Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Church Complaining

You've heard the phrases "The Church Militant" , "The Church Triumphant" "The Church Suffering". These terms refer, respectively, to us here on earth, the saints in heaven, and the souls in purgatory. That isn't to say that those of us in the militant branch don't suffer, it's just that our primary role  is Militant. That is, active: working out our salvation,and  spreading the gospel according to our state in life. But suffer we do, and we certainly let God know about it. Much of the time in the Liturgy, we express ourselves quite vocally as members of the Church Complaining.

This is a good thing. One of the many reasons that the Church recommends the Divine Office is that the psalms show us the right way to complain to God.

Today (Tuesday morning, week II in the psalter) both Psalm 43 and the canticle from Isaiah 38 give us a voice in which to express our misery while ever retaining a spirit of hope and trust in God. Since this week my personal problems do not feel like the end of the world, I'm praying these psalms more as a representative of the Church as a whole, attacked, as it is, by so many enemies from without and, sadly, within:
Defend me, O God, and plead my cause against a godless nation...from deceitful and cunning men, rescue me, O God.
Since you, O God, are my stronghold, why have you rejected me? Why do I go mourning, oppressed by the foe?
...and I will come to the altar of God, the God of my joy...why are you cast down my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise him still, my savior and my God.

Didn't that end on a nice, positive note? But we are human, and it's hard to keep that cheerful, trusing mood up. Plunging back into misery is easier, so it's  back for a good wallow in Isaiah 38:
Day and night you give me over to torment; I cry out until dawn. LIke a lion he breaks all my bones...like a swallow I utter shrill cries; I moan like a dove. My eyes grow weak, gazing heavenward: O Lord, I am in straits; be my surety!

Just realized I have no idea what "surety" means. New Oxford American says: a person who takes responsibility for another's performance of an undertaking, e.g. appearing in court or paying a debt.

A very good word for what Christ is/does for us. And so, another cool Old Testament prophecy, right?

The canticle ends with confidence:
Fathers declare to their sons, O God, your faithfulness. The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives.

Today's psalmody concludes with Psalm 65, which is pure praise with lots of gorgeous creation imagery. Teaching us that yes, we can and should complain (just don't stop trusting all the while), but that at all times, our problems are little hills of beans compared to the glory of God. The glory that awaits us.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Missal History

Hi Everyone,
I hope and pray all of you on the east coast survived the storm.

A little (but not a lot) off topic today. We all know a new --and better--translation of the mass is coming our way this Advent. But even a superior translation can take getting used to if the mass you have loved is suddenly changed, and you have to work to memorize, and come to appreciate, the new words and phrases. I know, because I went through all of this in 1970, and I was one annoyed little eleven year old.

If any of you did not catch the article I wrote about this experience in Faith&Family Magazine this summer, you can now read it on the website. Here's the link if you are interested.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Running Late today

I really do say Morning Prayer quite early. Most of the time.

But somehow, whenever it's Thursday, Week I, I find myself hopelessly behind, and praying from Psalm 57:
My heart is ready.
I will sing your praise.
Awake, my soul, awake lyre and harp,
I will awake the dawn...

 ...at anywhere from 9:30 AM til noon. Obviously,my heart was NOT ready to awake the dawn.

Which does not discourage me at all. St. Therese said that  God loves to watch his children when they are sleeping. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Full of Sap, But not Sappy

Today's Morning Prayer contains psalm 92, a happy jumble that goes from the goodness of praising God to triumph over enemies to this little meditation on belonging to God and aging:

The just will flourish like the palm-tree *
and grow like a Lebanon cedar.
Planted in the house of the Lord, *
they will flourish in the courts of our God,
still bearing fruit when they are old, *
still full of sap, still green,
to proclaim that the Lord is just. *
In him, my rock, there is no wrong.

