Chapters from the Myroure, III

Chapter 18: of those who carelessly speak or sleep at the time of God’s service.

Among these other hinderers of our Lord’s holy hours are speakers and sleepers – those who speak carelessly for they prevent others as well as themselves and give occasions of evil. How perilous this vice is, you may see by these examples. There was a young religious virgin about 10 years of age in the order of the Cistercians whose name was Gertrude who, after her death, came again one day at the time of evensong when all the convent was in the choir and inclined low before the high altar and then came into the place where she used to stand in the choir. At the end of evensong of our lady she fell down prostrate till all was done and then she rose and went her way. None saw her but another maid of the same age who used to stand by her in the choir. She was frightened and told this to the abbess. The next day, at the bidding of the abbess, she asked the same virgin when she came again and said onto her, “Sister Gertrude, good sister Gertrude, from where do you come now, and what do you do amongst us after your death? ” Then she answered and said, “I come here to make amends for my trespass for I whispered to you half words in the choir and therefore I am bidden to make satisfaction in the same place. Unless you beware of the same vice you shall suffer the same pain after your death!” And after she had appeared in this way four times she said, “Sister, I hope I have fulfilled my penance. From henceforth you shall see me no more.” And thus she went to joy.

Take heed: if this young maid of 10 years of age was punished so for half words, what shall they suffer who are of greater age for whole words spoken in a time and place of silence? It is also read of St. Severin, Archbishop of Cologne, who was so holy a man that he heard angels sing when St. Martin died many hundred miles from him and on account of his prayer his archdeacon heard the same song. This same St. Severin appeared after his death to the same archdeacon arrayed in his bishop’s array and standing, as it were, in the area between heaven and Earth and above his head was something like a cloud of fire sparkling and dropping upon his head and upon all his body. Then the archdeacon said to him, “Are you not my Lord Severin?” He answered and said yes. Then the archdeacon asked, “What is this that I see, are you in fire?” He said, “Yes I am.” Then the archdeacon said, “We honor you, sir, as a saint and yet you suffer so great a torment!” St. Severin answered, “I suffer this for the singing of God’s service in the choir. I was more negligent than I should have been. For while my clerks sang the service of God, and I was present with them, sometimes both my servants and others came to tell me of various necessary things and I attended to them and gave them answers.” The archdeacon said, “Sir, I trust that it is no great torment that you suffer.” When he had said this, a drop of the fiery cloud fell upon his arm burning the flesh down to the bone and he cried, “My arm! My arm!” Then St. Severin said to him, “Fear not for now you shall see, notwithstanding my pains, how much I may do through God.” Then the holy Bishop lifted up his hand and blessed the archdeacon’s arm and it was made whole so that he felt no more pain after that.

Here you may see what pain they deserve who are bound to silence yet needlessly speak in the time of our Lord’s holy service. This holy bishop, who was not bound to silence by religion, was thus grievously tormented because he spoke even necessary things at the time of these holy hours.

Concerning those who are dull and sleepy in God’s service, we read that St. Bernard saw an angel with a censor go all about the choir and cense those who prayed and sang devoutly but passed by those who were sleepy and negligent. About another holy man we read that he was once oppressed with sleepiness during our Lord’s service. There came an angel in the likeness of a reverend person who took him by the breast and drew him out of the choir and while he was thus drawn he began to wake and opened his eyes and saw him and said, “What are you, sir, and why do you draw me thus?” He answered, “Why do you sleep thus? Do you come to church to be awake or asleep?” And suddenly he was gone and the good man drove sleep from him and was more wary to keep himself awake in God’s service always after that.

Chapter 19: that this holy service ought to be said or sung or heard with attention to it and what peril it is to leave any part of it unsaid

The third thing that belongs to the due manner of saying these holy hours this to say them with full attention. For God does not take heed to hear the prayers of him who does not hear himself nor who does not take heed to hear his own prayers. The one who does not hear himself, cannot pay attention to what he says. Therefore St. Augustine in his rule bids us and says, when you praise God or pray with Psalms or hymns, think in your heart on the same thing that you say with your mouth.

This thinking and attention in the heart occurs in four ways. The first is to keep the mind upon the words themselves without any understanding. In this way some simple souls ay employ a good intention and devotion even though they do not truly understand what they say [in Latin]. The second is to take heed to the letter only, after the literal understanding. This is sometimes savory, sometimes barren, according to the meaning of the letter itself. The third is to keep the mind and the attention to the inward spiritual meaning of the words that are said or sung. This is truly difficult to do continually, for heaviness of the frail body, that often bears down the fervor of the spirit but is truly comforting and it gives great spiritual food to the soul that works with discretion in a humble and clean conscience. (Now, these last two forms of attention belong to those who can understand what they read or saying [in Latin]. I undertook this work in order that you might have some way of understanding your service if you wish to work at it in this way.) For it comforts a creature much in anything that he does, when he knows what it means. However, he may become weary of his work the sooner.

