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Religious Life Today
Part 3 of 4
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
March 25, 1977
IMPRIMATUR: Umberto Cardinal Medeiros, Archbishop of Boston
The Divine Office as the Church's Prayer of Praise and Intercession
One of the most providential developments in the Catholic Church, through the Second Vatican Council, has been the extraordinary emphasis on the Liturgy in the life of the faithful: priests, religious and the laity.
Unfortunately this liturgical renewal has not always been wisely interpreted. Not the least problem affecting the Church today is the misreading of what the Council taught and, in some instances, a positive indifference to, by now, the extensive teaching of the Holy See on how the Sacred Liturgy is to be celebrated and what norms are to be followed if the inspired directives of the Churchs latest and most comprehensive ecumenical gathering are to bear the fruit desired by the Holy Spirit.
Among the doctrines of the Second Vatican Council the first in time and (in a way) the first in importance is the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It is here that we find the basic principles for all the faithful to follow, if they are to be faithful to the mind of Christ.
It is here, therefore, that we find the foundation for our understanding of the meaning of the Divine Office and how intimately she associates it with the Eucharistic Liturgy.
There are two stages to this teaching of the Church, where each succeeding stage depends on the preceding for its significance.
Stage One: The Song of Heaven brought down to earth by the Incarnation.
Christ Jesus (the Church tells us), the high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.
We pause for a moment to reflect on what we are being told. We do not often think of the Incarnation as a transportation of prayerful song from heaven to earth. Yet this is what Christ, who is God, brought to earth when He became man.
As God He had been hearing the angelic choirs from the dawn of their creation. And now as man He came to teach us by word and example to follow the celestial pattern and, in His company, to praise the Holy Trinity in their undivided Unity.
But there is more here still to feast the minds of our souls about the role of Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant. Until He became man, the only praise that the Divine Majesty ever received was from angelic or human creatures; angelic in heaven and human on earth.
With the Incarnation a new dimension entered the praises of the universe. For Jesus who is man is also Christ who is God. In the Person of the Savior, the heavenly Father would now receive adoration and honor that was of infinite intensity, since His own divine Son now began to praise the eternal Father, with human lips and with a human heart indeed; but lips and heart that were substantially united to the divinity.
If we would understand what the Divine Office means, we must begin with this profound mystery: that the Liturgy of the Hours is no merely human form of prayer. It is nothing less than Jesus Christ praying through us, and we through Him. It is the Son of God praising His natural Father in a way that has been made possible only because God became man to teach us to pray, yes, but also and especially to pray with us and in us every time we open our hearts and our lips in accents of praise.
Stage Two: The Church continues Christs priestly office through the Eucharist and the Divine Office.
Christ continues His priestly work through the agency of the Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the Divine Office.
What is the Church saying? She is telling us that since Calvary Christ is no longer alone in His priestly work of praising God and pleading for the needs of a sinful world.
By His death on the cross, He brought forth, as the Fathers graphically explain, His Spouse the Church, as the second Eve from the wounded side of the dying Savior.
Since Calvary, then, Christ continues what He began in Palestine, only now His priestly ministry is both that of the Head of the Mystical Body and of its members.
We, therefore, members of His Body, are privileged to unite our prayer with His in a harmony that beggars description but that is awesome in its dignity.
If we ask how we join with Christ the High Priest in His priestly ministry, we are told it is mainly through the Holy Eucharist and the canonical hours of the Liturgy.
This juxtaposition of the Eucharist and the Office should be emphasized. The one complements and supports the other. And all who by their priestly consecration or religious profession are specially identified with the Eucharist are also expected by the Church to be devoted to the chanting or recitation of the hours of the Liturgy.
The very expression Divine Office (Divinum Officium) literally means sacred duty whose gravity depends on the Churchs legislation or in the case of religious, of their constitutional regulation.
Before we go on, however, a very critical aspect of the Divine Office as Christs priestly prayer in the Church should be explained.
What kind of prayer is the Divine Office? We might say it includes within its ambit every form of prayer. True enough. But is there some form of prayer on which the Office, so to speak, concentrates to make the Liturgy of the Hours distinctive in the Churchs spiritual posture before God?
