Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pius Parsch on the Divine Office as Liturgical Prayer (and a Poll)

After praying Lauds this morning, a question arose in my mind and I took to looking at one of the volumes of the "The Hours of the Divine Office in English and Latin" and there I noted again the introductory essay included in that set, taken from Pius Parsch's, Der Wochenpsalter des Romischen Brevien, on the subject of the Divine Office.

In view of our goal of promoting the divine office, I thought it would be of interest to include some excerpts from his essay.

THE BREVIARY is the official prayerbook of the Church. The Holy Ghost and the Church have been working on it for more than 3,000 years, and it has become the basic book of prayer, a precious common fund to which the great men of prayer from every age have contributed their thoughts and sentiments. The two chief objectives which the breviary fulfills are : 1. it is the prayer of the Church as a body and, 2. it is a guide to genuine spiritual growth for the individual soul.

1. The breviary is above all the prayer of the Church, the prayer said in the name of the Church. It is helpful to understand the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. In private prayer I pray, mostly, for myself and my own affairs. It is the isolated person who stands in the centre of the action, and the prayer is more or less individualized. But in liturgical prayer, and therefore in the breviary, it is not primarily I who am praying, but the Church, the bride of Christ. The object of her prayer is broader, too: all the needs of God's kingdom here on earth. In liturgical prayer, I feel more like a member of a great community, like a little leaf on the great living tree of the Church. I share her life and her problems. The Church is praying through my mouth, I offer her my tongue to pray with her for all the great objectives of redemption, and for God's honour and glory.

We weep, too, or rather the Church weeps through our tears, together with those who weep, rejoices through our joys together with those who rejoice, does penance with the repentant. All the sentiments of Holy Mother Church find their echo in our heart. This gives a deeper content to our prayer; we spread out far beyond our own selves.


2. There is a second side to the breviary, a second purpose it fulfills. In the universal spirit of prayer described above, the individual soul is not to lose sight of itself. The individual, too, must grow; that is the subjective side of liturgical prayer. For the man who prays, the breviary needs to be staff and guide and way to heaven.

The Church accompanies the priest and religious with this book all during his life. The breviary might be compared to the Angel Raphael who led the young Tobias successfully through all the dangers of his journey. The breviary is our own personal Angel Raphael—from the time of subdiaconate or profession up until the hour of death. It leads us through the Church year; almost every day it holds up a special guide, a special hero for our imitation—the saint of the day. It is not easy to list all the advantages that one day's liturgical prayer in the breviary has to offer.

But the most prominent feature of the breviary's benefit lies in its wonderful arrangement of prayer in the sequence of canonical hours. Each day we are to make some further progress in building up the temple of grace within our soul. By means of the "hours" of the Divine Office the Church puts sword and trowel into our hands for every time-segment of the day. The breviary, as the prayer of the canonical hours and as the prayer of the Church year, is in the highest sense the guide for souls; we need to get acquainted with this guide, and let ourselves be led.

One more thought: Breviary and Mass belong together; they form a unity, the liturgical day. We might compare the relationship to the sun and the planets. The Mass is the sun about which the planets, that is, the canonical hours, gravitate. The canonical hours prepare for the Mass, they surround the Mass, they try to realize and retain the fruits of the Mass, and spread them over the day.

The entire essay is available online from

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A Poll for the Laity on the Divine Office

With that, I thought a poll might be of interest, not only to gain a sense of what some of our readership may be pursuing in this regard, but also because it might be a spark to inspire some of you to take up the practice of praying the divine office.

I would make note that the intended audience of this poll is not the clergy or religious, who, of course, are canonically bound to pray the Divine Office. Instead, the poll is for the laity; for those for whom praying the Divine Office is a choice. The interest here is seeing who has taken up this excellent practice of praying the divine office.

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