Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Divine Office

For many Catholics, the existence of the Divine Office is something they've never known, but one of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was to encourage its use amongst the people of God. "Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually" (SC, 100). Unfortunately, this is a reform of the Council that has barely been realized, nor has it really been talked about in the parishes.

The Divine Office is "the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God" (SC, 99); it is seen as "the official prayer of the Church" (LC). Coming from Jesus Christ, the Office is seen as "that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven" (SC, 83). The Church believes that she should be "ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world" and that this is done "not only by celebrating the eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office" (SC, 83). The Divine Office "is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father" (SC, 84).

The Office is a "tradition going back to early Christian times" and "is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God" (SC, 84). Many attribute its earliest form in the way that devout Jews would recite the psalms, day and night, in praise of the Lord and that the Office is the Christianization of that practice. The praying of the Office is to make holy the entire day: Seven times a day I praise thee for thy righteous ordinances (Ps 119:164). Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all (1 Thes 5:16-18). Obviously, the praying of the Office isn't meant to replace our heartfelt prayers to God, but that they supplement our prayers through the offering of the psalms, prayers, and Scriptures to Almighty God. "[A]ll who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ's spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God's throne in the name of the Church their Mother" (SC, 85).

As a future Oblate of St. Benedict, praying the Divine Office (also called the Daily Office, the Office, the Breviary, the Hours, and the Liturgy of the Hours) is part of my spiritual expression. St. Benedict, who called the Office the Opus Dei (the Work of God), spent many chapters of his Rule explaining how the Office should be offered by his monks, reminding them that "nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God" (43:3). Even before I ever knew I wanted to be an Oblate, I already knew that I wanted to pray the Office once I learned of its existence; I never lost that original love for Scripture that was nurtured in my days as a Protestant.

There are many Office versions out there and everyone has their preference; however, I always desired to pray with the Church in a way where I felt like I wasn't lost in a time machine - plus, the older Offices can be quite burdensome (for instance, in the Office that was in use in the 1960s, all 150 psalms were prayed weekly, which meant praying all the Hours of the day, including the ones designated for during the middle of the night). Realizing that this was burdensome for the laity, and desiring that all the people of God celebrate the Hours, the Second Vatican Council suppressed the Hour of Prime and changed the Hour of Matins (now called the Office of Readings), authorizing the Office of Readings to be prayed at any time during the day instead of just in the middle of the night, and they went to a four-week psalter, which meant less psalms per day. I truly enjoy the Office of Readings because of the second reading, which is usually the writings of a Saint or a Father of the Church.

For the laity, the Church advised us that the "two hinges" of the Office were Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers), so for many of the faithful, due to how busy life can get, they limit themselves to praying these two Hours; in keeping with Anglican tradition, these are the Hours I normally pray, and on most days I also pray the final Hour, which is called Compline. When Thomas Cranmer became the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, he revised the Mass and Hours, creating the Book of Common Prayer, which would allow clerics and laity to pray the worship service and the prayers together in the common language of the people; wanting to make things simpler (and more likely to be done by the laity, who were busier than we are today) the "minor/lesser Hours" throughout the day were removed, leaving behind only Morning (called Mattins) and Evening Prayer (called Evensong); the Ordinariate Office returns these Hours.

Obviously, the laity are not bound to pray the Hours like the clerics and religious orders are, but the laity (myself included) often get very enthusiastic about the Hours and try to pray them with their whole heart. It was God's providence that he led me to joining the Anglican Ordinariate. Although I enjoyed the current version of the Liturgy of the Hours, I wasn't feeling a great draw to them; there was something missing. As a member of the Ordinariate, my priest told me I could privately pray the Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition), but with the Readings of the Book of Divine Worship (a Catholic revised version of the Book of Common Prayer promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1983).

THIS is what was missing for me, as the BCP not only contained the psalms and beautiful prayers, but also contained readings from the Old and New Testaments; through the daily praying of the Office, using the BCP, one can work through the entirety of the Protestant version of the Bible, along with the psalms. In the new version of the Daily Office, soon to be released by the Anglican Ordinariate, the Office contains Scripture from the entire Catholic version of the Bible (like the Book of Divine Worship), but in the beautiful English found in the 1928 version of the BCP; it also contains many traditional prayers and intercessory prayers of the saints that had been taken out by the Anglicans, and so as to not be stuck in a time machine, there are many intercessory prayers for many of our modern saints, such as St. John Paul II and St. Padre Pio, in keeping with the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council.

It was the hope that the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council, authorizing more Scripture readings in the Mass and the reform of the Hours, "will bring about a continuous meditation on the history of salvation and its continuation in the life of men" (LC). Pope Blessed Paul VI, in authorizing the release of the reformed Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Second Vatican Council's desire for the laity to participate in the Hours, said "By means of this new book of the Liturgy of the Hours...let there resound throughout the Church a magnificent hymn of praise to God, and let it be united to that hymn of praise sung in the courts of heaven by the angels and saints. May the days of our earthly exile be filled more and more with that praise which throughout the ages is given to the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb" (LC).

Amen! It is my hope and desire that, through the praying of the Anglican Ordinariate's Daily Office, I may join my voice to that hymn of praise on earth and in heaven, to the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ember Days in the Ordinariate

Ever since I learned about the Ember Days, I've wanted to practice them (although I haven't done a good job with that). For those unaware, the Ember Days are three days at four times a year, coinciding with the changing of the seasons, where we pray for God's blessings on the bounty of the earth, as well as for those to be ordained (or contemplating the priesthood) that we may receive more workers for God's True harvest.

The Ordinariate continues to form, finding itself; one of the challenges is to resist the urge to be just an English version of the Extraordinary Form. We must remember that our "job" is to preserve Anglican patrimony within the Catholic Church; this can trace itself to practices that existed prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council - some things can be traced to practices that existed prior to the Council of Trent! Either way, regarding the Ember Days, I wanted to observe them according to our Patrimony, if that differed from the way that those who practice the Extraordinary Form observed them. Writing a man who is "in the know", this is what I've received from him:

On the recommendation of the Governing Council, the Bishop has decreed that Ember Friday in Advent [and in September] will be kept as obligatory days of abstinence.

The Whitsun Ember Days fall in the Octave of Pentecost which is ordinarily a time of feasting, though voluntary, individual abstinence, even fasting, is certainly allowable as a personal rule.

Ember Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence anyway by the OF norms of the modern Roman Rite.

So, all the Ember Fridays of the year are days of abstinence, with those of Lent, September, and Advent being obligatory for the Ordinariate, as the minimum requested.

What about the Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays?

...fasting or abstinence on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays is up to you.

This person, as an Anglican, abstained from meat on all the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent and fasted on the Ember Days, but acknowledged that Anglican customs varied a lot, quite often following the practices of the Roman rite in this case.

So, there you have it. Ember Fridays of the year = abstaining from meat (at least), while the other Ember Days are (as of now) voluntary days of abstaining (as well as fasting, if desired); let us not forget that, at least in the Office, we also have collects for the Ember Days, which assist in their observance.

So, as personal practice (as of the moment), I will observe the twelve Ember Days as days of abstaining from meat (and, in keeping with the request from our Ordinary Emeritus, which I do not think has been rescinded, I continue to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year, except on the very rare occasion, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving, where I abstain from something else). Perhaps one day I'll be able to add fasting to the observance, as a personal act, as well as in keeping with tradition, but as of now, abstaining from meat on the Ember days will be how I observe them (except in the cases of feasts and solemnities, like this Wednesday), in keeping with the bishop's request.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Is This the Final Form?

I've often posted about my struggles with weight and all the plans I have in combating it, but nothing ever works. I pray constantly for relief, but by the end of the day - and a pizza or two later - my lifestyle never changes. I entertain weird and challenging ways of eating, like going vegan or crafting my meals according to the liturgical calendar, but to no avail.

I've been led, I believe, to be simple, embracing the Rule and going into this in a simple, prayerful manner. And I believe it's from God because no matter what I try, my heart and mind always return to this simple plan - if it finally works, I hope to share it with others who struggle with their addictions.

Simply put...

1) Stop ordering out: This is the biggest killer of any efforts to lose weight or save money.

2) Fast with the Church: I always try to go above and beyond, such as trying to fast on both Wednesdays and Fridays. How to run when I can barely crawl? No, I shall fast on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and on the Ember Days - let's learn to crawl first.

3) Exercise: I'll never lose weight and keep it off without exercise; and since it's a struggle for me, and nowhere near enjoyable, I offer my exercise to the Lord for the conversion of sinners and for relief of the souls in purgatory.

4) Rare treats: I'll never quit junk food for good, no matter how much I want to, because I know it's going to be a struggle. So, I promise myself to never buy junk food again (except for popcorn for the air popper, which really isn't junk food). However, my parents always have junk food in the house - if the mood strikes, I'll enjoy a treat at their house, but never in mine. With God's graces, I'll resist the urge over there, as well, but one step at a time.

5) Don't sweat the booze: I only have one or two drinks a week - I'm not going to worry about its impact.

6) Eating natural foods: My heart keeps going back to this. I'm not going to do anything extreme, although I *might* replace some of my dairy with other things, like almond milk or flax milk, but for the most part, I'm not going to obsess over organic vs poison-filled, or vegan/vegetarian vs meat and fish - I'm just going to enjoy the Lord's harvest and blessings and be thankful. Yes, my meals will continue to be mainly vegetarian, but I won't worry about the meat (unless it's Friday) and fish. Since South Beach, my meats have been mainly poultry and when it's been red meat, it's been very lean; and since my marriage, I'd say at least half my meals, if not 75%, are vegetarian. Truthfully, if I could just stop ordering out or buying junk food, the pounds would fall off!

So, that's it. No big crazy challenges or extreme penance - just trying to do this in a simple manner, offering it up to God, and begging him for the graces to believe that I'm worth being healthy. And I made goals for myself: Short term, I pray that I'll be down one pants size and one shirt size by New Year's. Long term, by this time next year I pray to be off all my medications.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Happy All-Hallow's-Reformation-Eve-ween Day

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. -- 2 Maccabees 12:43-46

Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. -- Matthew 5:25-26

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” -- Matthew 18:32-35

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. -- Matthew 12:32

If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. -- 1 Cor 3:14-15

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Halloween is soon to be upon us; All Hallow's Eve, the vigil of the Solemnity of All Saints Day. As I've written in the past, Halloween is a Catholic celebration that's been divorced from its origin, first by Protestants who wanted to make fun of our dressing up as Saints by dressing up as ghosts and demons, and then by the secular world, whose celebration of the day has devolved into how many "sexy" versions of costumes they can convince women to wear.

October 31 is known by many as Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the local church in Wittenberg; I am currently reading a very good biography on Luther which denies that this is where the Theses were posted, but the story has lasted for 500 years and will probably stick around forever. One cannot understand Luther's desire for reform unless we understand what was happening in Germany in his day and age.

There was great corruption and abuse in the German church. In those days, it was rare for a priest to ever go to seminary, because barely any of them existed, and sometimes bishops were appointed by secular leaders in order to have a friend in the Church, instead of having a good shepherd for the flock. In Germany, the quality of priest and bishop was either hot or cold - while holiness existed, so did great corruption - most notably with the selling of indulgences. The Church, having the power to bind and loose (Mat 18:18), has been led by the Holy Spirit to offer indulgences to the faithful; an indulgence relieves the temporal punishment associated with forgiven sins. Let's use an example from our world: Your son broke the neighbor's window while playing baseball. He apologizes to the neighbor and the neighbor forgives him, but the window still needs to be replaced and paid for. We see it in Scripture, as well, when David sent Bathsheba's husband to the front in battle and made the troops fall back so that he'd be killed, just so David could then take Bathsheba as his wife; God forgave his sin, but took the life of his son and threw Israel into a great civil war as punishment (2 Sam 11-12). Our sins may be forgiven, but that doesn't mean we don't have to pay for those sins; an indulgence releases us from some or all of that punishment.

The Church, in her mercy, also allows us to gain indulgences for the dead, in keeping with Sacred Tradition, as well as the words of Scripture, especially 2 Maccabees (which is a main reason why Luther had that book removed from his version of the Bible). We can pray for the souls in Purgatory every day of the year, as well as offering indulgences to God on their behalf, but there are special indulgences that can be obtained only between November 1st and 8th, which includes visiting a graveyard to pray for the dead; this is one of the reasons why the Church desires that cremated remains be buried or interred in a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum - in doing so, they will be prayed for by visitors in a very special way.

The problem that Luther was witnessing was a German church that had some dishonest priests and bishops who were lying to people, telling them that if they gave money and possessions to them, that their loved ones would be let out of Purgatory. This is a horrible abuse and a sin, condemned by the Church, but in a day without seminaries or a Catechism, the people trusted these demonic priests and bishops; Luther saw this abuse, coupled with some superstition, and condemned it, which we can all agree on. Sadly, he threw the baby out with the bathwater, though, and taught his disciples to reject Purgatory altogether. You can read the official Catholic teachings on Purgatory here and indulgences here in order to clear up any misconceptions about them.

We can see that Lutheranism is based on the life of the man, Luther, just as much as it's based on that man's personal interpretation of Scripture. The poor guy suffered from a terrible struggle with scrupulosity, always fearing God's impending punishment, so he never felt any relief after Confession - his solution was getting rid of Confession. He was a friar at an Augustinian friary that was near heretical in its obsession over the necessity of good works - his solution was that good works are unnecessary. He saw the horrible abuses by the clergy in relation to prayers for the dead and indulgences, so he got rid of those things, as well as the books of Scripture that clearly backed up the practice. I don't think he was trying to be sinister or underhanded - I think he struggled greatly and that the Christian life in parts of Europe lagged to such an extent that his brand of Christianity resonated with the faithful (and with the kings and princes who could take advantage of a divided Church by taking her property and power).

We mourn the fact that the abuses in Germany and elsewhere made the land ripe for the Reformation, a division that still exists - and multiplies - for the last 500 years. The Church agreed that she needed reform, so in response to the Reformation, the Council of Trent was called to dispel erroneous teachings and superstition, to refute the new theology of Luther, to reaffirm the original canon of Scripture (72 books, as opposed to Luther's 66 books), and to make positive changes, such as writing a Catechism and making seminary formation mandatory. Still, the damage has been done and Western Christianity finds herself divided; however, many Christians are remembering Christ's prayer and Paul's plead for unity. Lutherans and Catholics have continued to grow closer through the last 60 years, with many hoping that a reconciliation might be forthcoming. The booklet From Conflict to Communion documents all the progress achieved between Catholics and Lutherans regarding our mutual understanding of justification, grace, works, and other issues; it also documents the great amount of work yet to be done in reconciling our divisions. Truth be told, in some ways we're closer in doctrine with the Lutherans than we are with the Anglicans/Episcopalians.

In a few days, Pope Francis will be traveling to Sweden to take part in an interfaith prayer service with Lutherans, who invited him; just the fact that the pope, whom Luther called the antichrist, is invited to a Lutheran church for prayers for unity on the day observed as Reformation Day, is miraculous. To many fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, this is offensive; some Catholics will use the occasion to condemn Protestants, and some Protestants will use the day to restate their hatred of Catholicism (many insist that Christian unity is the "one world church" of the antichrist). I choose to see the day in the same light as From Conflict to Communion:

223. As members of one body, Catholics and Lutherans remember together the events of the Reformation that led to the reality that thereafter they lived in divided communities even though they still belonged to one body. That is an impossible possibility and the source of great pain. Because they belong to one body, Catholics and Lutherans struggle in the face of their division toward the full catholicity of the church. This struggle has two sides: the recognition of what is common and joins them together, and the recognition of what divides. The first is reason for gratitude and joy; the second is reason for pain and lament.

224. In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another.

An article on the internet stated: "The joint commemoration is a witness to the love and hope we all have because of the grace of God," [Lutherans] Bishop Younan and Rev. Junge stated in the joint press release. The prayer service will be followed by a public event at Malmo Arena, which can host up to 10,000 people and will be open to the public. The event, the press release stated, "will be the stage for activities focusing on the commitment to common witness and service of Catholics and Lutherans in the world."

There's no telling what others will do this Halloween/Reformation Day, or what next year's will look like (on the 500th anniversary of the fracturing of Western Christianity), but at least on this Halloween, Catholics, Lutherans, and other Christians will be gathered together as brothers and sisters - although still divided - and worship our Lord with one voice, which should give us all hope. May these seeds that are being planted blossom into the fruits of reconciliation and unity, so desperately needed in a world that doesn't believe.