Yes, the Divine Office is, par excellence, the prayer of divine praise and intercession, and behind these two words, praise and intercession, stands the whole galaxy of all possible relationships of a creature with respect to the Creator.
In the Divine Office we first of all praise God. This may seem like a strange expression, as though God needs our poor words of admiration. No, God does not need our admiration, because He stands in no need of His creatures. But he most wants our acknowledgement of His greatness and recognition of His goodness, and submission to His power and majesty.
Why does he want it? For His sake? No, that would be needing it, only in different words. He wants it for our sake.
He wants us to adore Him, which is what praise really means because this is the truth He wants us to practice by telling Him in all the human accents at our disposal that He alone is necessary, that He alone is great, that He alone is mightyby comparison with us. In a word, that He alone is God and we are only weunnecessary creatures that except for Him would not even be.
That is why so much of the Divine Office is composed of the Psalms, those eloquent hymns of praise, inspired by the Holy Spirit before the Incarnation and ever since prayed by the Church in chants of adoration.
As we reread or re-sing the Psalms of praise, however, notice the stress on Gods power that runs through them like a mighty theme. We need this reminder today, as the Jews needed it before Christ and as the apostles needed it when, in their company, He sang the Psalms of the Passover at the Last Supper.
Why be reminded of Gods power when we praise him? Because in the world there are so many powerful idols that men are tempted to worship instead of humbly submitting to the almighty God. Wealth gives power; intellect and education give power; skill and science give power; authority gives power; articulation in speech and persuasive writing confer power; and media give power; shrewdness and cunning and seductive beauty give power.
Hence the terrible need, born of our inveterate tendency to make idols of creatures, to praise God as the all-powerful One, before whose magnitude all earthly beings is as naught. Listen to the Psalmist:
Yahweh is king, robed in majesty,
You have made the world firm, unshakable;
Greater than the voice of ocean,
Your decrees will never alter;
Or, as the last Psalm of the Psalter has us sing, this praise of God has a where and a why and a how and who.
Appropriately, the 150th Psalm begins and ends with an Alleluia and in between are inserted six of the most dramatic verses of all human literature, no doubt because the verses are also divine:
Praise God in His Temple on Earth
Praise Him for His mighty achievements,
Praise Him with blasts of the trumpet,
Let everything that breathes praise Yahweh!
So much for the Divine Office as a prayer of praise. But it is also the Churchs great prayer of intercession.
This is not as obvious as it may at first seem. When we say that the Liturgy of the Hours is, after the Eucharist, the Churchs most effective prayer of intercession, we mean that those who sing or recite the Divine Office literally stand, hence intercede, between God and the human family.
Intercessory prayer is mediatorial prayer, where the mediators are those priests, religious and laity who plead with the heavenly Father to have mercy and to be generous to the human race.
Behind this simple affirmation stands another mystery of our faith, namely, the value of human intercession in favor of other people who either cannot or will not or do not sufficiently pray for themselves.
Call it vicarious prayer, or altruistic petition, or substitutionary invocation. By whatever name, it stands as the keystone of the arch that supports the Communion of Saints.
What it means in essence is that God is propitiated and His mercy is moved not only when people ask Him for themselves, but also when they beg His favors for others.
When, therefore, we pray the Divine Office, we are praying not only for ourselves but, with emphasis, for all the children of Adam who need the grace of God or, if they are deceased, the staying hand of His loving mercy.
Let me read just one more prayer from the Divine Office to bring out the import of this intercessory function of the Liturgy of the Hours:
O God, you have prepared invisible riches for all those who love you. Pour into our hearts the sentiments of your love, so that, loving you in all things and above all things, we may attain to your promises which exceed all our desires. Through Jesus Christ your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
This prayer, and all others like it in the Divine Office, is no private petition or solitary request. It is an act of intercession on behalf of all mankind, made efficacious by the power of Christ, who is praying the Divine Office within us, for all those who are still in exile from the God who made them for Himself, but who wants to be invoked in order to grant the graces that they need.
What lends solemnity to these intercessions in the Divine Office is the fact that they are made in faith and built on the hope that God is never invoked in vain.
On our part, this means that a deeper awareness is called for if we are to become effective pleaders before the throne of God for the millions of children of a fallen human race.
