I don't mean to make this into a Mommy blog, but having perused some of my favorites, where creative, kid-pleasing birthday cakes are regularly put on display, I just had to get in on the act. Michael really does prefer Bavarian creme donuts a thousand times to cake, and, well, I didn't take any convincing at all, being a mother who is totally dedicated to my children. (but I really think he has superb taste in birthday desserts.Unlike that demanding brat little darling who insists on chocolate cheesecake every year.)
And for all those who wonder why I, a mother of seven, blog about that Divine Office rather than my adventures in homemaking...no other explanation is required.
Jumping ahead to Saturday's morning prayer, we find the shortest psalm, 117. A great scripture memory project for Catholics. Takes about 60 seconds to get it by heart.
Oh Praise the Lord, all you Nations,
Acclaim him all you peoples!
Strong is his love for us,
He is faithful forever.
This psalm contains in a nutshell the essence of all the psalms and the highest purpose of prayer: to praise God for his infinite goodness and love.
As a kid I used to wonder why we were supposed to praise God so much. Was the Lord eternally fishing for compliments? So egotistical that He needed us telling him how wonderful he was all the time? Would his feelings get hurt if we didn’t remember to commend him for goodness regularly? I knew God couldn't be like that, and figured it was just one of those mysteries, like the Trinity, that we would only completely undesrstand in heaven.
As the years went by, wise adults led me to wiser authors who had asked the same questions. I learned that God demands our praise not because He needs it, but because we need it. It’s similar to the question of why we should dress up for Mass. It’s true that “God doesn’t care how I’m dressed” insofar as it does nothing for Him. But it does a lot for us to worship God not just with our minds and lips, but with our bodies and yes, with our clothing. So to the extent that dressing up is good for us, He does indeed care. As we say at Mass, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” When we recognize our place in the universe — as mere creatures, and fallen ones at that, who have been miraculously elevated to the status of sons and daughters — praise is the only proper and fitting response. In praising our creator and redeemer, we are conforming ourselves to Reality and taking our rightful places in the universe. To not do so is to live in unreality, to be less than fully human, or rather, to be spiritually disabled humans. So to praise God does far more for us — for our recovery from disability to health and eternal life — than it does for him.
1. I finally completed and submitted an online application for health insurance. The one that said "this will take 35 to 40 minutes." Four hours later, my head was bloody but unbowed...and the darn thing was submitted.
2. Just as I was wondering if anyone was enjoying/benefitting from the blog I started 3 weeks ago, I suddenly get feedback and encouragement from 4 wonderful Mom bloggers. Thanks, guys!
3. I went to a President's Day sale at a better department store and found shirts for my son for next year, and black knee socks for my daughter's school uniform, at 85% off!!!. Also some really cute boots for myself, and Isotoner mittens to go in the girls Christmas stockings next year.Aso at 85% off.
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. We are currently at week III 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 CBC 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. Recite the psalm prayer after you have finished with the antiphon.
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 copy of this canticle from the Ordinary and pasting inside the front cover 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.
Glory and Trumpets! My earlier report of the death of the Pauline Breviary was premature. True, you can't currently buy one. Accordint to Sister Susan Heady, FSP, the Pauline editions breviary is "currently awaiting revision. A new text is to be made available after the new Roman Missal is released. All the new saints will be added along with the updated opening prayers... and even a new version of the Grail Psalms is being worked on. So... now is NOT the time to buy a new book or to promote this. I'm quite confident that the new edition will be user friendly and attractive too... just might not see it until beginning of 2012! "
How exciting! I've known that the current breviary, like the translation of the mass, was not perfect, but since it took Rome so long to get around to revising the mass, I figured a new breviary was at least a century in the future. But now it appears we'll be getting a new translation of the breviary fairly soon. Blessed be God!
Given that good news, I guess we can manage with whatever breviary is at hand for the next year or so.
