Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Boot Camp II: Morning Prayer/Invitatory

This will be  a really boring post for anyone who is not actually trying to learn the Divine Office. But if you are trying to learn it,why, you'll be edified, instructed, and even entertained. So give it a try.

In a previous post I suggested that Divine Office beginners would do well to start with a week or two of Night Prayer, in order to get a feel for praying the Office without the worry of flipping around in the breviary.  After a few weeks of Night Prayer, you should be ready to add Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer to your  repertoire. Maybe both. But for starters, choose the one that best fits your available time.

Let's take a look at Morning Prayer.(MP for short) We are currently at week IV in the   psalter.
Technically, if MP is the first hour of the day that you pray, you aren't supposed to begin with "O God, Come to my assistance, etc" Instead,you should  begin with the Invitatory. The psalter gives you the invitatory antiphon for the day. Use this with Psalm 95, which you will find on page 688 in the one-volume Christian Prayer breviary. If you have a dfferent edition, hunt for the "Ordinary", which is a bunch of instructional pages inconveniently buried between the Proper of Solemnities and the  Psalter. You will notice instructions to repeat the antiphon several times throughout the psalm, reminiscent of the responsorial psalm at mass. Do not feel obligated to do this if you don't want to. This is a practice more suited to public recitation (like monasteries) where the group is divided into two "choirs" that take turns with responses. Those who pray privately just say the antiphon before and after.

In fact, I'll tell you a secret. I don't always pray the Invitatory  psalm before Morning prayer. Since I know it by heart I often say it as I'm getting out of bed in the morning. Later, when I do morning prayer, I open with "O God come to my assistance..."  This custom of mine is not in the rubrics. It's just my way of getting into the day's office well before I go downstairs and figure out where I left my breviary. Luckily we lay folk are not bound to do everything according to regulation. In fact we are encouraged to adapt the Divine Office to our situation.

Now, back to Morning Prayer. It's just like Night Prayer, just a bit longer and with intercessions added. First the psalmody, which usually consists of two psalms and a canticle. (canticle: a psalm-like passage that is from some other  part of the Bible)  Anitiphon, psalm, glory be, antiphon.  I know they stick the psalm prayer in there such that you's think it comes before the repeated antiphon, but the general instructions  imply that this is not the case. So you may recite the psalm prayer after you have finished with the antiphon. And realize, too, that the psalm prayers themselves are optional.

After  psalmody comes a reading, and a few seconds or more of  reflection. Then the responsory. Then the canticle of Zechariah (antiphon, canticle, antiphon.) Save yourself endless annoyance by making a photocopy of this canticle from the Ordinary and pasting inside the front cover of your book so it is easy to find each day until you know it by heart. Now for the intercessions. There are several ways to do this.  You'll notice that each petition is divided into two parts. (again, for group recitation). You may read each one, then repeat the  "Lord-hear-our-prayer"-type response given in the beginning. OR you may simply read each petition WITHOUT using the response/refrain. Both options are in the general instruction. I usually skip the repeated response, being a person lacking in devoutness who wants my liturgical hours to be short and sweet.

Next, recite the Our Father. Then the final prayer. Conclude with, (while making the sign of the cross),May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

This is all pretty straightforward during Ordinary time. It gets  little more complex during lent, or when you celebrate a saint's feast. I recommend not worrying about the saints or the seasons for the first weeks that you use the psalter. There's enough to do just getting familiar with the feel and flow of things without adding more complications.

You will notice that the psalms of Morning prayer have, well, a nice morning feel to them. They often refer to the morning, to daybreak or dawn,  to the rising of the sun and the beauty of creation. This isn't just the Church trying to be cute and give us some Hallmark moments to rouse us from our AM stupor until the coffee kicks in. It's because the Divine Office is meant to sanctify each part of the day. We are asking God to bless and consecrate our morning, our midday, our evening, and all the activities that go with each of these. It all fits together. Like the movements of a symphony.

If you have any questions, just ask.