Friday, December 29, 2017

Fifth Day of Christmas Greetings!

Best wishes, prayers, and hope that all of you are enjoying a merry Christmas season. I haven't been here much lately  due to the usual avalanche of cooking and hospitality duties that come to mothers of large families. But now we are in the more peaceful days of the octave and I can finally sit down, take a deep breath, and think about something other than what the next meal will be and when to get started on it. 

The Christmas Octave is an interesting one, where we often celebrate a saint's feast in the morning and then return to Christmas itself in the evening. Plus a daily Te Deum because every day is a solemnity.  Lots of flipping around to do, but if you follow the instructions in your breviary you shouldn't have any trouble. 

Did anyone get a new breviary for Christmas? Or some other gift related to the Liturgy of the Hours? 
I did. I was delighted to unwrap St. Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms, a hefty volume that was translated from Latin by the Benedictines of Stanbrook Abbey. I was really surprised that this 400 page text only covered Augustine's thoughts about Psalms 1 thru 37. Eventually I'll have to see if his remarks about the other 113 are in print, but for now, this book will keep me occupied. 

Questions are welcome. Also, don't hesitate to join the Facebook group called Liturgy of the Hours Discussion and Support Group. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Rejoice! Your Savior Will Come.

photo credit: Fr. Dennis Brown/facebook

Wishing you all a Happy Liturgical New Year!  Let this be a new beginning for your practice of the Liturgy of the Hours. If you don't already say the complete daily Office, then add one of the hours starting today (or tomorrow). Or resolve to add a little chanting or singing--maybe just the hymn or the gospel canticle, or just the opening and closing of versicle of each hour.   Your pick. 

Maybe your advent improvement will be to slow down a bit while praying the psalms, and/or to observe a few seconds of silent reflection after each psalm (the optional  psalm prayer is really just a substitute to personal reflection.) Or perhaps it will be to invite a family member or co-worker or friend to pray it with you.

It hardly matters what you do, just do something to enhance your experience of the prayer of the Church.

As always, any questions or comments are welcome. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Liturgy of the Hours Prompts Conversion to Catholic Faith.

I just came across this lovely account of a man for whom the Liturgy of the Hours was the catalyst for his conversion to the Catholic Faith. And it gets even better. Originally a city councilman in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Andrae Goodnight went on to  an actor, moved to Los Angeles, and is currently starring in a play about the life of Augustus Tolton, the first African-American Catholic priest!

It's quite a story. Do go and read it.

And here's more information on his show: Tolton--from Slave to Priest

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A holy prank from the Holy Souls?

After returning from All Soul's mass, I noticed a comment from a reader on the previous post. Josemaria posted a link to the above video and added, "who does this lady remind you of?"

Well, yeah. Same first name. And for those of you who haven't seen or heard me, I'll add: similar hairstyle, similar eyeglasses, and similar voice. I also did a little internet searching to learn that Dr. Spezzano and I are pretty close in age.

Spooky, but  good kind of spooky. Thanks, holy souls! I have a feeling that learning about Dr. Spezzano today of all days  was arranged by them.   I'll be chuckling as I pray the rest of the Office for the Dead for all of them today.

The above is a great lecture. It's an hour long, but worth it. You will learn a lot.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Saint's Eve and Reformation Day

A reminder to do Evening Prayer I of All Saints Day tonight.

Some of our Protestant friends celebrate Reformation Day today, and even make this event into a modified Halloween party, with candy and pumpkins and whatnot. This Catholic author finds that ironic, and explains why in an amusing essay.

But in the interests of ecumenism I want to give credit where credit is due. Martin Luther always maintained what the Catholic Church and Church Fathers have always taught about the importance for praying the Psalms. Here are his words explaining that with great eloquence.