We must become aware of whom we are praying to: it is the mighty God, who is mysteriously also the merciful God.
We must become aware of whom we are praying with: it is Jesus Christ the eternal High Priest, who sealed the new covenant with his blood.
We must become aware of who we are that are praying: we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.
We must become aware of whom we are praying for: the multitudes of suffering in body and spirit, the tempted and the fallen, the discouraged and depressed, the hungry and the naked and homeless and friendless who need our intercession. Only in heaven shall we know how much our petitions on earth have helped how many souls join us in the eternal Liturgy of the angels and saints who behold the face of God.
The Divine Office as a Form of Sacrifice
There is more than passing value in reflecting on the Divine Office as a form of sacrifice.
For one thing, we know that for anything to be pleasing to God it must be sacrificial; it must cost us something. A self-satisfying gift is a cheap gift. And the Divine Office should not be a cheap gift to God.
Moreover, the Church regularly associates the Eucharist and the Divine Office in all her official teaching. We know that each is a sacrifice, indeed the sacrifice most pleasing to God. We should therefore expect the Divine Office to be somehow a sacrifice too.
Then again, we read again and again in Scripture about offering to God a sacrifice of praise, or spiritual sacrifices, or, as in the Miserere, we read those strange words addressed to God:
Sacrifice gives you no pleasure, were I to offer holocaust, you would not have it.
Evidently, then, there are two quite different senses in which we may use the world sacrifice and it will be useful to know which one we mean when we speak of the Divine Office as a form of sacrifice.
Sacrifice may, first of all, mean some visible or physical or sensibly perceptible thing that is precious to us but that we offer to God by:
But sacrifice may also mean some invisible or spiritual thing that is equally (and perhaps more) precious to us but that we correspondingly offer to God by:
Clearly, these two kinds of sacrifice have much in common, and yet they are not the same. If we would coin the distinction between them, we might call the first, sacrifice of the body and the second, sacrifice of spirit.
Needless to say, both kinds are pleasing to God, even when, as in the Miserere from which we quoted, God wants to make sure that our bodily sacrifices are sincere and animated by a genuine sacrifice from within our spirit.
So we return to our consideration of how the Divine Office is a form of sacrifice. And immediately we see it is, and should be, sacrificial in both ways:
My intention in this conference is to be as practical as possible, in order to help us make the Divine Office what God and the Church want it to be: at once a prayer of praise and intercession, and a sacrifice that is most pleasing to God.
After all, prayer to be effective must also be a sacrifice; and sacrifice is nothing, if it is not in essence a prayer to Almighty God.
Before we take up each aspect of how the Divine Office is a sacrifice, we should not e that the two kinds of sacrifice (bodily and spiritual) are not really separable in practice, as in fact, they should not be. When we offer God something physical with our bodies or emotions, we also implicitly offer Him our spirit. And when we surrender out of love for Him something pleasant in spirit, our bodies normally also feel the surrender.
Nevertheless, it is useful to deal separately with each aspect of the Divine Office as sacrificial. For one thing we should hopefully better dispose ourselves to making the surrenders demanded not only willingly but even cheerfully.
The Divine Office as Bodily Sacrifice
There is, of course, no way of identifying all the sacrificial elements pertaining to the body or the emotions that reciting or singing the Divine Office includes. We are all different and therefore what may be a sacrifice for one might not be for someone else.
Allowing for these differences among ourselves as persons I would reduce (for the sake of easier reference) the bodily sacrifices involved in the choral praying of the Divine Office to five, as followssacrifice of place, of time, of posture, of duration, and of voice.
Let us look at each of these to see what they mean:
Sacrifice of Place
When we pray the Divine Office together in chapel, we surrender all sorts of options that would otherwise be open to us. We leave the place where we are and go to the place where the Office is to be said. For some people, this can be quite a giving up of where they might personally prefer to pray.
Change of place is not only physical movement of body; it is also adjustment of where I am when the Office is to be said to where I should be, if the Office is to be said in common.
Newtons law of motion that a body at rest tends to remain at rest can be painfully verified here, when we voluntarily move from a variety of directions and humbly converge on a single place of worship in response to the call to chapel.