These verses make me smile whenever I read them, for several reasons. Notice the words I  italicized words. My sister Christina and I have a private joke about this going back to our childhood. One of us was paging through a Bible, stopped at Psalm 92, and noticed that "of sap" was italicized. We had no idea why this was. (Perhaps there was a commentator's footnote, but what kids bothers with those?)   As far as we knew, italics indicated emphasis in speaking. So we'd read out loud, "still full OF SAP, still green..." and crack up with laughter. And from then on, whenever we were together and we heard anyone say the word "sap", our eyes would meet and we'd mouth the words, "still full OF SAP", while  stifling giggles.

Today I enjoy this verse not just for   nostalgia, but for its actual meaning. With each passing day I head closer to the "old" demographic. From the perspective of many, I'd  arrived   long  ago. Childbearing ability ended several years ago, and almost simultaneously with that milestone some little aches and pains started showing up.  I've had to work hard to reign in a woman's tendency to obsess about wrinkles, bags, and sags. Even had a rare moment of agreement with feminists, resenting that  a little grey hair makes a man look "distinguished", but not so for a woman. (Although  that notion is rapidly becoming quaint, given what one reads  about the increase in men getting dye jobs.)

But from the Eternal view, we ladies (and men too)  of a certain age are  still bearing fruit, still full of sap, still green, despite the ravages.  Why? 

Well, like the psalm says, we were planted in the house of the Lord. That's Baptism. And through the grace that comes with the sacraments, we continue to flourish. That has nothing to do with physical age. In fact, a long sacramental life will only enhance spiritual  fruitfulness. Sure, we can be pretty battle-scarred by all sorts of events, even by  our own  sins. But God takes it all to fashion, prune, fertilize, and shape  that very fruitful tree. I won't bore you by repeating the claptrap about elders being wise mentors to the young. Any given senior may or may not have that gift. I don't think that's what we are talking about here. My utterances might be more sappy (excuse the pun) than sage. But a soul that perseveres in faith for years is, for that reason alone,  ever green.

St. Thomas Aquinas said something  about the little old peasant woman  telling her beads in church possessing more wisdom than the wisest of the pagan philosophers. That's the wisdom I aspire to.

The picture above is an aged apple tree in my yard. It was already leaning when we moved here 7 years ago.There's  lots of wind here in the fall and winter--this tree was obviously shaped by many gales. Then, a few years back, it snapped, the upper half remaining attached by maybe a fifth of its trunk. My husband propped the fallen main limb, but we weren't hoping for much. That was three years ago. As you see the tree has lush foliage. What you can't see is that there's enough apples on it to fill half a dozen  pies next month. The new growth reaches  upward.  Although most of the trunk is broken and rotted, somehow that remaining   sliver of sound  wood has taken over, channeling all the nourishment needed to the branches. And a baby  tree is growing up from base. Despite having been through some very hard times, that tree is full of life.   That old apple tree  comes to mind whenever I read Psalm 92.

almost pie season. can't wait.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Does He? Really?

Look on us, O strong protector.
-And see the face of your Christ.

-responsory, Midday prayer, Friday, Week IV
Just one more miracle of God's love, brought to you courtesy of today's Liturgy of the Hours. Think--He can see the face--the beautiful and beloved face--of His son when he looks at us. With all our warts, our acne, our leprosy. 

I don't get it. But I'm not complaining.

The School Of Prayer

This is a wonderful resource  for learning how to pray the psalms and for understanding the Liturgy of the Hours in general. 