Martin Luther's Prefaces to the Psalter
(1) Preface to the Revised Edition of the German Psalter (1531)
The Psalter has been lauded and loved by many holy fathers above the other books of the Scripture; and, indeed, the work itself doth sufficiently praise its Author. Nevertheless, we also must utter our praise and thanks for it …
Yea, the Psalter ought to be precious and dear, were it for nothing else but the clear promise it holds forth respecting Christ’s death and resurrection, and its prefiguration of His kingdom and of the whole estate and system of Christianity, insomuch that it might well be entitled a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended, and compacted into an enchiridion or Manual. It seems to me as if the Holy Ghost had been please to take on himself the trouble of putting together a short Bible, or book of exemplars, touching the whole of Christianity or all the saints, in order that they who are unable to read the whole Bible may nevertheless find almost the whole sum comprehended in one little book … the Psalter is the very paragon of books …
Moreover, it is not the poor every-day words of the saints that the Psalter expresses, but their very best words, spoken by them, in deepest earnestness, to God Himself, in matters of utmost moment. Thus it lays open to us not only what they say about their works, but their very heart and the inmost treasure of their souls; so that we can spy the bottom and spring of their words and works—that is to say, their heart—in what manner of thoughts they had, how their heart did bear itself, in every sort of business, peril, and extremity …
What is the Psalter, for the most part, but such earnest discourse in all manner of such winds? Where are finer words of gladness than in the Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving? There thou lookest into the hearts of all the saints as into fair and pleasant gardens, yea, as into the heavens, and seest what fine, hearty, pleasant flowers spring up therein, in all manner of fair gladsome thoughts of God and His benefits. And again, where wilt thou find deeper, more plaintive, more sorrowful words of grief than in the Psalms of complaint? There thou lookest again into the hearts of all the saints, as into death, yea, as into hell. How they are filled with darkness and gloom by reason of the wrath of God! So also, when they discourse of fear and hope, they use such words, that no painter could so portray, nor any Cicero or orator could so express, the fear or hope.
And (as I said) the best of all is, that these words of theirs are spoken before God and unto God, which puts double earnestness and life into the words. For words that are spoken only before men in such matters do not come so mightily form the heart, are not such burning, living, piercing words. Hence also it comes to pass that the Psalter is the Book of all the Saints; and every one, whatsoever his case may be, find therein Psalms and words which suit his case so perfectly, that they might seem to have been set down solely for his sake, in such sort that anything better he can neither make for himself, nor discover, nor desire. One good effect of which, moreover, is that if a man take pleasure in the words here set forth and find them suit his case, he is assured he is in the communion of the saints, and that all the saints fared just as he fares, for they and he sing all one song together, particularly if he can utter them before God even as they did, which must be done in faith, for an ungodly man relishes them not …
To sum up; wouldest thou see the Holy Catholic Church portrayed to the life in form and colour, as it were in miniature? Open the Psalter. Thus thou shalt therein find thine own self, and the right [knowledge of self], God Himself also and all the creatures.
Let us, therefore, take heed also to thank God for such unspeakable benefits, and to accept and make use of them to the praise and honour of God, that we bring not upon ourselves wrath by our unthankfulness. For, formerly, in the time of darkness, what a treasure it had been esteemed if men had been able rightly to understand one psalm, and to read or hear it in plain German! and yet they were not able. Blessed now are the eyes which see the things that we see, and the ears which hear the things that we hear! And yet take heed—alas, we already see, that we are like the Jews in the wilderness, who said of the manna, ‘Our soul loatheth this light bread.’ It behoves us to mark what is written in the same place, how they were plagued and died, that it may not befall us also after the same sort.
To this end, may the Father of all grace and mercy help us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be blessing and thanks, honour and praise, for this German Psalter, and for all His innumerable gifts, for evermore; Amen and Amen!

(2) Preface to the Edition of the Psalter in 1545
Every Christian who would abound in prayer and piety ought, in all reason, to make the Psalter his manual; and, moreover, it were well if every Christian so used it and were so expert in it as to have it word for word by heart, and could have it even in his heart as often as he chanced to be called to speak or act, that he might be able to draw forth or employ some sentence out of it, by way of a proverb. For indeed the truth is, that everything that a pious heart can desire to ask in prayer, it here finds Psalms and words to match, so aptly and sweetly, that no man—no, nor all the men in the world—shall be able to devise forms of words so good and devout. Moreover, the Psalter doth minister such instruction and comfort in the act of supplication; and the Lord’s Prayer doth so run through it, and it through the Lord’s Prayer, that the one helpeth us finely to understand the other, and the two together make a pleasant harmony …
In my opinion, any man who will but make a trial in earnest of the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer will very soon bid the other pious prayers adieu, and say, Ah, they have not the sap, the strength, the heart, the fire, that I find in the Psalter; they are too cold, too hard, for my taste!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cardinal Sarah and Electronic Breviaries

People interested in liturgy have recently been stirred up a bit by some remarks of Cardinal Sarah about the use of electronic devices for liturgical (or perhaps any type of) prayer. Apparently he thinks using a breviary app on a smartphone or tablet is a bad idea.

I am a great fan of Cardinal Sarah. Lately I've been using his book The Power of Silence for reading during Eucharistic adoration, and find that is helps me stay focused and aware of why I'm there. I also reflected on Cardinal Sarah's insights while attending an Extraordinary form mass last week. (I've always been a bit hyperactive and so, while appreciating the EF mass in principle I sometimes find it difficult to get through in practice.) So I'm taking what Cardinal Sarah says seriously, and thought we could discuss it here.