I was preparing to write a post on the features of the existent one-volume breviaries, when, glancing at the amazon ad for the Pauline Media edition (my personal favorite) I was alarmed to see "best price-$534.00"
What was that all about? Someone trying to sell a first edition? I knew this book retailed for around 38 bucks, and had often touted this as an advantage over the pricier CBC breviary. But going on Amazon, I saw that ominous word: unavailable. With growing concern, I went to pauline.org.
This is really too bad. The Pauline one-volume was the best book for the lay person who prays it at home. Unlike the Catholic Book Publishing one-volume, Pauline had the complete Daytime prayer rather than selections, so anyone using it had access to the entire Liturgy minus the Office of Readings.
The Pauline book had the text of the gospel canticles right in the psalter for each day, so no flipping to the ordinary was required. Pauline printed the antiphon both before and after every psalm and canticle, so again, no flipping back to the beginning.
I guess this was one of those bottom line decisions that the Daughters of St. Paul (a lovely order) had to make. Maybe it was the somewhat smaller print that made this breviary less popular. Or else people preferred the soft vinyl covers of the CBC. (which I admit is the one plus of the CBC for me: any book plopped down on my kitchen counter needs to be washable.)
Pauline was a great little breviary, and I am extremely sorry to see it go. If you have this breviary (the binding either says St. Paul Editions or Pauline Media) hang on to it. Otherwise scout the used sites. As of today I did not see any on ebay. Boo-hoo.
If you pray Morning and Evening Prayer every day you will read over 70 or 80 different psalms per month. (I counted them years ago but have forgotten the precise number.) After a few months of doing this, you will start having favorites, and as the psalter repeats itself, you will happily greet each one as an old friend.
Monday, week III brings us Psalm 84, which I love for several reasons. On the whole, the theme of the psalm is "longing to be in God's temple", which as Christians we interpret as longing for heaven. The psalms of longing are great for either 1. giving voice to your desire for heaven or 2. reminding you that you ought to be longing for heaven, and if you're not, you'd better work on that.
In particular, there are two images in Psalm 84 that I love. First, as a nature lover and a long time bird watcher, I'm delighted with, "the sparrow herself finds a home and the swallow a nest for her brood; she lays her young by your altars, Lord of hosts, mye king and my God." All the illustrations of the temple I've seen depict it as a fairly open-air structure, and one can easily imagine house sparrows and swallows darting in and out of it, and building their nests in the eaves. I'm glad that the psalmist wasn't the terribly practical sort who saw those swallows and only thought of the mess dropping down from those nests and worried about getting it cleaned up. No, he was poet and a bird lover, and thought how lucky those little birds were to live in the presence of God.
What's even lovelier is the next section, which talks not about birds, but about us: They are happy, whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. As they go through the Bitter Valley they make it a place of springs...they walk with ever growing strength, they will see the God of gods in Zion.
Life is good, but the world is also a vale of tears. Suffering is inevitable. Catholics are so fortunate to have a theology of suffering. To know that joined to Christ's, our suffering has redemptive meaning. That's how we can make the "bitter valley" a "place of Springs" for ourselves and for those around us. We accept and offer back to God our suffereings, and He can take that and do something with it. Also, the bitter valley becomes a place of springs when we remember that it's just a place we're passing through. Our hearts are on the road to heaven, and knowing that is a source of ever growing strength.
Running into Psalm 84 once month is one of the things I love about the Divine Office. Start praying it and discover your own favorites. (If you already do, share them in comments!)
Those of you who are beginning your adventure in liturgical prayer by saying Night Prayer (compline) this week are going to run into one of the most woeful psalms of all, Psalm 88. This will happen tonight.
If things are going really badly in your life right now (divorce, chemotherapy, seriously delinquent children, a death in the family) then skip this post, because Psalm 88 will make perfect sense to you. This is the psalm to pray when you have hit bottom. Unlike most complaining psalms (see my earlier post: How to Complain to God in 3 Easy Steps) Psalm 88 doesn't follow the typical formula of inserting little statements of hope and trust amidst the pain. Instead the praying soul simply lays out its misery and only asks, Lord, Why?