The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nature Notes from the Psalms: Ravens

picture source: Wikipedia

There's one thing I love about the psalms is the lovely nature imagery and in particular, the mentions of animals. I haven't blogged much about this before, but today's Morning Prayer (which I didn't crack open until noon, unfortunately) includes Psalm 147. Speaking of God's providence towards all of creation,it includes this verse:
He provides the beasts with their food,
and young ravens that call upon him.
Why ravens? Why does the psalmist mention ravens in particular? They are hardly well-loved birds, being carrion pickers, and of somewhat ominous  appearance. Why not mention doves, eagles, swallows, or something else of more attractive reputation and appearance?
Perhaps  the psalmist himself might not have been consciously trying to tell us anything deeply symbolic with his bird choice. Likely he had been observing, with enjoyment,  a nearby nest of ravens. (Ravens typically nest on rock ledges, although treetops and rooftops are also chosen.)  So he picks ravens as his example in this psalm.
I'm even more intrigued that the verse says the ravens "call upon him", that is, God.  In what sense does an irrational animal do that?  I'm sure I don't know.
But back to the choice of ravens. Maybe the psalmist was just a birdwatcher, remarking on his recent siting of a raven's nest. But did God, who inspired him, have any particular reason for the raven to be the examplar of creation relying on providence?
My thorough research of amateur biblical commentators  turned up this thoughtful post from Grevillea, a Christian bird watcher writing on Wiki answers.
 "Ravens symbolize that even what appears to be base, commonplace or repulsive can be holy.
Despite their seemingly unsavory habits ("The eye that mocketh at his father...the ravens...shall pick it out" Proverbs 30:17), and despite the fact that ravens are unclean food for Israelites according to the dietary prohibitions of Leviticus, ravens are fundamentally part of God's plan and therefore good ("every winged bird according to its kind...was good" Genesis 1:21). God's grace(Coffee&Canticles' note: I'd change the word grace to providence to avoid theological confusion, although I doubt the author was thinking of grace in a salvific sense here) extends to ravens, and God "giveth...food...to the young ravens which cry" (Psalm 147:9). In fact, ravens are used by some of the heroes in the Bible--the raven is the first bird sent out by Noah to check if the flood has receded (Genesis), and God commands ravens to feed Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 17:4-6). "
 Grevillea's main idea (the commonplace or repulsive can be holy), might help us out with the "call upon him" problem. Ravens don't consciously call upon God, but we commonplace and (thanks to sin) repulsive creatures certainly can. In total trust and confidence.
And I will add that the Order of Helpful Ravens continued their tradition of helping God's saints beyond Noah and Elijah. There are legends of several of the Desert Fathers being fed by ravens at their hermit caves. Better still, a raven famously came to the aid of St. Benedict of Nursia. Benedicts efforts to reform lax monasteries were not always met with joy by the lax monks. In fact, several of these plotted to poison Benedict's bread. A raven flew down and snatched the bread away before Benedict  could eat it, and has been rewarded by appearing at the side of the saint in icons and on the St. Benedict medal.

And let this suffice for ravens.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Augustine was one a Smart Guy

We already knew that. But in today's Office of Readings, there's one more proof.

Have you ever thought it would be easier to be holy and/or happy living in some simpler, bygone era?

Fuggeddaboudit, says the Bishop of Hippo:

Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bears comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors--would we not still hear them complaining?  You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them...

From the time of Adam to the time of his descendants today, mans lot has been labor and sweat, thorns and thistles.  Have we forgotten the flood and the calamitous times of famine and war whose history has been recorded precisely in order to keep us from complaining to God on account of our own times? Just think what those past ages were like! Is there one of us who does not shudder to hear or read of them? Far from justifying complaints about our own time, they teach us how much we have to be thankful for. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why you gotta love online breviaries--especially if you're getting old.

 Like many in my generation (boomers, that is), I straddle a fence between digital and print media. When it came to the Divine Office, I was initially repelled by the idea of reading lauds off a monitor. Me -with-my-book-in-my-armchair was the only way to go. 

Then I saw the advantage of popping a featherweight mobile device in my purse vs. a 1.5 pound breviary. A real boon to my aging shoulders.

Today, I had new proof that an online breviary is a prop to those of us who are slowly falling apart as we shuffle along towards out golden years.

Now, I was certainly aware this morning that Monday is the solemnity of the Assumption. As I sat  at Sunday mass I made a resolution to get out to mass tomorrow.