But whatever attention he has, either to the words or to the understanding, it is always useful that at the beginning of this holy service, you make your heart as free as you can from all earthly things and set your desire as mightily as you may upon our Lord God, beholding him as if [visibly] present. This strong desire and inward beholding of him will aid in abiding and keeping you in him as much as possible. Thus you may sing or say your service in love and joy in reverence at his presence as if you speak to him himself (or to our blessed lady when the service belongs to her) or, at the least in her presence and hearing. This should delight you in them with all the might of your soul. If you do this, I hope you shall feel much comfort and grace of devotion.

You must be fully aware in the keeping of yourself afterwards, that you do not recklessly lose such grace and devotion that you have received at the time of your service lest it be withdrawn from you at another time for your own faults. Also, it is useful in order to obtain such devotion to take some brief leisure before the beginning of each hour in order to stir up the heart towards God. For as a holy father says, therefore we are so cold and dull in God’s service that we are neither quickened before devotion nor are we careful to cast from us vain thoughts in the beginning and to establish our mind in God and upon what we say. Therefore as we come to it, so we go, dissolute and undeveloped.

The fourth attention is to take heed that the whole service be said as it ought to be—psalms, responses, lessons, verses, and all other things that pertain to the service of that Matins or whichever hour you are saying—without error or omission or other fault. This is not as hard to keep as the other, and therefore you are more bound to it. It should be kept by all who wish to do their business well. Furthermore, they that sing or speak together in the choir are not only bound to take heed to that which they read or sing themselves, but also to hear with attention all that is read or sung there as I have said before.

He who knowingly omits anything from these holy hours unsaid or unheard without need or sickness and does not propose to make amends, he sins mortally. The more that he omits, the more grievously he sins. But he who omits anything by unintentional negligence or by forgetting, he does not sin mortally so that he may make amends when it comes to his mind.

Also if it occurs at the time of divine service that anyone through need or sudden negligence or by any observance or duty that he must do in the choir fail or stumble or be distracted from saying or hearing any words or verses or Psalms or anything else and cannot not say it but withdraws his voice from singing he should not first leave off singing but he ought to sing forth with the choir and do penance for his negligence—if negligence be the cause of omission. If he speaks [his hours] alone then he ought to say that which he has omitted if he may conveniently do so. In the same way, if anyone is prevented by obedience or by necessity so that they may not come to the beginning of any of these hours or remain fully to the end and do not know it by heart or have no book or no time to say it, then they are not bound to say it. Nevertheless if it be a great part of the hour or many Psalms or such other than it is well to say it.

However, if the late-coming be on account of sloth or of negligence or though it be a matter of obedience it might be done it at some other time, they ought to do penance. But they should not begin the hour or try to catch up to the point in the service where the rest of the choir is singing, but should sing forth with them at the point where he found them. They should not withdraw their voice from singing or from saying if they might be in occasion of distraction or a hindrance to others.

Now, do not think that I am making laws or ordinances for you by writing this for I do not do so. Rather, I write for your information what the laws of the holy church are according to the teaching of the doctors and what must be kept regarding the saying of your divine service and what you are bound to do.

Therefore, those who are so sick that they may not say their service or hear it are excused from it forever. They are not bound to say it after they have recovered, for there is no law set to bind those who are sick. Nevertheless, if they may and will say it afterword out of a sense of devotion, it is not wrong. But to say it out of a sense of obligation is neither praiseworthy nor useful. Those who are not sick but may say or hear their service without any hurt or peril and yet omit it from sloth or negligence, they are bound both to say it later and to do penance for the omission. If any be in doubt whether he should have said it or not, it is good in such case to be governed by the counsel of a discrete spiritual father lest the judgment of his own conscience be either too scrupulous or too reckless.

3 Replies to “Chapters from the Myroure, III”

  1. These chapters are a delight to read. (I especially love Bernard’s vision of the angel with the censer today.) Thank you for your effort in posting them. I wonder if you have considered making material from the Myroure available in a Kindle edition? I’ve done quick-and-dirty Kindle editions of a couple public domain spirituality works; it’s not that hard, and it makes things available to a wider readership.

  2. Beth, that is my intention. I’ve done some Kindle editions as well, and am familiar with e-book markup. In fact, I confess that I have two motives at work here: the first is to provide direct access into Sarum spirituality, the second is to provide a clearer light upon the works of certain fathers of the Sarum Revival/English Use whose works are ripe for e-texts…

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