But when circumstances are not so bad, Psalm 88 is one of those that makes some beginners not so sure the Divine Office is for them. What does it mean to pray these words when life is pretty darn good? Right now, I am most decidedly not on the brink of the grave, at the end of my strength, or weighed down with God's anger. My friends have not abandoned me, my eyes are not sunken with grief,and I do have companions other than darkness. So what do I do with this psalm?
Here's two hints: Communion of Saints. Mystical Body of Christ.
You know how this works, right? In Christ we are one. Members of one body. What comes to me is a line from a song we sang in high school choir: "each man's joy is joy to me, each man's grief is my own."
So when you not feeling miserable, you are praying this psalm for those who are. Perhaps while reading this psalm you will think of people you know who are in need. Or perhaps you may offer it for all brothers and sisters in Christ who are presently suffering the worst things that could happen. For those who are in the grips of grief, severe illness, or addiction. For the imprisoned, for those who are facing persecution or martyrdom for the faith.
And there's even a greater way to use this psalm: as a reflection on the Passion of Jesus. In fact, a reallly good pray-er will combine these two: mediating on the Passion of Christ with that of His Body on earth right now.
In conclusion: anytime a psalm does not reflect your personal mood--who cares? It's not about you. It's about Christ and His church, and the privilege of uniting your own prayer to something far greater.
2. I've gotten out to weekday mass twice so far this week. (not impressive to most of you, I'm sure, but for me it's big.)
3. Also twice this week, I've packed a school lunch for my youngest, thus shaving some bucks off the school lunch bill. Downside: the roast beef sandwich came home uneaten. Upside, the peanut butter/fluf sandwich was a success, and only costs about 15 cents to make. Downside: I can't send in peanut butter/fluf every day or the nutrition police might get after me.
All right. You want to start praying the liturgy of the hours. Unless you are are super-zealous, it is probably not a good idea to attempt all 5 liturgical hours (or seven since you have the option of doing daytime prayer 3 times instead of just once). The Church recommends that the laity use Morning and Evening Prayer, calling these two hours the "hinges" of the liturgical day. So that is a worthy goal.
But for those in the just -starting- and -not-so-sure-I can-handle-this category, I'm going to recommend beginning with the hour of Night Prayer. There are several reasons for this:
1. It is shorter than Morning or Evening prayer, ever an advantage to those of us who are piety-challenged.
2. Night Prayer is on a simple 7-day repeating cycle. It does not change during Advent, Lent, or for feast days. It's in the no-flip zone of your breviary.
3. For those who already pray around bedtime, there is no huge change in habits to form.
4. The psalms of Night Prayer are just about the best ones there are in terms of beatiful imagery and inspiring one-liners that will soon become part of your spontaneous prayer language. For example, Psalm 130 (the De Profundis for you Latin geeks), and Psalm 91, the "Warrior's Psalm".
Okay, here we go. Note that in the CBC breviary, there is no night prayer for Saturday. Saturday night is called Sunday I (as in the vigil of Sunday) and Sunday is called Sunday II. In the Pauline Media breviary, Saturday is called Saturday.
1.Begin with the sign of the cross while reciting O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me. say the Glory Be. And unless it's lent, you may add Alleluia 2. Do a brief examination of conscience and make an act of contrition.
3. Skip the hymn or poem unless you really like these. These elements are optional suggestions.
4. Recite the antiphon. Recite the psalm and the Glory Be. Repeat the Antiphon. (note: the subtitle and the scripture citation directly under the psalm number is not meant to be recited out loud as part of the Office. It is there for private meditation. Of course, if you are doing this by yourself, the whole thing is private, but I just want you to distinguish the essentials of the prayers from the little extras that are thrown in.)
5. Do this with the second psalm if there is one.
6. Read the reading. Pause a moment for reflection.
7. Recite the responsory.(Into your hands,Lord, I commend my spirit, etc.)
8. Canticle of Simeon (the ultimate bedtime prayer) Aniphon, canticle, Glory Be, Antiphon.
9. Recite the final prayer, and then the concluding verse: May the all powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peacful death. Amen. Then recite one of the traditional Marian Prayers listed. (Hail Holy Queen, Hail Mary, or Ave Maris Stella)
10. Enjoy the peaceful restful mood Night Prayer will give you as you drift off to sleep.
That's it. The whole thing takes 5 minutes. Longer depending on whether you linger, lectio divina style, over the psalms.