His remarks about breviary apps were a tiny part of  a much longer  speech given recently to the Roman Forum on Summorum Pontificum.  The whole speech is worth reading, but for our purposes we want to read at least this paragraph, where he says that, when we embark on liturgical prayer:

Secondly, I must—somehow—manage to put aside, even if this must be temporary, the world and its constant demands. I cannot participate fully and fruitfully in the Sacred Liturgy if my focus is elsewhere. We all benefit from the advances of modern technology, but the many (maybe too many?) technological devices upon which we rely can enslave us in a constant stream of communication and demands for instant responses. We must leave this behind if we are to celebrate the liturgy properly. Perhaps it is very practical and convenient to pray the breviary with my own mobile phone or tablet or another electronic device, but it is not worthy: it desacralizes prayer. These apparatuses are not instruments consecrated and reserved to God, but we use them for God and also for profane things! Electronic devices must be turned off, or better still they can be left behind at home when we come to worship God. I have spoken previously of the unacceptability of taking photographs at the Sacred Liturgy, and of the particular scandal that this gives when it is done by clergy vested for liturgical service. We cannot focus on God if we are busy with something else. We cannot hear God speaking to us if we are already occupied communicating with someone else, or behaving as a photographer.

Okay, here's my thoughts.
Seen in context, I believe the Cardinal's greatest objection is to the use of these devices inside a church. It sounds like he's sometimes, during solemn occasions with many clergy present, caught sight of priests whipping out their cell phones to check messages and take photographs during mass or solemn vespers or some other liturgical function.  And I'll bet he's been annoyed by the sounds of electronic notifications from those who forget to turn their sounds off before entering the church. Not annoyed on his own behalf, but on God's. From this perspective, phones and tablets do indeed seem to desacralize prayer. 

 I believe his critique of using a breviary app is mostly given with priests in mind, who: 1. have a solemn obligation to pray the Divine Office and 2. Own print breviaries and know how to use them.  He's pointing out that a sacred book is a sacramental and for most of us is more conducive to a prayerful, contemplative spirit than an electronic device (even if we don't succumb to temptations to interrupt our prayer when a message notification pops up.)

I don't think he was addressing the fact that breviary apps have made it possible for thousands of laymen to learn how to pray and appreciate the Divine Office, people who would have been put off by the initial effort to figure out the ribbons and the calendar for each day.  Or people who cannot afford a four-volume breviary but, because they already have cell phones, can use a free app.   

But we can apply what he said to us laymen. Assuming you own a print breviary, it's probably better to use it when possible.  If you find yourself checking phone messages in the middle of praying with an app, it's time to rethink using it, or form a firm habit of turning off notifications whenever you use your phone or tablet to pray. 

Also, even if you are NEVER tempted to check your phone while at mass, there is something very wholesome in the idea of turning a phone off (as in powering off, not just silencing notifications) or even leaving it behind in the car, before you enter church. It's a powerful symbol of leaving the world behind us before we approach the holy altar of Christ's sacrifice.  Removing one's sandals before stepping on holy ground. 

Remember that Cardinal Sarah's remarks are simply his personal opinions. But we should take them seriously. But I will keep recommending ibreviary to newcomers who don't have a book or find it confusing to use.

Okay, everyone. Share your thoughts. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Favorite Fall Feasts

I am blessed to live in the kind of place that you see in those scenic 1000-piece puzzles.

Despite being strangely indifferent to pumpkin spice flavored items, I really love fall. The maples are turning early this year, and after two weeks of unseasonably hot weather, cool days and chilly, star-studded nights are supposed to be back by tomorrow. The squirrels are racing around after hickory nuts and the hummingbirds disappeared several weeks ago. I expect the chickadees will start following me out to the mailbox soon, chattering to remind me that it's time to put up the birdfeeders. . The field behind my house is bright with goldenrod and wild asters. 

Given my fall fixation  it's no wonder that I tend to picture St. Francis tossing acorns to squirrels, the Holy Archangels flying on their  various errands against a backdrop of crimson foliage, and the North American martyrs preaching in Iroquois lodges that are piled high with colorful pumpkins and gourds. I've pictured both recently canonized popes, (John Paul II and John XXIII)  enjoying a slice of the apple pie I make with the fruit that falls from our trees these days.    Yep, the many  wonderful saints of October are inextricably bound up with the season in my imagination. 

I love the way the Liturgy of the Hours gives me a concrete way to honor my favorite fall saints even on days that daily mass is not available.(By not available I mean either that I am not organized enough to get out of the house to make it, OR that mass will not be said at my local parish that day.) So instead of just glancing at the calendar and saying, "hey! It's St. so and so's feastday," I can actually offer the public worship of the Church in honor of that saint, all from the comfort of my home. 

