Novice Master
Br Ricky, OSB-F

What is The Rule of St. Benedict?


Hello and welcome!  In this section of the website I (Jane Tomaine, author of St. Benedict’s Toolbox and abbess of the Feline Cloister) have asked Br Ricky, member of the Cloister and Novice Master, to introduce you to The Rule of St. Benedict.

Br Ricky would be delighted for you to attend his introductory lecture on the Rule that he prepared for the Resident Novices.  Your timing is perfect because the session is about to begin!

I invite you to join Br Ricky and the novices.

The chapter house is a-buzz with mews as the new feline novices gather for some instruction on The Rule of St. Benedict.  A senior monastic, Br Ricky, OSB-F (Order of St. Benedict – Feline), is novice master.

As directed in Chapter 58, “The Procedure for Receiving Monastics,” Br Ricky was “chosen for his skill in winning souls” (RB 58.6).  He now moves around the chapter house instructing the novices where they are to sit.  He appears a bit frustrated.  (Right.  Ever try to get a cat to do anything you want a cat to do??)

But Br Ricky brings to his mind important words from The Rule of St. Benedict:  that he needs to respect others, “supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior” (RB 72.5). Taking a deep breath, with gentle determination he keeps at his novice herding.

Finally, each novice is settled on a comfortable, but not too comfortable, cushion on the floor.  The cushions are arranged in a semi-circle around a small podium.

Novice Mollie

Br Ricky (Br R):  (Looking up at the gathered novices, Br. Ricky purrs with contentment for a moment or two before beginning.)  Alright everyone, we are ready to begin this instruction on The Rule of St. Benedict.

(A small, sweet tortoise cat raises her paw.)  Yes, Mollie.

Mollie:  What is The Rule of St. Benedict?

Br R:  Thank you, Mollie.  That is exactly what we are going to talk about (said kindly for St. Benedict wrote in the Rule,

“A kind word is the better than the best gift.” (RB 31.14 and Sirach 18:17)

“In the sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia designed what he termed ‘a little rule’ to help the monastic community he founded to better love God, self, and one another by providing some guidelines on how to live a spiritual life in community.” [1]

His Rule, which we follow here in the Feline Cloister, consists of a Prologue and seventy-three chapters.

(There is a gasp from the novices at the words “seventy-three chapters” and several hisses can be heard.)

Oh, please don’t panic.  The whole Rule is in this one small book.  (Br Ricky holds up a book about the size of a checkbook.)  And, in the Prologue to The Rule, Benedict reassures us that…

“In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.”  (Prologue 46)

The novices relax.  Fur that had stood on end settles down into the backs.)

Now The Rule covers our worship, work and study, prayer, our personal conduct, the use of our time as well as relationships, leadership and authority, hospitality, and even possessions.

(The paw of a rather large tortoise cat shoots up.)  Yes, Mickey.

Mickey:  (Mewed with a hiss) I don’t like rules.

Br. R:  (A few verses from Chapter 4 – The Tools for Good Works quickly flash through Br Ricky’s mind:

“…keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim.” (Prologue 17 and Ps 34: 14-15)

Taking a deep breath, Ricky continues.)

You, know, Mickey.  I wasn’t keen on rules either when I came here.  But I found that this rule helped me not only know what I was to do here in the Feline Cloister, but even more importantly, know what kind of cat I was to be.  This helped me get along better with my sisters and brothers, which made me a happier cat.  I’m sure this has made them happier, too.  St. Benedict’s Rule fosters a way of life that is rooted and grounded in Jesus and what he teaches us.  Isn’t that the very reason you came here?  How about giving this Rule a chance?

(Mickey nods his head and mews his assent.)

Novice Mickey

Br. R:  Wonderful, Mickey.  And here is another thought that might help you or anyone else who is intimidated by rules.  Benedict’s Rule isn’t a series of steps that must be followed “or else,” or a list of “to-dos” that list makers like myself love to check off.

