Monday, February 13, 2012

Joining the Symphony of the Liturgy of the Hours

This thoughtful essay on the grandeur of the Liturgy of the Hours appeared the other day at The Catholic Thing. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.

The Divine OfficePrintE-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the Divine Office says:  “Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.” The sheer grandeur of this vision of the prayer that we know as the Divine Office is overwhelming.
It shows that the real nature of prayer is far above a chat with the boss. This boss is so vastly different from us that we should appreciate his establishing a way that we can communicate with him in Jesus Christ and his Church. Yes, the Church is key here:  “For [Jesus Christ] continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office.” 
This engagement is not simply incidental to the Church; it is in the nature of the Church to be the extension of Jesus Christ in space and time – a concept that goes beyond basing our ideas about God purely on human experience. We need divine revelation to show us things beyond our grasp. 
Divine revelation had already been working in human history, particularly in the history of the Jewish People. Benedict XVI has made a point of emphasizing that truth: “the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word.” 
God inspired writers of psalms – so that the Divine Word begins to sing – for about two thousand years before the time of Christ. The psalms were used for all of that time as the Prayer of the People of God.
Then, the pope says of Christ: “In a perfect way, he hears, embodies and communicates to us the word of God (cf. Lk 5:1).” So that “Jesus thus shows that he is the divine Logos which is given to us, but at the same time the new Adam, the true man, who unfailingly does not his own will but that of the Father.”
So something special has happened to human nature in Jesus Christ, something that is masked by our hyper individualism. Benedict has characterized this as, first, the revelation in Creation, which can be called a kind of symphony: 
In this symphony one finds, at a certain point [the coming of Christ], what would be called in musical terms a “solo,” a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This “solo” is Jesus. . . . The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work. 
In that perspective, Jesus is presented as much more than a neighbor from down the street or a famous figure in history. Human nature is joined to God in Jesus Christ. He is the way of our prayer. His prayer is our prayer.
Look at how Vatican II expressed this point: “when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Churchs ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it 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.”
In such prayer, we are getting on board something, not generating something new. When we consider the Son’s prayer to the Father what could we add? The fullness is already there. The insecurity that is promoted in our culture gets in the way of our being secure enough to acknowledge just who Jesus is. 
We should want to join in his prayer. Returning to the Psalms: “The word of God draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord: the God who teaches us how to speak to him. Here we naturally think of the Book of Psalms, where God gives us words to speak to him, to place our lives before him, and thus to make life itself a path to God.”
So unless our prayer is about wanting an iPhone then all of the real-life situations are covered in the Divine Office, either in the Psalms or the extracts from the rest of the Scriptures. Or the readings from the tradition in the Office of Readings. This really is a Divine Office, a “service” of the Divine! 
A service every Catholic should try to practice.

This column first appeared on the site The Catholic Thing (, copyirght 2012. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.