But my short term memory switches tend to start shutting off by early evening. So when I turned on my Kindle at 5:30PM to read vespers, I was  shocked when I saw "Evening Prayer I - Assumption of Mary."

Shocked, and pleased to have ibreviary keeping me on the right page, so to speak. If  instead of picking up the Kindle, I had instead grabbed the Christian Prayer book, I would certainly have turned to Evening Prayer II of the 20th Sunday in ordinary time. Just force of habit and, as I said, not being the sharpest tack in the drawer once I've had my dinner.

So the digital breviary turns out to be  a huge help both to aging bones and to aging memories.

In addition, I had the pleasure of seeing on ibreviary.com the alternative antiphons that the Dominican order uses for this feast.  I'm really intrigued that different orders have  alternate prayers for many of the feasts. And the Dominican antiphons for the Assumption, Evening Prayer I, have more to them than the regular ones. I'll share them here to give you some extra food for prayer on this beautiful feast:

1.The gates of paradise were opened to us through you: today, all glorious, you rejoice with the angels.

2.You are a garden enclosed,O Mother of God, a locked garden and a sealed fountain. Arise, my beloved, and come away.

3.You are beautiful and lovely, O daughter of Jerusalem, terrible as an army arrayed for battle.

Christ ascended into heaven and prepared an everlasting dwelling place for his most chaste mother: this is the sublime festival, surpassing that of any saint, on which she who is glorious and blessed entered the heavenly nuptial hall, acclaimed by the ranks of the heavenly court. There she dwells, ever loving, never forgetful of those who remember her.

A blessed Assumption to you all. Salve Regina!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dog Days, RIP and Cheating at Daytime Prayer

Here in the northeast, the hot and humid spell has broken.
(Praise and exalt Him above all forever.)
I spent the day wallowing in 70 dry degrees of pleasantness, gazing at that perfect cerulean sky that only appears when the nasty humidity goes away.

My son and I strolled all over our village, from the venerable Methodist cemetery down at the corner (civil war vets and even one from the American Revolution), down country lanes, 

through a pine grove where I photographed some poisonous fungus.

and finally, home.
that little red&white farmhouse is my castle.
 An altogether satisfactory day. The heat may return, but surely  with less ferocity. Fall is on its way.
(Praise and exalt Him above all forever.)
I hope the rest of you are experiencing similar blessed relief wherever you live.

Now, back to the Divine Office. In particular, Daytime Prayer. (also known as cojoined triplets, terce, sext, and none.) Daytime Prayer may be said at Mid-morning, Midday, or Midafternoon.

 The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours suggests that clergy and lay people choose one of the three daytime hours day day, rather than trying to fit in all three. This is good, since I for one, am hard pressed at times to say Daytime Prayer at all. My most likely choice is midafternoon, since I tend to put it off until close to 4PM and I am torn between saying it or just plowing ahead with vespers. But whenever I say Daytime Prayer, I always want to peak at the other two readings. Usually the three daytime hour readings fit together very nicely. They are often consecutive verses of the same passage, OR they are from a different passage but all address a related topic. It makes me wish I had set aside time to do all of the daytime hours. But my wishes are not ardent  enough to make me actually do so.

So instead I cheat. I just do the daytime prayer psalter, but (if I have time) I read the readings from the other two daytime hours along with the reading that goes with the time of day I'm actually using. Daytime readings are very short, and reading all three of them takes no longer than reading one reading from morning or evening prayer.

The General Instruction urges the laity to adapt the Divine Office to their situation, so I guess this is  a prime example. So, right! I don't cheat. I adapt.

Do any of you "adapt" your Divine Office to better serve your schedule or time constraints? Let me know.
I might put your handy  hints in my book.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Great Psalm Prayer Mystery

Psalm prayers are those short prayers that follow each of the psalms in your breviary. They are meant to be aids to understanding the preceding psalm. Beginners often find them very helpful in explaining how the Church interprets or uses a particular theme or image from the psalm. More experienced people, who have gotten pretty good at applying the psalms to Christ or to the Church, find the psalm prayers at times to be a bit  redundant.

