Sunday, June 2, 2013

Monastic vs Secular Divine Office

Whoa! The office of Corpus Christi was amazing, wasn't it? The reading from St. Thomas, the antiphons all day, the particular psalms selected for the feast. Just love it.

I've been re-reading a favorite novel, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. It's about life in a cloistered monastery of Benedictine nuns.  I can't recommend it enough. The author lived in a Benedictine guest house for many months while doing her background research, and by the time she'd finished the book had decided to become a Catholic.

Anyway, I just noticed a passage where one of the nuns is talking about the Divine Office. For the nuns, the Divine Office is the opus Dei, the work of God. They consider the chanting of the liturgical hours to be their primary work. Everything else they do is subordnate:

"Everything we do, outside of choir [my note: "choir" here means the part of the chapel where the liturgical hours are chanted], our work, our reading, our private prayer, even our meals in the refectory are simply pauses, meant to prepare ourselves for our real work, the Opus Dei--and that needs discipline."

This struck me since in my articles and talks I often describe the Liturgy of  the Hours as "a series of short prayer-breaks we can take throughout the day".   In particular, I describe the daytime hour (s) as a period of rest from our daily work that gives us the strength to carry on with our day afterwards.  The monastic vocation turns this view upside down. To them, liturgical prayer is the great work of their lives, and everything else is for the sake of keeping them fit and ready to continue with it.  Although we lay folk can appreciate the idea of the Office as public prayer, a voluntary duty that we are privileged and delighted to carry out, and even as a great spiritual framework for our day, we don't see it as our job or vocation.  Because it isn't.  In fact, it would be wrong for us to let our desire to pray the hours caused us to neglect our own vocations: to ignore the needs, for example, or a spouse or a child because we were absorbed in the psalter.

Anyway, this pauses/breaks vs. our work  idea really gave me insight to the monastic vocation that I hadn't had before.  And makes me feel privileged to unite my own amateur efforts each day with those of these anonymous prayer-warriors in cloisters around the world.

7 comments:

  1. But as human beings, we are all called to make our entire lives a sacrifice of spiritual praise. In a sense, The secular vocation is just a different mode of preparation for participation in the liturgy. If the liturgy is a foretaste of the eternal banquet, then I'm not sure how differently ordered the two really are.

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    1. Well, what you say is true insofar as we have the same eternal goal. But God certainly wills radically different daily tasks and priorities for us. But the whole question reminds me of those optical illusion drawings of stairways that appear first to go in one direction and then another, depending on which lines your eyes focus on. Another of those bothand situations.

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  2. Oh, and Corpus Christi was astonishing. I particularly enjoyed the way the Mass themes and the breviary thems began to converge at the end of the day.

    That feast does make a compelling argument to just translate the proper hymns. Away with poor paraphrasing!

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    1. Amen to that! At my church we sang a paraphrased hymn instead of the sequence. Just not the same.

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  3. I always loved that book too! It probably played a huge part in my attraction to the LOTH to begin with--without me even realizing it.

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    1. I've read lots of her novels, but this one is by far the best.

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  4. If you like In This House of Brede, you'll also like Patricia Hampl's book Virgin Time. Reads like a novel, but I believe it's based on her own experience with a religious community. I love her description of how the nuns sing the psalm verses back and forth across the choir, as thought they're being served to each other "on immaculate trays of chant." A great read.

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