Which are your favorite fall saints? 

And as usual, any questions related to the Liturgy of the Hours are welcome here.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster of Milan and the Divine Office

I learned from a Facebook friend that yesterday (August 30) is the observed memorial of Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, archbishop of Milan during World War II.

I came across Cardinal Schuster several years ago while writing a booklet to go with an Ignatius Press release of an Italian film about Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, Father of Mercy. Not to get too sidetracked from my subject, but Blessed Carlo was an Italian military chaplain who, after the war, founded homes for the many war orphans and in particular those maimed by landmines.  Cardinal Schuster was a mentor of his.

Then, this month, I bought an audiobook of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, a novel centered on the life of a teenage boy who, under the direction of a priest, helped many Jews cross the alps into Switzerland during the war. Cardinal Schuster and other Catholic clergy figured prominently in this book, since he spearheaded an underground railroad to save Jews from death in concentration camps.

So yesterday, as I finished the novel, I found a post on Facebook telling me that it was Cardinal Schuster's memorial on local calendars where he is venerated. (This would be Italy for certain, and also that of the Benedictine order, since he was originally a Benedictine monk.)

Don't ask me why an Italian had a German sounding name. I guess his father had German blood.

Anyhow, the facebook post that alerted me to the memorial also quoted these lovely words from Blessed Schuster about the breviary, which he in turn had found on the New Liturgical Movement website:

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude. (Blessed Card. Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, 1929-54)

Friday, August 11, 2017

If You give a Prisoner a Breviary...

How will he or she respond?

Ron Zeilinger of Dismas Ministry (see my previous post) told me today that after he recently gave a prisoner a four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours, he received a note which said,

"Thank you for sending the Liturgy of the Hours. It is like a river of pure water."

My f irst thoughts about that were:

1. Do I receive my daily liturgical prayer with the same clarity, the same  joy,  the same  gratitude as that prison inmate?  (Answer: no, not always, and I'd better do something about that.)

2. I'm going donate more breviaries to Dismas Ministry.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Breviaries for Prisoners

Several times in the past, Coffee&Canticles has promoted the work of Dismas Minstry which is just about the best apostolate to prisoners we've ever seen.   Of special to interest to all of here is that these people introduce prisoners to the Liturgy of the Hours, and give breviaries to those who request them.

Recently I heard from Dismas director  Ron Zeilinger, thanking us for past support and again reminding us that they are happy to receive donations of used (or new) breviaries. These could be single volume OR four-volume sets.

Alternatively, you could send them a cash donation, which you could either designate as being for the purchase of breviaries, or just as a general donation, since Dismas Ministry has a number of wonderful programs and services for inmates.

Please be generous in supporting this great  spiritual work of mercy.

Update: although you can find this information at the Dismas website, here are the relevant addresses:

Dismas Ministry
PO Box 070363
Milwaukee WI 53207 - this address is for directly mailing breviaries or cash donations.

Dismas Ministry
Suite 130
2625 S. Greeley St.

Milwaukee WI 53207 - this one is best if you are ordering new breviaries from retail sites (such as Barnes and Noble or Amazon) that use UPS for delivery and therefore need a physical location. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Pauline Breviary from Phillipines

A lot of people are fans of the Pauline single-volume breviary  in preference to the Catholic Book Publishing Co. edition of Christian Prayer.  The main advantage is that it has the complete four week psalter of daytime prayer, unlike the two-week sampler provided by Catholic Book  Co. IN addition, the antiphons are reprinted at the end of each psalm, which saves flipping back to find them after the Glory Be.

Problem is, Pauline USA let these go out of print some time ago. So our choices are to search ebay and other secondhand book sites for used copies, or to endure the expense and possibly risky business of ordering a Pauline Africa breviary from Kenya. As noted in many other places on this blog, the Kenyan breviary has many advantages, including the revised Grail    psalter, recently canonized saint propers, and additional Sunday antiphons for the Gospel canticles.

Another Pauline edition was brought to my attention by readers Leonard Villanueva and John Manlapig.  It's a 1993 edition, with gold edges. The price of 750 pesos comes out to just under $15 in US currency. This is not an updated edition (like the one from Kenya). It's the same text we have here in the USA, althought I"m guessing there are a few more recent saints in the proper of saints.

I have no idea if it's possible to order one by mail or what the postage would be if it was. But if you have friends or relatives in the Phillipines who come to the USA to visit, you could always have them bring you one.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf

If you use an American breviary, you won't find the optional memorial of St. Sharbel Makhul in your proper of saints. But it's tomorrow, July 24th.