It gets more disconcerting when one has the opportunity to pray the hours in community while visiting, say, a monastery or a seminary, and see that this group might not even  use the psalm prayers. A layman, praying the hours privately, has no obligation to do everything Exactly Right. But aren't these religious and clergy, who are bound to pray the hours, committing some sort of liturgical abuse by skipping the psalm prayers. Isn't this kind of like a priest deciding to skip some part of the mass?

Or, on the other hand, you get a look at a the breviary that is used in England.  No Psalm Prayers in sight.  Or you meet a priest from a foreign country and ask what's in his breviary. Chances are, he won't  have any psalm prayers either.

What's going on here?

I've been looking for ages for someone who knows the historical details on this issue of how only the American breviary seems to have these psalm prayers. Lacking that, here is what I do know:
--a careful reading of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH)  indicates that psalm prayers were  apparently were not even meant to appear in the main body of the psalter. Here's what it says:

112. Psalm-prayers for each psalm are given in the supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours, to help in understanding them in a predominantly Christian way. They may  be used in the ancient traditional way: after the psalm a period of silence is observed, then the prayer gathers up and rounds off the thoughts and inspirations of those taking part. 

This indicates to me that psalm prayers are not an obligatory part of the breviary. My feeling is further bolstered by this from another section on how to sing/recite the psalms:

123. The antiphon for each psalm should always be recited at the beginning...At the end of the psalm the custom in maintained of concluding with the Glory to the Father and As it was in the beginning...the antiphon may be repeated at the end of the psalm. 

Since nothing is mentioned here about the psalm-prayers, one can only conclude that these are not essential elements of the psalter.

The question then remains, why do the psalm prayers in American breviaries  appear in the body of the psalter, and right after the psalm, with the antiphon (apparently) not being repeated until after the psalm prayer.Was this a decision of the American bishops, or of some English translation committee, or of American publishers?  Also--do the breviaries of other language groups have some sort of "supplement" with psalm prayers in a separate volume, or an appendix to the breviary?  I have no idea. If anyone out there has some light to throw on these subjects, let me know.

But I think we can safely conclude that the  psalm-prayers are clearly optional. Use them if you like them, skip them if they do nothing for you. Or if you are pressed for time. And when you participate in a religious community's liturgical hours, be aware that there are several valid options on this, and assent to the custom of that community, even if it is not your personal custom.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Breaking News! Rare Canticle Sighting on August 6th!

Sorry. I've read one too many times about the importance of catching the reader with an intriguing title.

But a rare canticle is one of the many special features of the office for the feast of the Transfiguration. Jumping ahead to Evening Prayer we have this little jewel from 1 Timothy 3:16 which (not counting the repeated antiphon)  holds the title for both shortest of all canticles, and least frequently used. We only see it twice a year: today, and on the feast of the Epiphany. This fact by itself will give rise to some nifty insights since it prompts us to compare these two feasts of Light: one revealing Christ to the gentiles, who found God in a dark, humble place by the light of a brilliant star; the other revealing to 3 apostles  His divinity and confirming to them that He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, clothed in light not from a star, but from Himself.  

Here is the canticle:
R. Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Christ manifested in the flesh,
Christ justified in the Spirit.
R.Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Christ contemplated by the angels,
Christ proclaimed by the pagans.
R.Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Christ who is believed in the world,
Christ exalted in glory.
R. Praise the Lord, all you nations.

Other interesting things about this feast and office:
-Unlike other feasts (as opposed to solemnities) feasts of Our Lord, when they fall on a Sunday, take the place of the regular Sunday liturgy. We'll see that happen next year.

