Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Some Thoughts or Reminders about the Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours (LH) - also called Divine Office (DO) or simply Office - is the daily, public, shared prayer of the whole Church. It is just as much "The Liturgy" as the daily Mass. We need to treat it with very nearly the same reverence and joy that we treat and dare to approach the Holy Eucharist, both in Holy Mass and in Adoration.

If we're praying it in private, maybe with our wife or our family, perhaps we don't need to be too punctilious about the externals - candles, vestments, standing and sitting and bowing, etc. But we should definitely have the right kind of spirit in praying it. We should never rush through it, just to get it done. We should never do it by rote, letting our minds wander already to the day's troubles etc. We should never forget we are praying for all those, both in the Church and outside, "as much for the living as for the dead," who may not have anyone else to pray for them.

This is one of the reasons I encourage you to learn to sing the DO, and why I mostly do it that way myself, even when alone. Singing forces me not to rush. Singing forces me to pay attention to my breathing, and to the words. Singing occupies parts of my mind that are drifting when I don't sing the DO. I've learned from experience what a lousy pray-er I can be, and I am grateful to the Church's wisdom for reminding me that the Psalms are always meant to be sung. It's easier to be recollected when singing the Office. (It's also more solemn, and more different from any other kind of public reading or recitation, etc, etc, just as it is with chant in the Mass.)

Singing also connects me and my offering of the DO more concretely to the whole Church. Maybe that's more subjective than I usually think it is, but the fact remains that the Church as a whole has always sung the Psalms. Generations of monks and deacons and pious husbands seem to be looking over my shoulder, or hovering just out of sight, when I'm singing the Office. The Church still recommends the DO be sung, as much as possible.

If we're leading LH in public, we should take the same care to prepare and make use of the externals as we do for Mass or Adoration. The proper vestments for leading LH are alb and stole (and cope); or cassock and surplice and stole (and cope). Four or six candles should be used, on or next to the altar. For more solemn events or days, there should be procession, incense, etc; for less solemn, there are simpler but still dignified ways of doing the same thing.

The LH combines very well with other liturgical rituals - sacraments outside of Mass, liturgy of the Word, and especially Exposition and Adoration (and Benediction).
There are rules about how to combine these different things, and in what possible combinations, and you can look those up - or, for you newer guys, ask me or one of the older guys.

Some ammo from the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours (every Psalter and Breviary has this document in it):

15. In the LH the Church exercises the priestly office of its head, and offers to God "unceasingly" a sacrifice of praise...

16. When the Church offers praise to God in the LH, it unites itself with that hymn of praise which is sung in the heavenly places throughout all ages; it also receives a foretaste of the song of praise in Heaven...

18. Those who take part in the LH bring growth to God's people in a hidden but fruitful apostolate, for the work of the apostolate is directed to this end, "that all who are made sons of God through faith and baptism may come together in unity, praise God in the midst of the Church, share in the sacrifice and eat the supper of the Lord."

23. Those in Holy Orders [among others] have the responsibility of initiating and directing the prayer of the community... They must therefore see to it tha the faithful are invited -- and prepared by suitable instruction -- to celebrate the principle Hours in common, especially on Sundays and feast days.

255. The priest or deacon who presides at a celebration [of LH] may wear a stole over the alb or surplice; a priest may also wear a cope. On greater solemnities, there is nothing to prevent several priests from wearing copes, or several deacons from wearing dalmatics.

256. It is for the presiding priest or deacon, from the chair, to open the celebration with the introductory verse, to begin the Lord's Prayer, to say the concluding prayer, to greet the people, bless them and dismiss them.

258. In the absence of a priest or deacon, the one who presides at the Office is only one among equals; he does not enter the sanctuary, or greet or bless the people.

261. During the Gospel Canticle at MP and EP, the altar, then the priest [deacon] and the people may be incensed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

Jesus said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael [=Bartholomew] answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (Jn 1:48-9)

Many of the Old Testament prophets use the fig tree as a symbol of the Covenant. If it's barren, the fig tree can mean that the People of God are not living up to the Covenant, as for example in Jeremiah 8: "How will you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us?' In vain have the scribes used a false pen. The wise men are ashamed, and alarmed, and taken, because they have rejected the word of the Lord. What wisdom is there in them? ...There are no grapes on the vines, and no figs on the fig trees, and the leaves have fallen off."

But if the fig tree is flourishing, it can mean that the fullness of God's grace abounds, as for example in Micah 4: "And at the last days, the mountain of the Lord shall be manifest, and established above the mountains and exalted above the hills... for out of Zion shall go forth a law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many peoples, and shall rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles... And everyone shall rest under his vine, and everyone under his fig tree, and there shall be none to alarm them, for the mouth of the Lord Almighty has spoken these words."

Philip and Bartholomew are looking and longing for the Messiah, "him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote" (Jn 1:"45). His heart is "without guile" (1:47), and therefore is open to God satisfying his desire. Philip, who has witnessed John the Baptist baptize Jesus, tells Bartholomew to "Come and see" (1:46) the one who fulfills these prophecies. So when Jesus tells Bartholomew, "I saw you under the fig tree," the prophets' use of the fig tree leaps to mind. Bartholomew recognizes that this man, who knows his mind and heart so intimately and immediately, is from God, and is God - the Son of God and King of Israel, the "word of the Lord from Jerusalem" of whom Micah spoke.

Bartholomew believes because Jesus identifies Himself to him in this very intimate and personal way. Because he believes, he sacrifices all to follow Him. He becomes one of the Twelve, and eventually a great preacher and martyr who established the Church in India.

Jesus identifies Himself to us with the same immediate, intimate, and personal love. In baptism, and confession, and Eucharist, He calls us to follow Him. How do we let Jesus see us? Are our hearts "without guile" for Him? Do we rest under the fig tree - seeking union with Him in Scripture, and in the sacraments, and in prayer? Do we hold firmly to our hope and faith in His victory over sin and death? Do we recognize Him? Are we ready to hear and respond?