Sacrifice of Time
This kind of sacrifice again differs immensely with different people and for some no doubt it hardly seems to be a sacrifice at all. It all depends on what a person is doing at the precise time when the call is given for the recitation of the Divine Office.
Time, it has been said, is our most precious commodity after the grace of God. Wise men are miserly of this time and saints have been careful not to waste any time, seeing how little we have of this priceless possession and how quickly it runs out or better, how quickly time is running headlong into eternity.
In order to make the sacrifice of time spent in praying the Divine Office, we must be sure that no time could be better expended. We must, if necessary, steel ourselves to the conviction that after the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, the time surrendered to the Divine Office is most acceptable to God.
Sacrifice of Posture
If it seems like a trivial thing it is not. Just watch some people when, as they say, they are taking a relaxed posture. Human ingenuity has exhausted itself in inventing chairs and divans and settees and lounges and cushions and pillows and footrests and padding and you name itall designed to make the human body more comfortable and more at ease.
I remember some years ago in the Century magazine, the letters of protest to the editor because he allowed (in good faith) an ad to appear describing two types of church pews: one for Catholics and the other for Protestant churches. The ad described the advantages of Catholic Church pews which occupied minimum space for maximum capacity and quick change from sitting posture to kneeling position. It described the advantages of Protestant church pews, with no kneelers, with cushioned seats, and with comfortable angle for the sitting position while listening to the sermon!
Certainly the prescribed posture, and gestures, and bodily position that are part of a reverent communal recitation of the Divine Office calls for no small amount of sacrifice. It is plain wisdom not to ignore it.
Sacrifice of Duration
This may not seem to be a great deal and yet it can be quite demanding.
The full recitation daily, of the whole Divine Office, is not short. In fact, this was one reason why Saint Ignatius when he was establishing the Society of Jesus obtained from the Holy See what was then an unheard of concession: dispensation from the choral recitation and singing of the Divine Office.
Lest there be any misunderstanding on this critical point, we can profitably quote from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius where he sets down certain Rules for thinking with the period of the Reformation when hundreds of monasteries and convents were swept out of existence and when the recitation in choir of the Divine Office was being ridiculed and abandoned across the whole of Europe.
Writes Ignatius: In order to have the proper attitude of mind in the Church Militant we should praise the frequent hearing of Mass, singing of hymns and psalms and the recitation of long prayers, both in and out of church; also the hours arranged for fixed times for the whole Divine Office, for prayers of all kinds and for the canonical hours.
When, reluctantly, he asked the Holy Father for a dispensation for his order from the choral recitation of the canonical hours, it was not because he did not cherish and deeply respect the community saying and singing of the Divine Office. It was only because for his priests, actively engaged in their far-flung and time-consuming apostolates, he thought they should be allowed to recite the office privately.
But for religious communities in general, and with emphasis for those whose main apostolate is to offer prayer and sacrifice, he praised (and I praise) the sacrifice of duration offered to God. Notice that duration is not only time, but much time, a long timespent in Liturgy of the Hours because we consider this kind of duration not too expensive to pay to the loving God.
Sacrifice of Voice
If this seems odd to call it a sacrifice, let me assure you it is not odd at all. The careful, which means prayerful, recitation and especially chant of the Divine Office calls for numerous sacrifices involving the human voice. Who says what prayers at what time, with what intonation, or elevation of voice. What melody is used by whom, following what pattern, alone or together, at length or antiphonally?
All these are common knowledge to anyone who takes the choral saying of the canonical hours as seriously as the Church wants them to be taken.
I remember in the life of Saint Robert Bellarmine when he became Archbishop of Capua in Italy, how scandalized he was at the cathedral canons who rushed through the Divine Office as though they wereas they wereimpatient to get through with it. I also remember the monastery of Cistercian nuns that I recently visited where I attended their singing of one of the hours of the Divine Office. Those fifteen minutes were a sermon of sacrifice to hear their voices reverently modulated in prayerful unison in honor of the Holy Trinity.
The Divine Office as Spiritual Sacrifice
As we turn to reflect on how the Office is a sacrifice of spirit, there too persons differ so much it is impossible to generalize. What may be hard for one person may not be for another, and vice versa.
Yet I think we have enough in common, as human beings, to be able to say there are certain aspects of reciting the Liturgy of the Hours in common which call for self-sacrifice on everyones part.