This Maronite rite saint from Lebanon, who died in 1882, has gained quite a following in recent years, probably due to his reputation as a miracle worker.  There are a number of dramatic cures attributed to his intercession, including that of a blind woman in Arizona who venerated the saint's touring relics in 2016.

If you want to include St. Sharbel in your Office tommorrow, you would use the regular psalter for Monday week IV. If you wish, after the psalmody you could go to the Common of Pastors and use that from the reading onwards, but staying with the entire Monday psalter is fine, too.  Then, use  this concluding prayer, which you can find at

O God, who called the Priest Saint Sharbel Makhlūf
to the solitary combat of the desert
and imbued him with all manner of devotion,
grant us, we pray,
that, being made imitators of the Lord’s Passion,
we may merit to be co-heirs of his Kingdom.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Now, those of you who use the Office of Readings are wondering if there is a second reading for St. Sharbel.   ibreviary does not have one. does  have one for him, a reading from St. Ignatius to the Magnesians.   Now this is curious, because my 2009 Pauline African breviary has a different reading, "from the letters of Amonius, hermit". I can't find it online, so I cannot copy and paste it here.  And my dedication to this cause does not extend to being willing to type out 800+ words here on the blog. Plus that may violate copyright. 

I understand that St. Sharbel even has devotees (and has answered prayers for) Muslims. So we might do well tomorrow to ask his intercession for the conversion of many more of them. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

College Student LOTH fan explains it all

Just wanted to share a lovely article by a college student at the Lifeteen website.  It's always wonderful to see anyone telling the world about the Liturgy of the Hours, but this is a particularly well done piece. The author gives a good, popular introduction intended to appeal to her peers, and to that end seasons the piece with goofy graphics.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Free from the Burden! (guest post)

Here's the conclusion of a meditation on Psalm 81, verse 7.  Many thanks to Harold Koenig for sharing these thoughts with us. It's been a wonderful example of how daily liturgical prayer, although offered primarily on behalf of, and in union with, the Church universal, will also bring personal gifts from God to the one who prays it. 

Part 3: I relieved you from your burden
I hear a tongue I do not know: I relieved Israel’s shoulder of its burden; they set down the basket.– – –– – after Ps. 81
One reason to pray the office is that it is the work of God, the “opus Dei.” And the work of God, our Lord tells us, is to believe in him who God has sent. Our prayer is a work of faith.
To believe in him whom God has sent is not a matter of assent to certain propositions or articles of faith.  It is to have confidence, to trust. Jesus, whose very name amounts to “God saves,” is to be trusted to save us, to have saved us, to be saving us, to save us at the last day, the great morning.
I reproach myself often for my lack of fervor. I approach the office sometimes in ennui and frustration. I am not very devout, my mind wanders. This little commitment of time to him who deserves all I have and am seems like a huge and empty burden.
Me, me, me!  What foolishness!  He removes the burden from my shoulder and I immediately stoop to pick it up, turn to him irritably, and ask, “Now where were we? Oh yes, talking about me and my inadequacies.”

If you pray, “Lord, open my lips,”  do you think he will leave you mute?  If you cry, “God, come to my assistance!” will he not hasten to help you? Trust him, and the burden will be lifted, the basket of self-criticism set down.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A voice I do not know (guest post)

We continue today with guest author Harold Koenig's meditation on Psalm 81 verse 7. Enjoy!

Part 2: A tongue I do not know

I hear a tongue I do not know: I relieved Israel’s shoulder of its burden; they set down the basket.
– after Ps. 81

Why don’t we know?  Is the voice unfamiliar?  Is the language one we do not understand? This unknown tongue, unknown voice, unknown speaker … who is it that speaks?
Our heads are full of noise.  There are a hundred reasons not to pray; there are a thousand voices tugging at us as we pray. Even if we pray alone, we bring a crowd with us.
Consider.  We are here in answer to a call. We think it is our decision to pray, our inner voice that proposed the custom and this moment’s prayers.  And it was and is, but not ours alone. The Love himself, by being supremely lovable, calls love from us.  Though we grudgingly take up our breviary, it is an act of love to pray.  And that love did not originate within us.
The voice is unfamiliar and the tongue unknown because even as we yield to the Love, we ourselves natter and chatter with concerns, worries, desires, plans, self-reproach, or self congratulation.  “I and my piety have brought me here to pray this office,” we say. And immediately a jangling chorus arises. “Am I REALLY pious?  Look at my sins! Am I doing this well? Am I doing my LIFE well?”
Yet still the Spirit whispers in us and through us, “Lord, open my lips,” and “God, come to my assistance,” and our lips open and divine help is subtly, softly, even hastily given.
Maybe the voice is purposefully unfamiliar.  It seems to be the Spirit’s choice to prefer, while he prays in sighs and groans to deep for words, the sound of our halting and mumbling voices, as every parent rejoices in his child’s professions of love.
A beam of light through clear air is unseen unless it strikes our eyes.  We see not the illuminating beam but illuminated objects as light reflected from them reaches our eyes. So often the Spirit is known not in himself but in his works.
The unfamiliar voice, the unknown tongue speaks in your words of prayer.

