Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Delights of the Divine Office and Lay Life: Further Meditations

My mind has turned yet again to the topic of the Divine Office -- though it never strays far from it admittedly. In part this is for reason that some have written me about this topic in recent days, and in part because, through the action of daily praying it, I am continually struck by the edification, consolation and formation one receives by taking up the praying of the Hours; of being daily immersed in the riches of the psalms, the canticles and the liturgical year. I further find myself constantly delighted at its ability to connect one to the Missal and to the seasons, both the liturgical seasons and even the natural seasons; and further still, to the very cycle of the day itself, where it not infrequently -- and at the appropriate times -- touches on themes of the darkness of night, the light of day, and the fading of the light in the evening, wrapped around theological imagery and themes:

As fades the glowing orb of day,
To thee, great source of light, we pray;
Blest Three in One, to every heart
Thy beams of life and love impart.

At early dawn, at close of day
To thee our vows we humbly pay;

-- Hymn (excerpt), First Vespers of Sunday, 1962 Roman Breviary

I began praying the Office around the mid 1990's and, in the course of those years, there have been some periods where I admittedly fell out of the habit -- and the key here is it was simply a falling out of habit; it wasn't that I "had no time" to do it, nor that I had found something "better" or more spiritually edifying, nor that I had even replaced it with other spiritual things. In those instances, when I returned to it my thought was always the same; there was an amazement that I could ever not penetrate my day, to one or another extent, with this prayer of the Church; that I could ever be without its presence as a part of the daily habit of prayer; and further, of a continuing awareness of the joy it gives to the day and the anticipation that comes with praying it -- indeed, I find myself very much looking forward to the praying of the Hours, a feeling that has only continued to grow with the years.

In the July 1927 issue (Vol. 1, No 9) of Orate Fratres, there is an article titled "The Delights of the Breviary" written by one Ellen Gates Starr of Chicago. Ms. Gates sets out to discuss her own perspective, as a lay woman, on the matter of the delights of the Divine Office. She comments, "It is indeed a privilege to be allowed any participation, however slight, in the liturgical movement in the Church -- the movement to bring back the classics of devotion, the Missal and Breviary, into general use by the laity. The wonder is that they should ever have fallen into disuse. Nothing can take the place of these great universal prayers of the Church, the prayers of the Mass and the divine Office. One has only to know them to find them indispensable. And alas, how few of the laity know them!"

She continues, meditating on how the praying of the Office can penetrate one's own being and day to day experience: "... the beautiful language and inspiring matter of the liturgy becomes, by frequent use, an expression of one's daily life and experience: and sometimes, by relating one's own feeble religious and emotional life with the great thought and expression of the Church's saints and doctors, one is enabled to lift it, at least for a time, out of its narrow, temporal existence, into harmony with the great Catholic life of the Church."

Certainly the experience she relates is an aspect which I have tried to relate above as well. The praying of the Divine Office has the ability to not only tie you to the liturgical texts and seasons and bring you into contact with Sacred Scripture, it further has much to say to each of us and teach us in our own modern, day to day existence.

I would like to conclude this brief meditation on the Divine Office with a quotation from Fr. William Busch, written only one month before Ms. Gates' article in the same publication:

"The Breviary is secondary to the Missal. But though secondary the Breviary is intimately related to and inseparable from the Missal in the ensemble of liturgical prayer. The Breviary prayers encircle those of the Missal; they carry the radiance of the Mass throughout all the hours of the day; and they furnish a guiding norm for all private prayer... The growing love of the Missal signifies a trend throughout the Church toward liturgical prayer which may well bring many to use the Breviary, not exactly as the clergy use it, but according to their circumstances and in such way as the Hour Prayers did originally interest the faithful generally... We are familiar with the beautiful thought of the Mass as the continual oblation from the rising to the setting of the sun offered up from place to place as the morning light moves around the world. Why not be aware also of the unceasing chorus of the Church's official prayer from hour to hour..."

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