Let me then mention again five that I consider fairly obvious, namelythe sacrifice of language and sentiments, of structure, complexity and privacy.
Sacrifice of Language
One of the definitions we give of vocal prayer, as distinct from mental prayer is that in vocal prayer we do not use our own words but follow the formulation given to us by someone else. Of course, every prayer should also be mental in that we are mentally alert and aware of the fact that we are praying.
The Divine Office is emphatically vocal prayer. The language we use, the words pronounced and the very sequence of what we are saying is all pre-arranged, pre-determined, if you please, for us by the Church.
Does this call for sacrifice of spirit? Indeed, and for some people great sacrifice, especially if (as may be supposed of religious) they are much given to mental prayer and find great relish in communing with God in their own words, and not be held to saying just what the Office prescribes we should say when we pray.
Sacrifice of Sentiment
Closely associated with the foregoing is the sacrifice of sentiments when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
What would normally be on my mind or in my heart might be far removed (even as prayer) from what, e.g., the Psalm that I am singing bids me to think and, as it were, tells me to desire.
Yet, out of love for God and in the deference to His Church, I subordinate my personal sentiments to those which the Church wants me to have. I submit my mind to the Churchs mind in praying what, for the present, she wants me to ask of God and not what I might prefer if I had my choice in the matter.
I may be feeling sad, and the prayers of the Office tell me to be glad. I may be feeling glad and the prayers of the Office tell me to mourn for the sins of the world. I may have a strong attraction for the Savior in His heavenly glory and the Office may require that I sacrifice these sentiments to turn instead to the Saviors bloody Passion.
So it goes, and so it is. But that is precisely what the recitation of the Office requires of the Churchs faithful who have learned to give up even their deepest interior feelings in conformity with the Churchs directives seeing that these directives come through the Church from Christ Himself.
Sacrifice of Structure
This calls for some explanation. The Divine Office is nothing if not structured. And most people are not that organized or, if they are, they prefer to organize things in their own way.
Yet here we have the epitome of a set pattern, and we are expected to conform. Such conformity, down to the least details of what I say, or who says it, or when, or how many times, or with what accent, or tone, or in what ordercan be self-surrendering in the extreme.
It partly explains why, sadly, so many priests have given up the recitation of the Breviaryeven privately. They tell you they find themselves constricted by the regimen of the Breviarys structure.
It also partly accounts for the fact that so many religious communities have, for all practical purposes, given up the recitation (not to say chanting) of the Divine Office in common. They claim the Office is a restriction on their individual liberty. Well it is. But that is part of the sacrifice we are talking about.
On both counts to obtain for priests and religious the grace they need to return to the Divine Office as a sustenance for their spiritual lives we should be more ready than ever to make whatever sacrifice of structure it demands. Our sacrifice will merit for others the light and strength they require to make the corresponding sacrifice in their priestly and religious vocations. Our sacrifice will obtain the gift of sacrifice for others.
Sacrifice of Complexity
Not only is the Divine Office highly structured, but it is also highly complex.
This calls for some stress because so many priests and religious in the United States had become accustomed to the interim version of the Breviary called The Prayer of Christians.
It is not my purpose here to comment on The Prayer of Christians as a substitute for the Divine Office approved by the Holy See for the Universal Church. What I feel certain of is that for not a few the adjustments will not be easy. Hence the value of some observations on this point.
Unlike the substitution The Prayer of Christians, the official Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church is far more varied, more changeable from day to day, week to week, and month to month.
All of this naturally makes for complexity and I would be unrealistic if I ignored what I am certain is going to be an obstacle to not a few priests and religious to take again what some of us had never given up in the first place.
I believe this deserves to be mentioned that although the revised Liturgy of the Hours is in every respect more detailed than the simplified, The Prayer of Christians, it is notwithstanding not a complicated ritual prayer. It is consciously shorter than was the Divine Office before the Second Vatican Council. It is also more easy to use, and what we should not omit, more interesting because of its wide variability, its numerous selections from saints, mysteries, and doctors of the Church; and its up-to-datedness in revealing the Churchs awareness of the problems and hopes of the modern age.
