Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pope: Pray the Divine Office

Here at NLM we have often promoted the recitation of the Divine Office, not only in its sung form within parishes, but also outside of the parish as a particularly efficacious means for the laity to attach themselves to the cycle of the liturgical year and foster a liturgical life. Certainly this was one of the refrains of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, and I think, surely also an important goal for Benedict's new liturgical movement.

Accordingly, I was delighted to read the following from the Holy Father in yesterday's Wednesday General Audience, speaking within the context of the value of praying with the psalms:

I would like to renew my call to everyone to pray the Psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Our relationship with God can only be enriched by our journeying towards Him day after day.

The catechesis is worth reading in its entirety.

Many have spoken here about their own personal experience of praying the Divine Office -- and hence, of praying the psalms. They typically comment on how important it has been to them in their spiritual lives, how profound, and how the psalms carry within them great solace and spiritual nourishment for whatever they happen to be going through in their lives. Speaking from my own personal experience, I can only emphatically agree. Indeed, once one moves past the initial learning curve and establishes the habit of this prayer, one will doubtless find themselves taking great consolation in it, even longing for the next time they will pray it and wondering how they ever did without it. The Divine Office fast becomes a faithful spiritual guide and friend.

Of course, I have occasionally heard it said by some that the breviary is simply too time-consuming for the laity to possibly take on. "We are laymen with jobs and families, not religious or priests" the refrain may go. The crux of the idea is that the laity haven't the time to pursue this by comparison with other forms of prayer.

However, this is a perception and not really the reality.

Certainly when one is initially learning the Office it is going to be a bit more ponderous and slow-going at first. The same may be said of anything, be it the breviary or be it the rosary. However, this is a temporary situation -- and learning the breviary is not so complex as learning a language; it doesn't take years to acquire a basic familiarity with it, but rather a few weeks.

Once one has moved past this initial lack of familiarity and begins to become more accustomed to the rhythm of the Office, one will find that prayerfully praying one of the hours takes less than 10 minutes -- hardly an unmanageable or unreasonable time investment. And if one were to determine pray two of the hours, let us say Lauds and Vespers, then one would be looking at about 15-20 minutes per day. If we were to add Compline, being shorter than the other hours, this would add only a few minutes more.

But of course, the other point is that one could choose to pray only one of the hours per day, or two or three. It would be ideal if one could pray Lauds (Morning Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer), but if one cannot, even doing one or two of these a day would be of great merit.

If I were to offer some advice, it is that which I have offered here many times before:

First, while not underestimating what you can do, do not bite off more than you can chew either. Some start out over-zealous and in so doing become discouraged and burnt out. (I would compare it to trying to begin praying the rosary by praying all 20 of the mysteries everyday.) Start off with a reasonable goal for yourself. That might mean starting with one of the hours (I would recommend either Lauds or Vespers) until you've established enough familiarity to expand into other hours.

Second, establish a routine around the praying of the Divine Office. That might be a particular time, or a particular chain of events. For example, you might determine to pray Lauds first thing on rising in the morning, or perhaps immediately after your breakfast. Similarly, you might make Vespers the first thing you do on coming home from work, or the first thing you do following supper. Be it a specific time, or be it a sequence of events, do what works for you in your particular circumstances; then stick with it.

The third suggestion I would give is for you to buy a liturgical wall calendar. Why? Because having this, you will easily be able to keep track of the particular time and week of the liturgical year. In fact, this is the perfect time of year to buy one with a new (calendar) year coming up and the one I personally find best is that which is produced by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, which is inclusive of both forms of the Roman liturgy.

In closing, I'd invite our readers to read again these meditations by Fr. Pius Parsch on the breviary.

Why not start praying the Divine Office today? (Don't own a copy of the breviary? Not a problem. There are many online versions.)

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: