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.