Whether it is a school, nursing home, hospital, or monastery, if people are there for extended periods of time, it’s important to have a fully staffed kitchen. Chapter Thirty-Five of The Rule of Saint Benedict, instructs monks on who should work in the kitchen, how long they should do so, what their duties are, and other minor details concerning the job.
The text begins by saying “let the brethren wait on one another in turn, so that none be excused from the work of the kitchen” (pg. 50). In theory, every monk is required to do the laborious tasks of making meals for the entire monastery. I say in theory because Saint Benedict puts in an exception for monks “prevented by sickness” (pg. 50). So if a monk is sick he does not have to work in the kitchen that week. This is quite practical as a sick person should not be touching the food others are going to eat. (It’s a shame restaurants in the United States don’t follow this rule!)
Because every monk is supposed to do kitchen work, Saint Benedict advises “assistance be given to the weak” (pg. 50). Like in Chapter Thirty-Four, the monkish reader is reminded to help the brethren who need it so “they may not do their work with sadness” (pg. 50). Accommodations must be made so no one gets hurt.
That being said, Saint Benedict does make two more exceptions regarding those who can skip kitchen duty. The first person is the cellarer. But he can only “be excused from work in the kitchen” if “the community be large” (pg. 51). (A large community is twelve or more monks.) The second exception is monks who are “occupied in more urgent business” (pg. 51). I assume this means monks who are off on important business or other such tasks that cannot be avoided.
The text then specifies that “the rest serve each other in turn with all charity” (pg. 51). If I had to guess, I think Saint Benedict is calling out the whiners again!
Making food isn’t the weekly servers’ only duty. On Saturday, a monk’s last day in the kitchen, he is to clean “all things” (pg. 51). This includes washing the towels the monks use to “dry their hands and feet” as well as “the feet of all” (pg. 51). Luckily for the weekly server, he doesn’t have to wash everyone’s feet by himself. The monk “who is coming in” helps him. Once a monk’s kitchen duty is finished, he returns “the vessels of his office, clean and whole” (pg. 51) to the Cellarer. Once he is sure everything is there, the Cellarer gives the supplies to the next weekly server.
Like the catering company I used to work for, Saint Benedict knows the importance of feeding servers before the big dinner:
“Let the weekly servers take each a cup of drink and a piece of bread over and above the appointed portion, one hour before the time for reflection, that so they may serve their brethren, when the hour cometh, without murmuring or great labor.” (pg. 51)
After all, if you let your servers go hungry before they handle all that food, they may be tempted to take a bit for themselves!
Finally, after Lauds on Sunday (a little after dawn), “the incoming and the outgoing servers [are to] fall on their knees before all…and ask their prayers” (pg. 51). The monk who already served that week says a prayer thanking God for His help three times before being blessed. Once that is over, the incoming server will say a different prayer, asking for God’s help. He will also say it three times before he too is blessed.
- Saint Benedict. Blair, D. Oswald Hunter, translator. The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.
(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)
Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here.
Solesme Abbey’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check my translation.
For some reason, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict wasn’t loading today. However, the Wayback Machine has a screenshot of the usual PDF that I reference. You can access that screenshot here. (You have to scroll down to see the text.) I used this to cross-check my translation.