Wednesday, August 21, 2013

St. Pius X on the Divine Office

One of the joys of aging is that things you've read before--even many times before, don't stay fixed in your mind with the same precision they used to. Thus, you can pick up an old book or essay and enjoy it again, welcoming some passages as old friends, but seeing some others almost as if for the first time!
That was the case with the Office of Readings today when I got to the second reading--Pope St. Pius X's teaching on the Divine Office from Divino Afflatu. The occasion of this apostolic constitution was to promulgate a revision of the Roman breviary. Today's reading is the first half of that document. The second half deals with the technicalities of the new revision, which among other things dealt with the problem of over-emphasis on offices of saints to the detriment of the offices for Sundays and weekdays, hence depriving those who prayed the office of many of the psalms. You can find the entire thing here.

This reading is a perfect reminders of all the reasons that praying the Liturgy of the Hours is a Really Good Idea. It wouldn't be  bad idea to put a paper clip or a tiny bit of tape on the corner of this page in your breviary (or bookmark an online file). Whenever you find your love of the psalter flagging, you can read this passage and realize all over again what a tremendous treasure God has given us in the Liturgy of the Hours. For those of you who don't usually do the Office of Readings, here it is:

The collection of psalms found in Scripture, composed In case you missed it, today's Office of Readings has this lovely excerpt from Divino Afflatu. It's everything you need to know about why the psalms are just about the best prayer in the world.

The collection of psalms found in scripture, composed as it was under divine inspiration, has, from the very beginnings of the Church, shown a wonderful power of fostering devotion among Christians as they offer to God a continuous sacrifice of praise, the harvest of lips blessing his name. Following a custom already  established in the Old Law, the psalms have played a conspicuous part in the sacred liturgy itself, and in the divine office. Thus was born what Basil calls the voice of the Church, that singing of psalms, which is the daughter of that hymn of praise (to use the words of our predecessor, Urban VIII) which goes up unceasingly before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and which teaches those especially charged with the duty of divine worship, as Athanasius says,the way to praise God, and the fitting words in which to bless him. Augustine expresses this well when he says: God praised himself so that man might give him  fitting praise; because God chose to praise himself man found the way in which to bless God.
The psalms have also a wonderful power to awaken in our hearts the desire for every virtue. Athanasius says: Though all Scripture, both old and new, is divinely inspired and has its use in teaching, as we read in Scripture itself, yet the Book of Psalms, like a garden enclosing the fruits of all the other books, produces its fruits in song, and in the process of singing brings forth its own special fruits to take their place beside them. In the same place Athanasius rightly adds: The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.Augustine says in his Confessions: How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears.

Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise? Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.