Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is the Office of Readings?

Before continuing my promised how-to-get-started series, I'm going to digress and answer an actual question that my good friend Mary at All Saints Academy asked. (People who ask questions get special treatment here at Coffee&Canticles). She wanted to know what the Office of Readings is.

If you use a one-volume breviary, you may have noticed the separate 4 week psalter for the Office of Readings, along with "Selections" from the readings. Very few people use this section. They aren't sure  what it is, what to do with it, or when to say it. And since most of us divine office fans like the idea of saying the correct prayers for the day along with the whole Church throughout the world, the Office of Readings sampler in the one-volume book  does not have much appeal.

It only becomes  clear if you have the four-volume breviary, which has   the complete Office of  Readings for each day of the year. This is where the website is really a treasure. You don't want to shell out $150+ for a four volume breviary in order to try out the Office of Readings, only to find that you don't have time for it after all. So if you are interested, go online and try it out. 

The Office of Readings is the longest of the liturgical hours. Like morning and evening prayer, it consists of three psalms (or more often,  one long psalm split into three sections).  Then comes the good part. There are two readings, both of considerable  length. First, something from the Old  or New Testaments.  This is followed with a reading from the Church fathers, doctors, or saints. These readings are either commentary on the Old Testament passage you just read, commentary relative to the liturgical season, or a passage from the writings of a saint whose feast it is. These readings are wonderful! 

In fact, the whole Office of Readings is wonderful. Don't we all tell ourselves we should read more scripture each day, read the writings of the Church fathers and saints, and prayer more?  Well, the office of readings is all that rolled into one. If you do the Office of Readings, you will cover a good chunk of the Bible  each year. In fact, you might call it the Reader's Digest condensed version of the Bible. (Yes I know that RD did have the nerve to put out a condensed Bible years ago, but the OOR is better.) This week it's the best of the Book of Proverbs. Next week will be highlights from Ecclesiastes. After that, Job. Each Bible reading is followed by commentary from the saints and teachers of the Church, either directly on that passage, or about the topic (e.g. marriage, virtues) that the passage is about.

What time of day is the Office of Readings prayed?  Historically, this was the Office of Vigils, the one that contemplative monks and nuns would rise in the middle of the night for.  This is still done in many communities. For the rest of us, the Office of Readings is the most flexible of all the hours. The General Instructions state that, aside from those bound by monastic rules,   " ...the office of readings may be recited at any hour of the day, even during the night hours of the previous day, after evening prayer has been said."

Now--just to be truthful after I've gone on a rhapsody about this wonderful liturgical hour.

I don't always do it.

 It does take longer. The length of the readings, and the fact that you really want to study them, requires that you sit down for an uninterrupted 15 minutes or more. Morning, evening and day time prayer can be done in snippets  while I prepare dinner or wash dishes. (just prop the book on the counter.) That really doesn't work for the Office of Readings. When I do get it in, it's either just before Morning prayer, or on the previous evening, and even then  it only happens for me about 3 times  a week.  I'm usually a bit better during Lent.

 Indeed, part of my purpose in doing this blog is to keep me more faithful to all of the liturgical hours. I can't pretend to be the Divine Office go-to girl if I'm not actually saying it.

And let this suffice for the Office of Readings. On to some how-to's tomorrow!