Yet, having said all of this, the fact remains that all who wish to be faithful to the Divine Office issued by the Holy See on Easter Sunday in 1971 must sacrifice their perhaps natural desire for plainness for the rich and demanding complexity of the four volumes of the Liturgia Horarum, whose Latin edition amounts to over seven thousand pages.
Sacrifice of Privacy
The final sacrifice of spirit called for by the obedient chanting of the Divine Office is the sacrifice of privacy.
How we all cherish to be alone, especially when we are praying to God from our hearts. Did not Jesus tell us to pray in secret where our heavenly Father who sees in secret will reward us?
Yes, but Christ also told His followers, when they pray to say Our Father Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Clearly we have two different obligations in prayer: one as individual persons and one as members of society, especially of the society which Christ found as His Mystical Body.
As we close these reflections on the Divine Office, it is well to remind ourselves that the Liturgy of the Hours is not a private prayer. It is a public prayer and the Church so wants us to respond, a social prayer.
If this means for some of us all of the time and for all of us some of the time the sacrifice of our preference for privacy in communing with God, let us believe that He understands.
He knows, how well He knows, who so often went off to pray alone with the Father. But He will give us the light to see that if we are to please Him who is our common Lord we must be willing and even happy to speak with Him as a community, even as He speaks to us as a community, at no matter what surrender of our personal individuality.
Recall the directive He gave the disciples just before His Ascension., He told them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there in prayer for what the Father had promised. So they did.
For ten days, St. Luke tells us, All these joined in continuous prayer together with several women, including Mary the Mother of Jesus.
We know what happened. After this novena of praying together, the Holy Spirit came down on all of them, and the rest is a matter of history.
We too should expect the Holy Spirit to come on us in the measure of our faith and self-sacrifice, to bless us if we pray togetherin body and in spiritand certainly when the prayer we say together is that of the Holy Catholic Church is what we call the Divine Office, but may be called the Sacred Duty of Community Sacrifice.
The Divine Office as Liturgy
There is good reason why a preliminary word may be useful to explain why we should talk about the Divine Office as Liturgy.
For one thing, it seems more obvious that the Office is a prayer. Of course it is prayer, as all the Psalms and the Hymns and the Orations so clearly indicate. True, we have to remind ourselves that the Office is mainly a prayer of praise and intercession: of praise to acknowledge who we are, helpless creatures that depend on Him for the very breath we breathe, lest we stifle in body or choke in spirit. We need him like the air we inhale; or better, His grace is the air we must inhale if we are not supernaturally to suffocate.
It is also not hard to recognize the Divine Office as a form of sacrifice. It demands so many surrenders of body and soul that no one can easily question that to say the Divine Office properly, or in fact, at all, we must give up our time, our convenience, our preference, and give of ourselves. In fact, in the measure of this giving up, as a form of giving of self, we are not only saying the Office but living it. And it in living the Divine Office that is so pleasing to God.
But we return to our original postulate: that there is special need to see how the Divine Office is indeed a form of the Divine Liturgy. So concerned is the Church to have us know this that she has now consciously given us two equally valid names for the same spiritual exercise, namely, The Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours.
In order to cover the essentials of an immense subject let us look at it in stages as follows:
What is the Sacraed Liturgy?
We begin with the Churchs own definition of the Liturgy. It is rather long but we shall then immediately break it down into its components.
The Sacred Liturgy is the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder and through Him to the heavenly Father.
It is, in short, the worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christ in the entirety of its Head and members.
We see, therefore, that the Sacred Liturgy is in essence the worship that the whole Mystical Body, Christ as Head and we as members offer to the Divine Majesty.
The operative element in the Liturgy, then, is its social character: that it is the worship of the whole Mystical Body in every sense of its corporate entirety.
In order the worship to be Liturgical, then, is its social character: that is the worship of the whole Mystical Body in every sense of its corporate entirety.
In order for worship to be liturgical, so the Church teaches us, it must be an action that involves the totality of the Christian communityincluding as its first participant the one who is the invisible Head of the community, namely, Jesus Christ.
If we would further refine the meaning of the Liturgy, we should add that what makes the Liturgy liturgical is also its priestly character.
After all, Christ has three roles as Head of the Mystical Body:
The Liturgy, properly so called, concerns the third of these three messianic roles, namely, the priestly function whereby He fulfills especially His name of Jesus , which means the Savior of the world.
