Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Value of Praying the Office - A Beautiful Meditation by Bl. Card. Schuster

We never let August 30th pass without remembering the Blessed Cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, who went to his eternal reward on this day in 1954, after serving as Archbishop of Milan for just over a quarter of a century. We have written about him many times on NLM, partly in connection with our interest in the Ambrosian liturgy, of which he was a great promoter, but also as one of the most important scholars of the original Liturgical Movement. I am reprinting this meditation on the value of praying the Office, hoping that our readers will find them an encouragement particularly in their prayers for the Church during these dark days.

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.”

At the time Bl. Schuster said this, he was close to death, and too weak to follow the Office very attentively as he prayed it; this in itself must have been a great burden to one whose devotion to the liturgy was so great that it was noted and praised even by the communist newspapers. Despite his weakness in his final days, and his enormous pastoral duties, he never ceased to fulfill his obligation to recite the official prayer of the Church. I think these words may serve as a great consolation to anyone who, for whatever reason and in whatever circumstance, finds it difficult to concentrate when saying the Office, the Rosary, or some other prayer.

For those who know Italian, the passage is well worth reading in the original, as he was a man very skilled in the rich rhetorical language of his era.

“Chiudo gli occhi, e mentre le labbra mormorano le parole del breviario che conosco a memoria, io abbandono il loro significato letterale, per sentirmi nella landa sterminata per dove passa la Chiesa pellegrina e militante, in cammino verso la patria promessa. Respiro con la Chiesa nella stessa sua luce, di giorno, nelle sue stesse tenebre, di notte; scorgo da ogni parte le schiere del male che l'insidiano o l'assaltano; mi trovo in mezzo alle sue battaglie e alle sue vittorie, alle sue preghiere d'angoscia e ai suoi canti trionfali, all'oppressione dei prigionieri, ai gemiti dei moribondi, alle esultanze degli eserciti e dei capitani vittoriosi. Mi trovo in mezzo: ma non come spettatore passivo, bensì come attore la cui vigilanza, destrezza, forza e coraggio possono avere un peso decisivo sulle sorti della lotta tra il bene e il male e sui destini eterni dei singoli e della moltitudine.”

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