-Antiphon I in Morning prayer quotes the gospel account, Moses and Elijah appeared with him in glory and spoke with him about the death he was to undergo. Everytime I read this, I am stabbed with curiosity about that conversation. It's High on my list of things to ask about in heaven.
-Light and cloud. The antiphons and readings (including Office of Reading and Daytime Prayer) dance back and forth between the place of light and cloud in the account of the Transfiguration AND the presence of God in Exodus. It's not easy for most of us to do all the hours of the liturgy each day, but a great practice is to MAKE THE EFFORT to do so on major feast days. This would be a good one to start on. While it's true that Morning ,and Evening are the hinges of the day, the entire office forms a unified tapestry (symphony? I have no time to choose the best metaphor, but you'll see what I mean)that will often amaze you if you have the time to do it.
-The psalmody of the Office of Readings (which one tends to overlook in one's eagerness to get to the readings) has a favorite of mine, Ps. 84. The bit about the lucky swallows who get to build their nests near the temple altar. The part about making the bitter valley (this life in times of suffering) a place of springs is just about the most consoling message in all of scripture. And applying this psalm  today yields  a different take: how lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of hosts!...one day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.  Peter, James and John were actually IN those courts for that brief time on Tabor.

A certain someone is demanding I make good on a promise to take him shopping with me this morning, so I'd better go. Enjoy this feast, and may the liturgy waken in you that  longing and yearning for the courts of the Lord.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm Happy as a Ferret...

..that has discovered a wastebasket.

For several reasons:

-Several more people have inexplicably began following this blog despite the lack of many recent, high-quality posts. Now that I'm home after attending a writer's conference, which taught me, among other things, to be a better blogger, I'll try to get back to former frequency and quality. Thus to be worthy of all the people who have kindly taken an interest in what I have to say about the Divine Office.

-These several more people have brought regular followers up to 30, after weeks of languishing in the 20s. It's always nice to break a new numeric ceiling. Thank you!

-At said writer's conference (Catholic Writer's Guild, to be precise. Wonderful group of people.) I successfully pitched my idea for a beginner's guide to praying the Divine Office to a major Catholic acquisitions editor! She wants to see the full proposal and some sample chapters!  So Learning the Ropes is one tiny step closer to maybe actually happening. 

-At said writer's conference I met or met again with some of the smartest and kindest people in the Catholic writing and blogging business, including Sarah Reinhard , Lisa Hendey , Susie Lloyd ,Pat Gohn , Karina Fabian ,Ellen Hrkach ,  Ann Lewis and  super-friend Celeste Behe.

As for that high-quality post filled with spiritual insight...sorry, come back tomorrow. After 5 hours on Interstate 80, I can't do much more than say "Into your hands I commend my spirit", and fall into bed.

Til tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

This is Silly, But...

Tonight's Vespers (Tuesday Evening Prayer week II), include Psalm 49. It includes this line:

I will turn my mind to a parable,
with a harp I will solve my problem.

David solved his problem, which was apparently temptation to jealousy over the properity of his wealthy enemies, by realizing that, well, "you can't take it with you."  The antiphon adds Our Lord's completion of this idea: Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.

But I got stuck on with a harp I will solve my problem.

Without having to compose songs with profound insights, I too, can solve my problem with my harp.
That is, by playing (badly) my violin, or (somewhat better) singing or playing piano. Or at the very least I can de-stress, forget my problems for a while, and later see things in perspective for having taken that music break.

Admittedly, I'm  likely to be singing/playing  Broadway showtunes and some embarrassing but nostalgic top 40 hits from my misguided youth.(don's ask which ones unless your willing to tell me yours.)  But sometimes it's hymns as well.

Tonight I'm finishing sample chapters from not one but two potential books to pitch at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference this week, and packing up for the five hour drive that will take me there. Leaving tomorrow and  I still haven't put together that dressed for success outfit, or decided which purse/briefcase/portfolio to use. And it's one hot night.

I think I'd better burst into a medley of "My Favorite Things", "Some Enchanted Evening" "Bennie and the Jets" and "Nearer My God to Thee" before I do anything further about the mess of clothing and luggage on my bed.

That should solve my problem.