Since the Liturgy is the Liturgy because it involves the whole ChristHead and membersit is therefore the priestly role that we join in with Christ whenever we participate in the Liturgy. By the priestly role we mean that role of offering to God in expiation for sin and in order to sanctify the people of God.
Summarily then we should say that whenever prayer or sacrifice is liturgical, it has these two qualities always present in its composition:
The Divine Office as Liturgy
One reason, no doubt, why there has been some doubt in some quarters about the liturgical nature of the Divine Office is because of the great stress on the Eucharist as Liturgy.
And in fact, in the Eastern Churches the Mass is often simply called leitourgia, or the Liturgy.
There may also be another, less noble reason for confusion here. This is that, sadly, the Divine Office has been so neglected, so widely, in so many circlesamong priests and religious and, tragically, among cloistered contemplativesthat to speak of the Office as Liturgy seems to some to be strange. Yes, it becomes strange to people whose faith has weakened in its appreciation of what the Church now tells us to start calling the Liturgy of the Hours.
As we approach our subject more closely and answer the question of how the Office is Liturgy, we reply: It is the Liturgy because it is the public, that is, corporate worship of God. And it is the Liturgy because this social (or corporate) worship is priestly, i.e., given to God for the salvation and sanctification of mankind.
Social Worship of God
We should not be surprised that God wants us to worship Him socially, since we are not only individual persons but also social beings.
What may not be so plain is that when we worship God socially, which means liturgically, we do so on every level of our societal existence. And each of these levels is fully verified in the Liturgy of the Hours. We might synthesize this social character in five terms and explain each term in sequence as follows:
How do we say the Office as a body? By coming together to pray and sing as a body. We gather in one place; we begin at the same time; we pronounce the same words; we physically join our voices in recitation and song; we follow the same ritual; we perform the same gestures. In a word, we are visibly and sensiblyperceptiblydoing the same act of divine worship as a corporate entity.
How do we say the Divine Office as a community? You might answer we do so by being together and praying together in a body. Not quite. There is such a thing as being together in body without necessarily being together in spirit.
There is a phrase to the Acts of the Apostles that epitomizes this perfectly. St. Luke describes the early Christian community by saying, The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul.
Thats it. Union of heart and soul in loving charity is what constitutes a community as distinct from being merely a corporate body.
And our Divine Office is that much more liturgical as we who participate are more united in heart and soul.
How do we say the Office with the universal Church? We do so by our careful, even sedulous, concern to follow the prescriptions and directives and ritual that the hierarchical Church under Peter gives us to observe whenever we pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
These directives are not few and they are precise. They allow, of course, for number of optionsfamiliar to all of us from the Eucharistic Liturgy.
Here let me be as clear as I possibly can be. Since the Second Vatican Council decreed a revision of the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Holy See has been frequent, and lengthy, and precise in its directives on how the Sacrifice of the Altar should be celebrated. It has also been, perforce, very clear at times on how it should not be celebrated. Yet as the faithful are so often telling me, they too often witness such a jumble of ritual idiosyncrasies and such individualism among priests and ministers at the altar that not a few Catholics have been disheartened to the point of despair at what they rightly regard as a public scandal.
I have witnessed Masses at which the priest was in street clothes, in fact, in a shabby sweater; where there was no penitential rite, no oration, no offertory, no preface, where the Consecration was his own versionno semblance of a Canon approved by the Churchand where the whole spectacle was depressing in the extreme.
Why so I say this? In order to make sure that those of us who celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours know, and know well, what the Church expects of us when we come together to pray together with the Universal Church in the Divine Office.
I assume that you will not only want to know but want to observe the Churchs directives as perfectly as possible. Only in this way will we be saying or singing the same Divine Catholic word; and insure in the process the infusion of Gods special grace because of our obedient, liturgical humility.
How do we say the Office through Jesus Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body? One might object by replying that that is not our business. Christ takes care of that. Yes and no.
Of course Christ remains and acts as the Head of the Mystical Body, whether we even advert to the fact or not. He is our Head; we do not make Him such.
