Martin Kochanski from universalis.com has graciously given us permission to reprint his latest newsletter:
There is really nothing that can be added to those two words, in their fullest meaning. Easter is why we are Christians at all. Easter is why there is any point to the world. Some of our yearly Easters seem to pass without much happening, but when God chooses to use one of them to the full, what an Easter that is! So again, happy Easter. He is truly risen, alleluia!
The Office of Readings
One Eastermany years ago, I rolled into the Downside Abbey bookshop after Mass, drunk on the Resurrection, and saw a second-hand three-volume "Divine Office" on the shelf. In the end, that is what led to Universalis. But what happened shortly after I incautiously bought those books is the experience I would like to share with you today.
It is the Office of Readings.
Because it doesn't have a fixed place in the timed cycle of the Hours, it is easy to neglect the Office of Readings. The more affordable books don't include it because it is too long to fit in one volume, and many people's prayer routine doesn't include it because its name makes it sound long and rather heavy. That is a pity, because the Office of Readings contains something unique: the Second Reading, the patristic reading, for each day.
These Second Readings are something that no other liturgical texts are: they are not Scripture, but something far more varied. You can read letters from St Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom in Rome in about 107, begging everyone not to rescue him. You can read the official transcript of the trial of St Cornelius on 14 September 258, a trial conducted with correctness and stately courtesy on both sides. There are commentaries on Scripture and the Psalms by St Cyril of Alexandria and St Augustine, St John Chrysostom and many others. On many saints' days there are lives of the saints in question, or letters from them; sometimes, for modern saints, there is the Pope's sermon at their canonization. Whatever you get, you get directly from the original writer. You see the Church as it truly is: of every time and of every place.
The reason for mentioning the Second Readings at all at this time of year is that the Second Readings in the Easter season are particularly glorious. They contain some of the most ancient writings on the Paschal sacrifice and on the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. They contain the basic catecheses taught to the newly baptized in fourth-century Jerusalem. They contain Justin Martyr's explanation, for pagan readers, of exactly what the Eucharist is (and is not). They contain moving sermons, and reflections whose authors have long been forgotten.
I thoroughly recommend following the Second Readings in this season, even if you don't bother with the rest of the Office of Readings. In fact, I recommend going back ten days and starting with the Second Reading for Holy, that enchanting description of Christ visiting the patriarchs to release them from Hell, with its narration of what Christ says to Adam and what Adam replies.
With Universalis, it is easy to go back in time and do this. The Universalis apps and programs have no time limits of the kind the web site has, so you can go back and forward as far as you need. If you do not have an app or program yet, now is the time to get one. It doesn't cost much, it lasts for ever, and if you are really cautious, you can even have a month's free trial before you commit yourself. Read about the apps and programs here.
Once you are looking backwards, you don't have to stay permanently ten days behind. If, each day, you read today's reading plus one reading from the past, you will soon catch up. Once you have caught up, if you still can't manage the whole Office of Readings, there is now an alternative. In any Universalis app or program, you can choose an "enlarged version" of Lauds (Morning Prayer) which includes the Second Reading and also the Gospel of the day. It is the "one-a-day multivitamins" approach to spiritual reading. Just click or tap on the menu button to the right of the "Morning Prayer" heading, and you will be able to select the enlarged version.
A learned priest has gone through all the Latin hymns in the Liturgy of the Hours and made a literal line-by-line translation of each one. He has kindly given them all to us, together with a brief commentary putting each hymn in context, and we have included them as an option in Universalis. If you are reciting your Hour privately rather than in a group, you will probably be muttering the hymn anyway rather than singing it out loud, and the "study hymns" are a way to connect with the rich, original Latin without having to wrestle with the language itself. In any of the apps and programs, click or tap on the menu button to the right of the hymn, and the study hymn is the one that has a dagger † next to its name.
We have never had as many messages of thanks for a new feature as we have had for the new Lectio Divina page. If we had known how much people wanted it, we would have added it a long time ago. For those of you who subscribe to the spoken audio of the Gospel at Mass, you can now listen to this in the Lectio Divina page as well as in the Readings at Mass page.
The new season's e-books
Those of you who buy your ready-made Universalis e-books from Amazon will find that your half-year Liturgy of the Hours e-book will end at Pentecost. It will soon be time to get the next one. The new e-books are now available. The complete catalogue is here.
How to update
The study hymns are a new feature in the Universalis apps and programs. Updates are (or should be) automatic on Android and iOS, while on the Mac and Windows Universalis checks for updates from time to time and lets you know when one is available. This page has full details.
Thank you all for using Universalis. If you have trouble or questions, or suggestions, do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Contact Us button in one of the apps. Don't reply directly to the email this newsletter came in unless you really want to stop getting the emails! Let us all keep one another in our prayers as always.