be preferred to the Work of God (nichil operi Dei praeponantur). It is the foundation on which our whole life is built.
Nothing else is as important in the monk’s life as his participation in the community prayer. Surely, this is not the only thing a monk does. Benedict wisely establishes a balance in the community’s life. Along with the Work of God (Opus Dei) is the work of our hands and the time given to interior growth through lectio divina. That term alone has much flexibility, opposite to the structured Divine Office. But they are two parts of a whole. Lectio divina allows for the individual monk’s interior state and his degree of maturity in the spiritual life. Lectio divina is first and foremost praying the Bible and all that flows from praying the Bible. It is the monk’s growth in his personal relationship to God, the practice of which varies with the seasons of his life. From study and memorization to contemplation and interior stillness. Lectio divina is the work of the Holy Spirit; without lectio divina the monk’s praying the Divine Office, the Opus Dei, would be mere external conformity and soulless.
Opus manuum, the work of our hands, is what we do with one another and for one another, serving one another, obeying one another, anticipating one another, all things in common, supporting one another, “showing the pure love of brothers”. That’s almost an untranslatable phrase in St. Benedict’s Rule: caritatem fraternitatis caste impendant–“offering the love of brotherhood purely” sort of says it. It’s not unlike the intent of the earlier phrase, “no one pursuing what he judges better for himself, but instead what he judges better for his brother.” But now, it’s not a question of an intellectual judgment, but spontaneously, from the heart–caritatem fraternitatis caste. All in all, opus manuum, the work of our hands is an all-encompassing activity, what we live daily together in community. There remain these three: Opus Dei, opus manuum and lectio divina. Each is essential and all are inseparable from one another; no two stand without the third; they form an integral whole.
Nonetheless, nothing is to be put before the Work of God. This is who we are and what we profess. A monk is a man of prayer.