Tomorrow: Freed from the burden

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Single Verse of Psalm 81 (Guest Post)

Harold Koenig is a former Episcopalian clergyman, now a third order Dominican, a Divine Office enthusiast, and a Facebook friend of mine. He's done guest posts here once or twice before, and now we are blessed with another. Three actually.   Today we get part I.   It's the fruit of his meditations on a favorite verse of Scripture: Psalm 81 vs. 7, which by happy coincidence appears in the Psalter this morning. 

Note:The translation Harold uses is a bit different from what most of our breviaries use, but it's close enough for you to appreciate what he says about it.  The Revised Grail Psalms that we'll all be using eventually (when the new breviary translation is published)  also use "basket" rather than "load". 

I hear a tongue I do not know: I relieved Israel’s shoulder of its burden; they set down the basket.
– after Ps. 81:7

Part I: I hear

All good giving, every perfect gift is from above.  The intention to pray is good; the decision to pray now is a gift. We address God because he addressed us first. An infant roots for the breast when its cheek is touched.  God has touched us, so we seek him. He is first mover; his voice summons ours
Our prayers are not perfect, because even when we’ve learned how to negotiate our breviaries, there is still the wandering mind, the diversion of thought and attention to anything but the words before us.  We do not know how to pray as we ought. Can anyone doubt this? Therefore rejoice, because the Spirit prays in us, in sighs too deep for words.
So, in the quiet act of praying the office, lips moving silently, finger gliding down the page, there is a mystery.  We speak because we are spoken to; we utter that we may hear. As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as maids are alert to the hand of the mistress, so we attend to the word which evokes our words.
We lose focus. Of course, when we notice, we should bring ourselves back to this work of God.  But as our prayers come from him, we cannot justly allow ourselves to be too distraught when we stray.  After all, it is God who speaks, and his Word stands forever.  It may be so in the world’s eyes and our own that “hearing, we do not hear.” But he means to make himself known to us, and to spend too much effort and anxiety on the poverty of our efforts is just another distraction from our task which is to listen to our beloved who loves us.
Perhaps then we should trust that, though we do not now feel as if we were listening, much less hearing, yet he who made the ear knows what he is about.   In the depths, there where the Spirit sighs, there is a seed of hearing being planted.  And as Creation itself groans as in childbirth, so that seed will grow and come to term in us, to be brought forth at the proper time.

Next time: a tongue I do not know

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A special Day for Breviary Lovers

It's the feast of St. Benedict, and if any sort of psalter, Office, breviary, or other book of daily liturgical prayer is an important part of your life, then you should consider him a special patron. It was St. Benedict, after all, who refined the already existing monastic custom of praying the psalms at regular hours throughout the day and night. Our breviaries today are all based, to great extent, on his system.    

So how to honor St. Benedict?  That might mean saying his office today as a feast rather than a memorial--use the entire common of holy men/religious. Or use the following poem as a hymn today. You may sing it to the hymn tune known as Old One Hundredth, a.k.a. Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow. 

Below are pictures of a statue of St. Benedict taken in a church in Pittsburgh, PA last year. Note the detail shot of the raven at the bottom. Legends say that when monks who resented Benedict's reforms tried to feed him poisoned bread, a raven swooped in, grabbed the bread, and flew away with it. 

So was this an angel in disguise, or a real raven "possessed" by an angel? 

The sports teams at Benedictine University are known as the Ravens. 

I like birds so this sort of trivia makes me happy.  

A bit of extra news. If you use Facebook, you might be interested in joining groups that are devoted to the Liturgy of the Hours.  One that I've recently joined is Liturgy of the Hours Discussion and Support Group. It's for those who use either the Liturgy of the Hours (1970) and/or any of the Anglican breviaries. The membership is enthusiastic and you will probably get prompt replies to your own posts.   Another group, which I've belonged to for years, is called Breviary and Divine Office Discussion Group. People on this group use all sorts of breviaries both pre and post-Vatican II, but it seems that those who comment most often are mostly enthusiasts of pre-conciliar breviaries. They are especially helpful if you are trying to learn how to use these and also how to locate books and apps for the same. 

Of course, there's always Q&A here as well. I have several readers who are often faster at answering questions than I am, so even if I have been semi-AWOL these last few months, you are likely to get good responses to any questions here as well. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blooper Alert.

