Thursday, November 17, 2011

Divine Office "vs." the Rosary -which is "better"?

The other day a reader asked for my thoughts on the Divine Office compared to other devotions, especially the Rosary.   This reader, a convert from Protestantism, noted the heavy promotion of the Rosary by  Catholic publications  and blogs, not to mention devout fellow parishioners. He feels a bit uncertain about what to do, since he loves the Liturgy of the Hours and has no time for additional devotions. Should he give up, say, Morning Prayer and substitute the rosary?   He's been weighing all the statements recent Popes have made about the Divine Office for the Laity, with what has been urged about the Rosary (John Paul II's Apostolic letter on the rosary, requests of Our Lady in approved apparitions, and that huge rosary tradition among faithful Catholics): "... one of the major changes in thinking I've had to overcome from Protestantism is learning to see  things as both/and instead of either/or. However, I have a limited amount of time, and sometime struggle to squeeze in just one of these forms of prayer."

Here's some thoughts. And I'm guessing the reader already knows these things, but just wants a little  clarity.  He really already  has the answer with the "both/and" principle. 

1. Catholics who want to grow close to God have to pray daily.
2. The Church requires no particular prayer or devotion beyond (obviously) participation at mass and the sacraments as per the precepts of the Church.
3. The Church the offers us  a huge array of prayers, devotions, and meditation methods to choose from. And it's our choice. 
4. Objectively considered in and of themselves, some forms of prayer are superior to others. 
5. Liturgical prayer (the Holy Mass and the Divine Office), which constitute the public prayer of the Church, are head and shoulders  above any other prayer, because they are in a class by themselves.  All other prayers, including the Rosary, belong to this lesser class of Private Devotions. 
6. Among Private Devotions, the Rosary probably holds first place. The proof is the above mentioned, long standing acclaim of the faithful, papal exhortations, apparitions, etc. 
7. In deciding what our daily prayer should look like, we should keep #5 and #6 in mind, but pay equal attention to, 
8. Our own tastes, inclinations, and preferences! This is our freedom as children of God. If someone considers #5 and #6 but finds that what really satisfies  his heart and mind are the Divine Mercy chaplet and a daily chapter of the Bible, and he doesn't have time for more, then by all means, he should stick with those. 
So, in conclusion, it looks like Uncertain Reader should stick with Morning Prayer. 
But I have a few more thoughts to share with him. Although he probably knows all this as well.

1.Our Lady's place in the plan of salvation is such that --I think it's right to say this--it's almost a necessity to have some sort of relationship with her beyond intellectual assent to marian doctines. In other words, a good son will want to call his mother fairly often.
2. Although you've heard about the Rosary to the point of overkill, I can't help saying that when properly said, the rosary is, as JPII famously stated, "to gaze with Mary upon the face of Jesus," and personally, the rosary enhances my appreciation of the psalter. For example, it's automatic for me to start visualizing Gethsemane or Calvary every time I start reading a psalm of suffering. That must have come from years of meditating on those mysteries several times a week for so many years.  So try a decade or two while commuting to work. It might surprise you. Or just ask Our Lady to help you find some time to talk to her.
3. The push by the Church for the laity to pray the Divine Office is of very recent origin(circa 1970). It has been perceived for centuries as the almost exclusive occupation of priests and religious. (It is true that in ancient and medieval times the common people would, if convenient, leave their work and head into the local monastery chapel for lauds or vespers, but that fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons, among them the newer customs of public daily mass AND the rosary, whose 150 Hail Marys were seen as a kind of substitute for the psalms. )  So don't be surprised if the faithful you meet praying their rosary after daily mass don't know what you're talking about when you show them your  breviary.  It will be a long time before the word on the Divine Office gets around. But don't worry. Pope Benedict and I are working on it. 
4. Yes, that was kind of a joke. I'm not really that arrogant. The folks who run the online breviaries are the real Divine Office Apostles of our time.
5. Expect to exert charity and patience with all the wonderful, earnest, sweet people  who are sure that Their Favorite Devotion is the One Thing that everyone must do if they hope to [choose one: save their souls, make reparation for sin,end abortion, really please God],or  really do what (choose one: the Pope, Our Lady, Our Lord) wants us to do.