Wednesday, February 12, 2014

So How Do I do this? or Bungling through the Breviary

As promised, here is the first in  a series of, um, Vintage posts from the early days of this blog, for the benefit of newer readers. As always, comments and questions are welcome.

The single biggest obstacle to adding the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) to one's prayer life is not finding the time to say it so much as finding the time to  learn how  to say it. Breviaries seem to be designed for people in seminaries and religious communities who  learn the Hours largely by watching  and imitating those who are experienced. I mean, is it likely that any new  seminarian has to look up the "Ordinary"  pages ( buried between solemnity propers and the psalter) to learn the opening verse of morning prayer? Of course not. He watches the others making the sign of the cross,while reciting O God come to my assistance/O Lord make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now,and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia. He then listens and learns that the first antiphon and psalm are recited, followed by the Glory Be and a repeat of the first antiphon.

In contrast, the poor lay person --assuming she is fortunate enough to have figured out which week in the psalter and the season is to be used today-- finds each day's  morning prayer beginning with the cryptic God come to my assistance. Glory Be to the Father. As it was in the beginning. Alleluia. Even if she does manage to unearth the Ordinary instructions, she still won't see anything about making the sign of the cross during the opening verse.  Nor will anyone tell her that the  psalm prayer is optional.  After the psalms, reading, and responsory, there's an antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah, but--unless you use the Daughters of St. Paul breviary--said Canticle appears to be AWOL. Another hunting expedition back to the" Ordinary" to find it. At this point what you thought would be a prayerful experience is getting to be a bit irritating.
(Hint: make photocopies of this canticle and of the the Magnificat. glue them to the inside front and back covers of your breviary. If you persevere with the hours, you will know them be heart in a month or so.)

It gets worse if our poor lay Divine Office acolyte  is trying to get started  in the middle of advent or lent. So much so that I advise all beginners to get started while we are in Ordinary time. (that leaves you about 3 weeks, folks. So stay tuned to this blog. We can do this.)

So the poor layperson has a considerable swath of work cut out if he wants to use a breviary. If American Catholics are as contentious and political as it's said we are, we would have long ago launched a Breviary Accessibility Act  modelled on the laws which guarantee parking spaces and wide doorways for Americans with disabilities. We would have sued for large print instructions IN FRONT OF THE BOOK that assume no previous experience in a monastery or seminary.

Now the good news.  Thanks to several wonderful lay initiatives, you can get up and running almost effortlessly.   Digital breviaries and Universalis are three fabulous online breviaries. The prayers for each liturgical hour are all laid out for you at the click of a button. even has podcasts so you can listen to people praying the liturgy in conmunity if that's something that appeals.These podcasts are particularly helpful for use on a daily commute to work, so buying the  DivineOffice app for phones and tablets is a worthwhile investment. If you don't need podcasts, the iBreviary app is free.   If it's true that virtual books are going to eventually replace real books, these websites might be all you will ever need.

Unless you like to get away from your computer once in a while.
Unless you are an old (or young) fogey who just thinks it's nicer to hold a real book in your hand when you read or pray.
Unless you value the breviary as a sacramental. (which an app is not.)
Unless you want to be able to pray the liturgy when you don't have access to a device or can't get a signal.

That's why I'll be here for you at Coffee and Canticles. To guide your through the book , to answer any questions, and to share with you what I love about the Divine Office. I'll be doing some how-to's over the next few weeks. Feel free to jump ahead with your questions about the parts of the Office that I haven't gotten to yet in my posts.

I suggest you sign up to follow this blog, that way your email will be updated whenever there's something new.

Let us bless the Lord.
And give Him thanks.
And don't forget to enter a comment in yesterday's post to win a free (autographed!) copy of my book.