If you read the previous post before 1pm Eastern Standard Time, please go  back and read it again. I'd left out something very important. 

Solemnity Alert! Corrected and Updated!

Thanks to alert reader Mike, I have to correct this post, which in its previous iteration talked only about the solemnity of St. John the Baptist. Mike reminded me of another and greater Solemnity on Friday.

Tomorrow (Friday)  is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That means Evening Prayer I  tonight (Thursday) would be that of the Sacred Heart. (No more Sts.Thomas More&John Fisher)
For the same reason, the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist does not get an Evening Prayer I, because solemnities of the Lord trump solemnities of saints.

Thank you, Mike.

However, the Baptist's Nativity does get an Evening Prayer II, even on a Saturday evening, because solemnities trump Sundays in ordinary time.

I love all the liturgical folklore regarding this feast. For example, it is noted that  from the day of the Baptist's birth,  just after the summer solstice, the days start getting gradually shorter each day until that of winter. Then, from around the time of Christmas, they begin getting longer once more. Remember how John the Baptist says of Jesus, "He must increase, I must decrease."? I've always loved that.

Today is St. Thomas More and John Fisher. The second reading, from St. Thomas letter from prison, is one of the highlights of the the Office of Readings, I think. It bears more frequent reading than once a year. It's both bracing and comforting at the same time.

Thomas More tends to overshadow St. John Fisher, since there is no Oscar winning film about his life. And today, on their shared memorial, we only hear from Thomas. However, St. John Fisher speaks to us twice in the Office of Readings during the rest of the year. His commentaries on Psalms 101 and 120 are excerpted on Friday of week 3 in ordinary time, and Monday in the 5th week of lent, respectively.  You might want to peruse those today if you have a 4 volume breviary.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Gymnasium for the Soul

Don't miss Office of Readings today and tomorrow.

Or if you are not an OOR regular, and don't feel you have the time, then just do the second readings. These are among the handful of readings we get through the year that specifically address the importance, the greatness, the beauty, and the excellence of praying the Psalms.

When you do your morning and evening prayer, day in, day out, year after year, there is a temptation to stop paying attention. To feel that it is getting old. No longer fresh and meaningful that way it used to be when you first began doing the Liturgy of the Hours. You begin to wonder if it's time to quit and look for some new daily prayer routine whose very novelty will make you pay more attention.

Perish those thoughts!

Read, carefully, the second readings from the Explanation of the Psalms by St. Ambrose, which appear in our breviaries both today and tomorrow. Then, go forth with resolve to stick with your daily psalter, asking the Lord to open your heart to everything He is trying to teach you there.

 In the Book of Psalms there is profit for all, with healing power for our salvation. There is instruction from history, teaching from the law, prediction from prophecy, chastisement from denunciation, persuasion from moral preaching. All who read it may find the cure for their own individual failings. All with eyes to see can discover in it a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for every kind of exercise; it is for each to choose the kind he judges best to help him gain the prize.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ordinary Time Alert!

Sunday is Pentecost; Ordinary time starts on Monday. So we will be in a week of Ordinary time that has no Sunday. Which week will that be, you ask?

The ninth week.

How do I know that?

Because looking back at my church calendar I see that the last week of ordinary time we had (just before Lent started) was the 8th.   Therefore, we pick up OT  again with the 9th week.

The psalter will be week I. I know this because 9 is one more than 8. All weeks that are multiples of 4 will use week IV of the psalter. Multiples of 4, plus 1, will always use week I of the psalter. Multiples of 4, plus 2, will always use week II of the psalter, and so on.  Memorize this rule and save yourself the bother of having to look things up.

The next two weeks after this one (10th and 11th weeks) will simlarly not have ordinary Sundays because they are the feasts of the Most Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi, respectively. But each following Monday will resume with the regular order of the psalter: week II after Trinity Sunday and week III after Corpus Christi.  We finally get an actual Sunday or Ordinary time on June25th.

Does this make everything clear?

Pentecost Blessings to you all.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book of Revelation for the Confused and Bemused

Whore of Babylon.jpg
By First upload to en.wikipedia on 5 Sep 2003 by en:User:Ihcoyc as Whorebab.jpg, Public Domain, Link
Much as I love the Easter season, there is one thing I don't mind when it ends: leaving behind the daily readings from the book of Revelation, a.k.a. the Apocalypse.

Because it's absolutely crazy. All those weird, fever dream visions, with no real way of knowing what the degree of symbolism vs. physical reality might be, and whether these are things that have already happened or are still to come in the future. (Or some of each.)

I believe it was St. Jerome (but I could be wrong--maybe another Church Father) who did not want Revelation to be included in the canon of Sacred Scripture because it was so open to misunderstanding. While I accept what the Church decided, I sympathize with his objections.

