Chapter Thirty Five, Part One
Let the members serve each other so that no one be excused from the work in the kitchen, except on account of sickness or more necessary work, because greater merit and more charity is thereby acquired. Let help be given to the weak, however, that they may not do this work with sadness; but let all have help according to the size of the community and the circumstances of the place. If the community is large, let the cellarer be excused from the kitchen, or if, as we have said, any are engaged in more urgent work; let the rest serve each other in charity.
Let those who are to go out of the weekly service, do the cleaning on Saturday. Let them wash the towels with which the members wipe their hands and feet. Let them who go out, as well as them who are to come in, wash the feet of all. Let them return the utensils of their department to the cellarer clean and whole. Let the cellarer give the same to those who come in, so that they may know what is given and what is received back.
I am struck by the opening lines of this chapter:
Let the members serve one another so that no one be excused from the work in the kitchen . . . because greater merit and more charity is thereby acquired.
Kitchen service is among the least specialized, least esoteric practices in the monastery, yet the formational value of overtly serving one's sisters and brothers in this way is high. During the first week of my stay at St. Gregory's Abbey in July of 2011, the abbot of the community served as one of the kitchen servers—standing at the back of the refectory, clearing each plate, each cup, each piece of silverware as we finished, eating his meal after everyone else was dismissed. I saw clearly how such service acts to demolish any class system.
There is a powerful connection here to the essence of Christ's own humility as one who is "Lord" and "Teacher" and who stoops to take on the lowest task in the community. Our Father Benedict understands that a visceral, tactile experience of humble service on the part of everyone in the community animates the very Spirit of Christ in our midst.