Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You and the Ancient Author, plus weekly Q&A

Today's second reading from the Office of Readings is a sermon from "an ancient author". I always find these anonymous selections a bit frustrating, because there is no way to find out how ancient. When it's Chrysostom, Melito of Sardis, or Fulgentius, it only takes a few clicks to find out what century the author in question came from.  But Ancient Author?  The breviary gives a very unhelpful string of numbers from some sort of arcane reference book, and even lets us know that it's the 1879 edition of "PL 17".  Undoubtedly the more scholarly types among the clergy know exactly what all this means. One of my fantasies for that new edition/translation of the breviary that is supposed to happen someday is that it will include the approximate dates of the author by each reading in the OOR.

But little as we know about Ancient Author, it's easy to see we psalm-sayers have something in common with him: the liturgy of the Easter season. For all the change in the Mass and the Hours over the years, the liturgy has retained its essential nature, and, shall we say, it's "flavor". Ancient Author mentions in his sermon that at Easter, the Christian community, together with the prophet sings the psalm which belongs to this yearly festival: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad." (from Ps.118)

This very line is an antiphon we use every day this week both at Morning and Evening Prayer, as the responsory to the reading, plus the entire psalm 118  appears in the psalter several times during the octave.
It's such a favorite verse for me, that n our home  we say  it along with "The Lord is risen/He is truly risen" as a preface to grace before meals every day this week.  It's  a way to keep the family Easter-aware.

So, it's kind of a thrill to have this little bond, over so many centuries, to the anonymous holy man who wrote today's second reading.  It's a bit ridiculous to plan an agenda for what I'll do in heaven, but I like to imagine that I'll ask around and locate Ancient Author. We'll clasp hands (however this is done by disembodied souls), and greet each other with: This IS the day that the Lord has made....alleluia! 

Weekly Q&A time:  Anything that puzzles/confuses/alarms/mystifies  you about the Liturgy of the Hours or the breviary can be brought up in the comments section. Veteran readers and/or I will give you the answers.


  1. I was also wondering about "an ancient author," and thought it a little strange.

    So, I have been praying the Hours for -- I'm not sure how long now -- a month? Maybe since just before Lent? I'll have to look back to figure it out. Anyway, I was wondering if some things (certain psalms, for example) are always repeated. I thought that perhaps they repeated during the Lenten season and then changed, but they are still the same. For example, the psalms for midmorning prayer and midafternoon prayer. There may be others but my memory isn't always reliable. :-) So, just wondering!

    Thanks for your blog -- God bless, Michele F.

  2. The thing with midday hours of prayer is this: there is a four week cycle of psalms which you use for the first (or only) midday hour you use. Lots of people only do one midday hour ever, myself included, although for me it varies which one I pick, according to what time of day I'm able to squeeze it in. Then, if you decide to do a second or third midday hour, you go to the "complementary psalms" section, and yes, these are the same ones every single day.
    Now,I should have first asked, do you use the one-volume or the 4-volume breviary? Because the one-volume only has selections from the midday psalter, rather than the whole four week's worth. If you like saying daytime prayer, it's a good idea to invest either in the 4-volume breviary, OR buy the separate, small volume of the complete daytime prayer.
    I hope that makes sense.

  3. Thanks for all of your posts - I have really enjoyed them. One small quibble here, we will have resurrected, glorified, bodies in heaven, so clasping hands will be a piece of cake!

  4. Well, I was picturing being in heaven some time before the end of the world and the final resurrection.

  5. Hi Daria,

    I have the four-volume and use it along with the app on my Kindle Fire. I am a homeschool mom with five children and my spiritual director has given me the go ahead to "ora et labora" so to speak -- he says it's fine if I listen to the Hours while folding laundry, cooking, etc. I would PREFER greatly to sit down and give my full attention to the Lord and the prayers, but that won't happen for probably many years. :-)

    So, I wonder -- those psalms that repeat every day, why those? What am I supposed to be getting from those in particular? I would guess that they were chosen for some very important reason. I hope to figure that out...

    God bless,

  6. Psalms that repeat every single day are the invitatory psalm (#95-first thing in the morning before MP or OOR) and the complementary psalms for those who do more than one daytime hour. In addition, the psalmody of Sunday morning week I is used not daily (except last week)but it is used for every solemnity, feast, and the octaves of Easter and Christmas.
    Psalm 95 begins each day as the church's traditional call to praise God with joy, and reminding us of all the reasons for doing so.
    Sunday morning week I contains arguably the most fully joyous and "praise-ful" psalms and canticle of the entire psalter. I think its easy to see why these are considered so fitting for every festival day in the liturgical year.
    But I think your question is really about the complementary daytime psalms, used for two of the three daytime psalms each day. First of all, realize that doing more than one Daytime hours is,according to the mind of the church, mostly something meant for contemplative monks an nuns, for whom the Divine Office is a major component of their vocation. Most parish clergy and laity don't eve do these extra hours. The only lay people I know who keep up with all the daytime hours are retired and don't have children at home. So unless you really believe you are being called to do three daytime hours, you might want to reconsider using all of them every day. It's hard to fit all three in--even as podcasts--and you don't want to get burned out. But if you have a spiritual director, I guess you can work this out with him.
    That being said--the commentaries I've read state that these extra, repeating psalms for daytime prayer were chosen because they were short and easy to memorize: monks could even say some them while they were at work in the fields, rather than running to chapel. The brevity of these psalms also made for short breaks for daytime prayer, so that the monk's work would not be too badly interrupted. These extra psalms are called the "Gradual" psalms because Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem would sing them as they "gradually" ascended the hills that lead to Jerusalem. I hope that helps.

  7. It does! Thank you so much. I didn't realize that priests don't pray ALL the Hours. I thought that it was a requirement for them. (Not that I am trying to be like a priest. I guess I'm thinking that more of a good thing is better? It is true that I don't always pray them at the "right" times.) So, is it between midmorning, midday and midafternoon that most folks choose only one?

    God bless,