The word “rule” comes from the Greek term canon, which originally meant “trellis.” This is a wonderful image for us. A trellis is a tool that helps a grapevine become more productive—without it, the branches of the vine will grow into a tangled mass and bear less fruit.”

Mickey:  Jesus did say that he is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5)

Br R:  Absolutely.  And St. Benedict gives us concrete ways to be these vines.  His instructions are both practical and doable.  The Latin word for rule that Benedict used was regula, which means not a law, but a standard.  St. Benedict gives us a standard to follow and strive for.

Mollie:  What are some of the topics in The Rule of St. Benedict?

Br. R:  Excellent question, Mollie.  I see four broad areas in the Rule.  When you get familiar with it you may have a different idea.  But here is what I think.

(Br. Ricky flips on the PowerPoint and gets his slide show moving.)

The Four Broad Areas Covered in the Rule of St. Benedict

Liturgical Instructions for the Divine Office, or Opus Dei” (“the work of God”)

Br. R:  The Rule describes eight daily community prayer services that comprise the main occupation of monastics.  Each day these would start before sun up, in fact in the middle of the night.

(Quiet moans and audible hisses are heard in the chapter house. Ears flatten against heads.  Novice Sebastian Thomas mews, “We’ll never get anything done!”)

(Br Ricky glances around the gathered novices, a concerned look on his face.)  We have just four services here in our cloister.  (Mews of relief fill the Chapter House.)  And a reminder of something I think you know already because we have talked about this right when you arrived.  St. Benedict cautions us against grumbling, saying 

“First and foremost, there must be no word or sign of the evil of grumbling at all” (RB 34.6).

Novice Sebastian Thomas

(Br Ricky looks kindly around the room and continues.)  Okay?

(The novices mew their understanding and consent.  Ricky moves on with his lecture.)

The second area that I see in the Rule is

Roles, Responsibilities, and Procedures for Community Members

Br. R   “Benedict provides specific instructions for jobs in the monastery such as for the abbot, abbess or prioress who are the superiors of the monastery.  He also gives instructions to the cellarer who distributes food and utensils to the monastics, and the porter who greets visitors at the gate of the monastery.  Additional instructions are given to the members who work in the kitchen, who take care of the ill to name a couple more.  But, his main concern is with the personal qualities needed by each person and how they are to treat others. Benedict’s focus is on being more than on doing.

Most of us may never be a superior of a monastery, but we can take on the Christ-like qualities that Benedict asks for those in leadership roles. [2]

How to Live Together in Community

Br. R:  An important focus of the Rule, and the third in my list, involves relationships.  Here St. Benedict tells us how we should treat one another and also how to conduct ourselves.  The goal is to promote peace and harmony in our community.  Addressing logistical matters in community, Benedict also includes directions for such things as sleeping arrangements, meals, food, clothing, work, and discipline.  There is alsoa chapter describing the process for joining the monastery” which you are embarking on right now. [3]

(A paw shoots up.)

Yes, Miss Sassafras.  Do you have a question about this area of The Rule?

Miss S:  Yes, please.  Since you mentioned food, I was wondering about treats.  At home I would get a snack in the evening right before bed.  Will we have treats here at night before bed?                                        

Br. R:  We have times for our meals when we all eat together.  Benedict gives specific instructions to not eat in between these meals:

Novice Miss Sassafras

“No one is to presume to eat or drink before or after the time appointed.”  (RB 43.18)

Miss S:  (Springing up as she declares truth) But I’ve seen Amma Jane spooning peanut butter before she went to bed!  That isn’t a mealtime.  (Amma thinks it is.)

Br R:   I am sorry to say that as an avowed nibbler, Amma does not follow this instruction in The Rule.

(Gasps and hisses are again heard in the Chapter House.)

As superior of the Feline Cloister, Amma is supposed to lead “more by example than by words” (RB 2.11) and must not do what she teaches us not to do (RB 2.13), because “more will be expected [of her] to whom more has been entrusted” (RB 2.30).

