The Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 52
"To know God in time and space we must regularly seek to find God in one time and space that enables us to recognize God more easily in every other one," concludes Sr. Joan's commentary on Chapter 52.
At St. Gregory's Abbey I witnessed the value of a space being set aside as the oratory in which nothing but prayer was done. The church stands soaked in the prayers of the resident community. For more than 70 years the monks have gathered 7 times a day to chant the Psalms, celebrate daily Eucharist, light incense and candles, read the Scriptures, and sit in silence within the wooden walls of the abbey church. It is a living and holy place.
During the last week of April in 2012, I was alone at St. Augustine's on Tuesday. As had been my practice, I went to St. James Chapel, off the narthex of the main church building where our columbarium and votive candle stand make their home, to pray at noon. Instead of lighting the altar candles, sitting down, opening my prayer books, and getting on with it, however, I felt compelled to begin moving furniture. I experienced a strange mix of exhilaration and guilt as I began to slide the pews and move the banners and flags that had gathered haphazardly around the small space. It was almost as though the chapel was asking me to re-imagine its use and to set it aside for prayer and only prayer. The pews found their way into an antiphonal seating arrangement with a lectern and candle stand in the center, facing the altar. It wanted to become a Benedictine oratory. I thought for sure I had done something that would not bode well with the altar guild and others in the congregation, and that I would have to return the chapel to its former state before Sunday. I quickly and dismissively said as much to Fr. Gil the next morning as we walked over from the office we shared to see what I had done. But rather than disapproval, the transformed chapel was met with enthusiastic support by Fr. Gil, the director of the altar guild, and all who entered.
St. James Chapel is the oratory for the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation. It is being soaked in our prayers and the prayers of the saints it houses in its very walls. It is becoming our living and holy place.