Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Sanctifying Time - Guest Post by Fr. Jon Tveit

NLM is happy to bring to you this piece by guest columist Fr. Jon Tveit. 

Sanctifying Time
The crisis in which we find ourselves has changed the structure of our lives dramatically. It has stripped away many of the things which normally occupy our time. Even worse, it has made it impossible for many Catholics to participate in what is the central act of our religion, the sacrifice of the Mass. Perhaps some even feel they have too much time on their hands these days. Because of this we have to ask, how can we remain united to the Lord and to His Church during these days? What can we do to sanctify our time?

Lucky for us the Church has a ready-made answer to these questions. Even without the Mass, the Church has a part of her public liturgy in which anyone anywhere can participate. There’s a way for us to enter into the prayer of the Church, to keep us united to the Lord and to sanctify our time. It is, of course, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. That liturgy centered upon the Book of Psalms which the Church has been praying throughout the day every day practically since the beginning.

The Divine Office is not private prayer. As one of our seminary professors liked to tell us, “Even if you’re praying night prayer in pajamas in bed, it’s still the public prayer of the Church!” The Office is not a private devotion, even when prayed privately. It is part of the liturgy of the Church, the public worship given to God the Father by Christ the Head and Christ in His members. As Fr. Eugene Boylan put it, “It is the prayer of Christ said by Christ to the Father of Christ.” [1] When we pray the Office, the Holy Spirit unites us to the whole Mystical Body of Christ in this sublime act of worship of the Father.

In order for our time truly to be sanctified, we would need to be in touch with the Lord always. We would have to “pray without ceasing” as St. Paul tells us, living always in the Divine Presence, always adverting to God with us. This will, of course, be the life of heaven. But here below “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” For reasons both practical and spiritual, most of us cannot live perpetually adverting to the presence of God. The Divine Office with its seven ‘hours’ or times of prayer fills our day with prayer, gradually accustoming us to living always in the Divine Presence, preparing us for the life of heaven.

The Psalmist tells the Lord, “seven times a day I praise thee” (Ps 118/119:164). This is literally true in the Christian tradition with the seven canonical hours of the Office. But there is a more mystical meaning to the number seven here. Commenting on this psalm, St. Augustine tells us, “The words ‘seven times a day’, signify ‘evermore’. For this number is wont to be a symbol of universality; because after six days of the divine work of creation, a seventh of rest was added (Gen 2:2); and all times roll on through a revolving cycle of seven days.” [2] Seven stands for fullness in Sacred Scripture. Praising the Lord seven times a day means praising the Lord always. As the just man sins ‘seven’ times a day (Prov 24:16), meaning quite a lot, so too should the righteous praise God ‘seven’ times a day. The seven hours of the Church’s prayer thus allow us to pray always and lift our time up into the timelessness of heaven.

The traditional hymns for the daytime hours of the Office point toward the liturgy’s function of the sanctification of time. In midmorning we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us and direct our thoughts, words, and actions in line with charity:

Terce [3]
Nunc Sancte nobis Spiritus,
Unum Patri cum Filio,
Dignare promptus ingeri,
Nostro refusus pectori.
Now for us, o Holy Spirit,
One with the Father and the Son,
Deign readily to be present,
Diffused within our breast.
Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor,

Confessionem personent,
Flammescat igne caritas

Accendat ardor proximos.
May the mouth, tongue, mind,
   sense, vigor,
Resound with Your praise;
May charity be inflammed
  with fire,
May its ardor enkindle
   that of our neighbors.
Praesta, Pater piissime,
Patri compar Unice,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito
Regnans per omne saeculum.
Grant this, most holy Father,
And Only Son equal to the Father,
With the Spirit, the Paraclete,
Reigning through every age.
At midday we address the Ruler of the universe, the Regulator of the times and changes of the day, from the beauty of the morning sunrise to the heat of noon. We ask Him to calm the fires of our hearts, that concupiscence which inclines us to sin, and to give us health of body and peace of mind. We see here that our right living entails our lives being brought under the rule of the One who governs all of creation:

Rector potens, verax Deus,
Qui temperas rerum vices,

Splendore mane instruis,

Et ignibus meridiem.
O ruler potent, o truthful God,
You who temper the alterations
  of creation.
Your furnish the morning with
And with fires the midday.
Extingue flammas litium,
Aufer calorem noxium,
Confer salutem corporum,
Veramque pacem cordium.
Quench the flames of quarrels,
Remove the harmful heat,
Grant the health of bodies,
And the true peace of hearts.
Praesta Pater... Grant this, most holy Father...

As the afternoon draws on and we look toward the failing of the daylight, we beseech the Lord to give us that light of divine life which never fails. We pray that we may persevere in His grace, so that His glory may uphold us when the evening of life is upon us:

Rerum, Deus, tenax vigor,

Immotus in te permanens,
Lucis diurnae tempora
Successibus determinans.
O God, the vigor upholding
Remaining in Yourself unmoved,
The hours of daylight
Determining by successions.
Largire clarum vespere,
Quo vita nusquam decidat,
Sed praemium mortis sacrae
Perennis instet gloria.
Lavish brightness in the evening,
By which life may nowhere fail,
But as the reward of a holy death,
May perennial glory be near.
Praesta Pater... Grant this, most holy Father...

The daily recitation of these prayers sets a pattern for our life. It brings our lives into the order of the Creator whose rule sanctifies our time as much as it governs earthly time.

For priests, this time of quarantine should remind us that apart from the sacraments, our praying of the Divine Office is more important, more powerful than any other work we do. Fr. Boylan, although a Benedictine, wrote profoundly on the spiritual life of secular priests. In one book he says, “A priest seldom does so much for his flock as when he prays for them, and he seldom prays for them so effectively as when he recites the Divine Office.” [4] The Office is the second most important thing the priest does every day after celebrating the Mass. “There is no other vocal prayer in which the ‘priestly’ function is so well exercised,” Boylan says. “After the sacrifice of the Mass, there is nothing a priest can do for the souls in his charge so effectively as to recite the Divine Office in their name.” [5] Do we truly recognize that praying the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours is even more important, even more priestly, than our active apostolate? Now is the time for us to embrace this aspect of our priestly ministry and sanctify our time for the good of the Church.

This semi-monastic time of quarantine reminds all of us of our need for time itself to be sanctified. How can people do so better than by entering into the Church’s own liturgy of the Divine Office? There are a number of resources today to help the faithful to participate in this liturgy of the Church. The newer form of the Office can be prayed on certain apps such as iBreviary, the older form on the app Breviarium Meum or at divinumofficium.com. The liturgy of the Divine Office is not just for priests and those consecrated to the service of God. It is the liturgy of the whole Body of Christ which can and should be prayed by the laity as well for the sanctification of their lives and of the world.

[1] Boylan, The Priest’s Way to God (Newman Press, 1962), 136.
[2] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801119.htm
[3] I use here the traditional form of these hymns as found, among other places, in the Liturgia Horarum and in the traditional Roman Office before the reforms of Pope Urban VIII. The very literal translations are my own.
[4] Boylan, The Priest’s Way to God, 134.
[5] Boylan, The Spiritual Life of the Priest (Newman Press, 1949), 40.

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