Miss S:  If Amma is supposed to be our example, can’t we have treats, too?

Br. R:  (Quickly thinking on his paws, Ricky continues.)  Benedict asks us to “Obey the orders of the superior unreservedly, even if her or his own conduct–which God forbid–be at odds with what they say” and to remember Jesus’ words said about the scribes and Pharisees – “Do what they say, not what they do” (Matt 23:3).  RB 4.61 modified.

(The novices look skeptical.  A couple mew together quietly.)

(Br Ricky coughs uncomfortably and makes a mental note to talk with Amma about this nibbling.)  Let’s go on to the fourth area I see in The Rule of St. Benedict.

Novice Terri

Spiritual Direction

Br. R:  Benedict encourages us to take our relationship with God seriously and to actively nurture it. He provides directions for such disciplines as prayer, study, Lenten practices, and living with humility before God. [4]

Does that help you understand what The Rule of St. Benedict is all about, Mollie?

Mollie mews her thanks.

Terri:  (With paw waving in the air) Br Ricky?

Br. R:  Yes, Terri?

Terri:  (Looking up at Br Ricky, noticeably quite concerned.) This is really a lot to take in.  (Nods are see around the circle of novices.)  Is there a way that you could summarize Benedict’s Rule for us?  What is the main message in The Rule of St. Benedict?

Br. R:  Of course.  (Br Ricky remembers Benedict’s caution to the superior…

[The superior] should be discerning and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said: If I drive my flocks too hard, they will all die in a single day.” RB 64.17-18 and Gen 33:13.

(Ricky continues.) I can understand that you may be a bit overwhelmed. Here, in a nut shell is what I think it is all about.  (Br. Ricky puts up another slide.)

The Rule is all about how to live a Christ-centered life with others. 


Sr Scholastica Muffin, OSB-F, a noted authority on the Rule whom I will often mention, writes this in her book Why The Rule of St. Benedict is Not Just for Humans: “The Rule addresses questions from ‘How do I relate in love to other people in love?’ and ‘How do I find meaning in what I must do each day?’ to ‘What are the priorities of a Christian life?'”[5]

And, to get this down to a few mews, here on a slide is what I call “Benedict’s GPS,” showing us the path we take to God in community with each other.

“Benedict’s GPS”

It is all about love.

It points me to Christ.

Ultimately the whole meaning and purpose of the Rule

is simply, [in Benedict’s own words]

“Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.”[6]


Amma has said, “The center of the Rule is Christ, the cornerstone is Scripture, and the focus of the Rule is how to live in loving relationship with God, self, and others.”[7]

(A bell is heard.)

Br. R:  Ah.  It’s time for our evening prayer.

Mollie:(In a pleading mew.) That isn’t for ten minutes, Br Ricky.  Can’t you share just one more thing about the Rule?  It’s only a two-minute trot to the chapel from here.

Br. R:  Mollie, it’s wonderful that you are so interested in learning more.  Before I answer that, does anyone remember what I said about the place of the Divine Office in the life of a monastic?

Mickey:  Yes.  It is the most important thing a monastic does.

Br R: (Said with enthusiasm, given Mickey’s earlier resistance to The Rule.) Correct, Mickey!  Excellent!

(With a self-satisfied nod, Mickey looks to the right and left at the other novices, and purrs.  Knowing that the novices must go to the chapel right away, Br. Ricky makes a mental note that the next lesson on the Rule must be on RB 7 – Humility.)

Novices, I close with St. Benedict’s words:

”On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monastic will immediately set aside what he or she has in hand and go with utmost speed, yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity.  Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”  RB 43.1-3

(The novices mew in understanding and “with gravity” follow Br Ricky to the chapel for the Divine Office.)


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[1] Br Ricky’s words are drawn from Jane Tomaine, St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2015), 12.

[2,3,4,5,7] St. Benedict’s Toolbox, 29.

[6] Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1997), 38. “Benedict’s GPS” is Br Ricky’s idea.