Friday, November 4, 2011

Rubrics, Anyone?

"Stand up, sit down, stand up, kneel down. It was like a game of Simon Says. Not my thing for worship."

The nice protestant lady who said this after attending a Catholic mass had not been told that Catholics praise God  not just with their minds and vocal chords, but also with our bodies and the postures we put them in. I wish I'd had the quick wits to tell her this, but at the time I was a shy fifteen-year-old who hadn't ever articulated this idea even  to myself.

But now I'm happy to tell anyone who will listen--we Catholics pray with our arms, legs, knees, spines, and hands. Since Christ became flesh, all flesh can praise him. Furthermore, since Christ entered this world, all of creation--and all that man creates--can help our prayers as well. Hence, candles, statutes, incense, etc.

In the liturgy (mass and the hours) there are instructions for how to use our bodies and our stuff to assist our prayer. These are called rubrics, because they are printed in red and rubrum is Latin for red.

There are rubrics for our bodily actions when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours. But you may not find them in your breviary. Now, keep in mind, these are not required or expected when you are praying by yourself. (Although the sign of the cross at the beginning, end, and gospel canticle are easy enough to do.)  If you pray the hours with a group of people, and especially when you do this in a church, it's a good idea to use the rubrics insofar as it is practical.   Furthermore, you might find that even when praying privately, following the rubrics once in a while  can help you pay attention to what you are doing.   So here they are:

1. Opening.Stand Up.  Make the sign of the cross while saying "O God come to my assistance..." (you already knew this one, right?)
2. Bow, either from the waist or just your head, whenever you say the first half of the "glory Be"
3.Sit down for the psalms, the reading, and the responsory.
4. Stand up for the Gospel canticle and its antiphon.Make the sign of the cross while saying the opening words of the canticle.   Remain standing for the intercessions, the Our Father, and the concluding prayer.
5. Make the sign of the cross while saying the concluding verse: "May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, and bring us to everlasting life."

Remember, you don't have to do this when you pray. Especially if you feel silly doing it  in front of the rest of your family. On the other hand, using the rubrics can give you a better sense of what you are doing--praying liturgically. and if you are lucky enough to have a spouse or child joining you, the rubrics might well make the Divine Office more interesting for all concerned.