Friday, January 24, 2014

Realism from DeSales on Lay Spirituality

Welcome, new blog follower Rita! Pleased as punch to have you.

In today's Office of Readings, St. Francis De Sales has some excellent advice for laity trying to develop a spiritual routine:

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

I wonder what this saint would think about lay people using the breviary? My guess is that he would have advised Philothea against it, unless she were fluent in Latin, and living a life of leisure. He might have recommended one of the shorter, devotional offices that had been devised partly with lay use in mind, such as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or one of the many shorter "Book of Hours" that had been  popular in both Latin and vernacular languages for the literate classes since the middle ages.

He'd probably be happy that the Church has made it's official liturgical prayer more accessible to the laity, and would be saying "Amen" to the Church's recommendation that we adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to the particular circumstances of our lives, rather than driving ourselves crazy trying to keep up the entire daily cycle of seven hours with monastic fidelity. He'd be all on board with the recommendation that laypeople focus on lauds and vespers as the "hinges" of the day, and not worry about the rest unless it really made sense given the kind of lives they lead and the promptings of the Spirit. 

How do I know whether the prayer life I've chosen is working? St. Francis D. says a suitable prayer life will make the rest of your daily vocational duties go better, not worse:
...each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

Okay, it's weekly Q&A time.  All comments and questions are welcome. Just hit the word "comment" and let 'er rip. 


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  2. Help! This probably is not the place to ask a question, but I will give it a shot: For today, Jan 28, the Memorial for Saint Thomas Aquinas, from where in the volume III of the LOH are the intercession coming? I hope when I come back later I can find where you have put the response- I'm not very good at this!

    1. Sorry I could not answer earlier: I actually tried to, but my computer was not cooperating, and then I had to leave for an appointment. The answer is that the intercessions for today's memorial would come either from the common of doctors of the church, or from today's psalter (Tuesday week III) It's your choice.

    2. Daria, thank you so much for your help. I am awaiting the arrival of the African LOH four volumn set from Kenya. I have a feeling I will be asking more questions once I "take it for a spin"!


    3. Albert, you'll love that Kenyan breviary. It is worth the hassle of the long process for obtaining it. And feel free to ask all the questions you want.

  3. Hi Daria - I'm a beginner with the LOTH. I just found your blog and it has been very helpful for me so far, so thank you for the work you do!

    I’m finding the print version of the breviary a bit overwhelming right now with the page flipping and keeping track of special liturgies, etc. I’m thinking that using one of the digital editions would be helpful for me because they do a lot of that work for you.

    I searched through your old blog posts and see that you give a pretty high recommendation for the various digital editions. While I don’t want to put you on the spot to pick one over the others, I was wondering if you could offer a quick compare and contrast for Universalis, iBreviary and

    I’m particularly interested in the actual content of each. Are there differences in the translations used? Any copyright restrictions that prevent them from including anything you would find in the official print version?


  4. I don't mind at all, but there's no quick answer since each one of them has different features, so it depends on your individual needs. My short answer is for a beginner to start with ibreviary, because it's free AND has the official translations for the texts used in America. (If you are British, go with the free Now, if you don't mind paying $20 for the app, you get the very useful option of audio podcasts of each of the day's prayers, which comes in handy if you want to pray while driving, jogging, cooking dinner, or any other situation where sitting down with the text is not possible. Univeralis also has a paid version with the correct USA texts, but there are so many options and formats that it is best to go to their website and check them all out. I'm thinking I ought to write a detailed post on this one of these days.

  5. I would like to point out that in the Intro to the Devout Life, Francis De Sales comments on how Philothea should engage in public worship services as much as possible. In that chapter he specifically encourages participation with the public recitation of the Divine Office on Sundays and holidays. Additionally, he praises it when mentioning that those who are obligated to say it should not refrain from it as an act of devotion in prayer.

    However, given the above, along with the complete pattern of devotions he sets out throughout the book, I think he would have recommended exactly what you suggest here.