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 http://www.divineoffice.org/ 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!
you illumine the night and bring the dawn to scatter darkness.
Let us pass this night in safety,
free from Satan's power,
and rise when morning comes
to give you thanks and praise."
-from Evening Prayer, Thursday Week 1 of the Psalter
Although ideally we should examine our conscience and make an act of contrition daily, the Church wants us to be especially repentent on Fridays. And the official prayer of the Church, the Divine Office, gives us such a lovely act of contrition to say that it's not so bad thinking about our sinfulness after all. I refer to Psalm 51. You hear it at mass as the responsorial psalm now and then, and probably see it's poetic penitence quoted by lots of spiritual writers:
"Have mercy on me, God in your kindness, In your compassion blot our my offense, O wash me more and more from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. ...O see, in guilt I was born, a sinner I was conceived ...a clean heart create for me O God, put a steadfast spirit within me... ...a humble, contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn."
When praying this psalm you are repenting both for yourself and in union with the whole Church, pack of sinners that we are. That's one of the beauties of the liturgy. Millions are praising, thanking, begging, or repenting as one.
One particular verse of this psalm is the opening verse of every hour of the Divine Office: "Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise." You say that while making the sign of the cross. But more about that when we get to our How-To blog posts.
I've been asked why I use the term "Divine Office" more often than the Vatican II-encouraged "Liturgy of the Hours". My preference has nothing to do with preferring traditional over modern terminology.As a matter of personal taste, I actually prefer Liturgy of the Hours. But Liturgy of the Hours is a mouthful to say and a handful to type. So Divine Office is just the more efficient way to go.
I'm going to start the occasional rerun of older posts, especially those that were written when this blog had between 0 and 5 followers. So, to most of you, it will be new material. Today--just a few of my favorite reasons for praying the Divine Office.
1. You get some daily Scripture reading and prayer done at the same time.
2. It takes less than ten minutes each for the hours of morning, evening, and night prayer if you're reading it by yourself rather than chanting it in a monastery. (An "hour" never went by so quickly!)
3. If you can't get to daily mass it's the best substitute because just like the Mass the Divine Office is also the liturgy of the Church.
4. By praying the Divine Office you are joining in the universal prayer of the Church being offered by your brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world.
5. You will be praying the exact same prayers Pope Benedict prays every day.
6. You will be participating in a tradition that is old as the Church itself. (In the book of Acts, the apostles went to the temple to pray at specific hours of the day.)
7. If you pray the Office on a regular basis, you will find that you have memorized lots of the psalms and other scripture passages painlessly.
8. Once you are accomplished at flipping about in a breviary, your fellow Catholic geeks will be impressed.
9.You will acquire a cool vocabulary that includes words like breviary, vespers, Te Deum, compline, and antiphon.
10. You will be praying "with the same words used by Jesus, present for millenia in the prayer of Israel and of the Church." (Pope John Paul II)
Pretty soon I'll be here everyday to talk about the Liturgy of the Hours, aka Divine Office, aka Breviary, aka Christian Prayer, aka Morning, Evening, Daytime,and Night Prayer, aka Lauds, Vespers, Terce, None, Sext, Vespers, and Compline (with a dash of the Office of Readings, aka Vigils).
Do you want to know more about the Divine Office?
Did you buy a breviary but gave up trying to figure out how to use it?
Are you praying the Divine Office but not sure you're doing it right?
Are you finding it difficult and/or interesting to figure out what we should be thinking as we pray each psalm?
Do want a forum to share the thoughts and inspirations that come to you as you pray the Divine Office?
Stay tuned, psalm fans. Dust off that breviary and get ready for some fun.
(Well, fun as defined by Catholic geeks such as ourselves.)