Nevertheless, speaking doctrinally, faith tells us there is such a thing as greater or lesser efficacy to our prayers, depending on how closely we join ourselves with Christ when we pray.
What does this mean? It means that every act of virtue that makes us more like the Savior; every self-sacrifice performed in imitation of Him; every pain endured in order to become assimilated to Him; every self-denial offered to Himmakes our Liturgy of the Hours more pleasing to God and more beneficial to souls.
Why? Because Christ is surely our Head but we must become more and more truly His members. By the mortification of our self-love we are vivified with His Spirit. And in the degree that we die to ourselves we enablewhat a strange expression! Christ to act as our Head because we are not interfering with the flow of His grace through us who are meant to be His living members.
How do we say the Divine Office for all of mankind? Notice what this means. It means that the Office is a societal prayer of worship not only because, de facto, we are members of the human race. It means that it should be a societal prayer for all the human family.
Again, however, we may object that every prayer is beneficial to others. So why emphasize other people as beneficiaries of our recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours?
Not quite. There is such a thing as having intentions in prayer; of offering, as we correctly say, our acts of worship and sacrifice for definite purposes, for specific needsin a word, for others.
This is not make-believe. In a mysterious way that we cannot really explain, God honors our motives when we pray.
What should all of this mean in our estimate of the Divine Office as beneficial to the world of the human family? It should mean that we are to be as aware as we can of this fact when we pray the Liturgy. We should actualize our intentions every day and, if possible, every time we are praying the canonical hours.
It is a wholesome custom to have certain intentions, both our own and those of the Christian community, for which we overtly and expressly say the office or any part of the same.
As far as possible these should be large intentions, world-wide in scope and affecting not just our own little preferences or needs, but the grave cosmic trials and sufferings of a suffering mankind. We ought to offer the Divine Office for:
What we must arouse ourselves to realize is that when we pray the Liturgy we cannot take for granted that because God knows the needs of the human race we should not bother. Oh no! He wants us to be conscious of these needs and offer our humble worship of intercession to move His mercy to meet these universal needs. After all, this is one of the main reasons why in His Providence He allows so many people to be in want: that our self-centered hearts might be turned from ourselves and center their concern on others who, no less than we, have been redeemed by His Precious Blood.
Priestly Worship of God
Our second focus of reflection on the Divine Office as Divine Liturgy is on the priestly quality of the Liturgy. We have the Churchs word for the fact, based on faith, that when we say the Liturgy of the Hours we are engaging in a priestly function, in union with Christ the first High Priest.
What are we saying? We are affirming two things:
In virtue of our Baptism we are enabled to share in his priestly service in a way that approximates what the ordained human priest does at the altar when he offers Mass.
We are to be priestly after the pattern of Christ the Priest by offering with Him to the Heavenly Father what revelation calls the clean oblation of a dedicated heart.
After all, what is priestliness if it is not self-surrender to the will of God?
Accordingly our saying of the Divine Office will also be the offering of the Divine Officeprovided we yield our wills to the loving but ever-so-demanding will of God.
Faith exhausts the vocabulary of belief in describing what this priestliness means:
To some perhaps it may seem rhetorical to be talking this way. But it is not rhetoric or poetry. It is the truth.
All the theological learning in the world will not make our participation in the Liturgywhether of the Eucharist or of the Hoursmore effective unless we come to the Liturgy with priestly hearts, that is, with hearts that are humbly submissive to the Heart of Jesus, which is the Heart of God.
But given this humble subordination to the will of God, we shall do more good for souls and be more effective in winning grace for those in needwith special emphasis on priests in needthan we could ever dream was possible.
Then our liturgical prayer of the Hours will be what its name signifies: a sacrifice of praise from the farthest east to the farthest west, where the name of the Lord is honored by us who have consecrated ourselves to belong exclusively to Him.
God is ready; I might almost say eager, to meet the desperate needs of mankind. But He wants us, His chosen souls, to live as we pray, to be what the words we sing or recite proclaim: persons totally given to God, through whom He can then work the wonders of grace He intends, if only we let Him, through our unworthy selves. Among the deepest thoughts ever conceived by the mind of man, born of experience among the saints, is that we are channels of grace to our fellowmen. But we are effective in this providential role only to the extent that we place no selfish obstacle in the way.
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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