And before you tell me to read Scott Hahn on the heavenly liturgy--yes, I like that part. But all those beasts and heads and horns and locusts that look like tiny horses with human heads, etc. All that seems just disturbing and not really helpful in any way.

I will say there is a general takeaway for Christians to be ready for, and undismayed by, the seeming triumph of evil, persecution, and martyrdom. It will all come out beautifully in the end. Okay, I get that.

In the interest of getting past my irritation with certain features of Revelation, I just bought the Kindle edition of Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying its Lessons today. Written by Michael Barber of Catholic Answers, I know it will be realiable.   And after only two chapters, I'm already glad I bought it.

As an aside, when we had the reading earlier this week describing all the precious gemstones adorning the temple of the New Jerusalem (Chrysolite, beryl, sardonyx,chrysoprase, etc.) I looked them all up on Google Images and had a pleasant time with that. Showing that I will do anything to help me feel a bit more friendly towards this mysterious book.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Where Have I Been?

Just noticed, to my dismay, that it's going on two months since there's been a new post here.

Smart readers are still asking miscellaneous LOTH questions in the comments from the previous post, and I've been answering. But somehow I've coasted by without a word about Holy Week, Easter, or its glorious Octave.

So in case you're wondering, there's been no  huge catastrophe preventing me. Just lots of middle-sized work and family events that keep my mind  elsewhere most of the time.   A good bit of travel plus physical and mental energy related to administering my late brother's estate. Lots of paid writing gigs, so I must keep those employers happy by meeting deadlines.   Tomorrow I head out to Santa Paul, CA for my daughter's college graduation.  Next week, my newest grandson will be christened.

Beyond that, it's harder now than it used to be to come up with topics for blog posts. Over the last six years I've said pretty close to everything I have to say about the Liturgy of the Hours. Maybe this blog needs a co-author with new ideas and greater zeal, since clearly I"m running out of steam. (Interested parties may contact me about that--include 3 sample posts.)  Anyway, I'm trying to get back in the swing of blogging, so here goes.

We can usually find (or impose) a pattern in the psalmody of each liturgical hour. This morning, the psalmody of Morning prayer had a great flow. We start out with Psalm 108, which is at once full of joyful praise and confident militancy. As I've said before, don't get bogged down by seeing this as merely the boasting of a warlike King  David. The King whose voice we should hear is that of Jesus, Who, for the glory of His Father, set forth to trample the hordes of Satan (those Edomites and Moabites and Philistines in the psalm symbolize them). Alternately. pray this psalm as your personal resolve to (with joyous confidence in God's power, not yours) conquer the temptations and personal faults that will assail you today.

Next,  the canticle from Isaiah looks with hope towards a time when the victory in that battle is complete. Here we can think about the Church, which is at once the forever beautiful spotless and beautiful bride of Christ, yet at the same time, due to constant assualt from without and within, can seem "desolate" and "forsaken." Today I'm thinking about all the church closings in Connecticut, here recently where I live in the Erie diocese, and so many other places.   We have to hold on to hope, and this canticle puts us in that hopeful place, doesn't it?

Last, Psalm 146 exhorts us to praise and thank God for what He has and will accomplish, regardless of what is happening in the political realm. I can't tell you how often that verse 3, "Put no trust in princes" springs into mind every time a new headline about this or that politician and his/her actions/promises/threats pops up. No trust in them, but always "sing praise to my God while I live."

Okay, questions and comments are welcome in the usual place. I'll be travelling the next few days so be patient waiting for the responses.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Divine Office Vocabulary Primer

This is a post for those of you who are just beginning to learn about the Liturgy of the Hours, or maybe to share with friends to whom you are trying to explain what this is.  A major roadblock to many is that there is so.much.vocabulary. that the more experienced people bandy about, that beginners can become hopelessly confused. In fact, there are often two terms for the exact same thing, e.g. Morning Prayer=Lauds.

So here is a list of some basic terms.  Bookmark it for future reference.
Note: This list is pretty comprehensive for those who use the Liturgy of the Hours as promulagated after the Second Vatican Council. If you are using an older breviary, or an Anglican ordinary, then there will be additional terms to learn, and some of these below will not apply.

Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours: official prayer of the Catholic Church, constituting, along with the Mass, the Church's liturgy. A repeating cycle of psalms, biblical readings, and other prayers, coordinated to the liturgical season and/or the feasts of the Church. The word "office" comes from a Latin word meaning "service" or "ceremony".

Breviary: the book in which one finds the Divine Office. A commonly used American edition is titled "Christian Prayer." The full breviary contains four volumes. One volume breviaries contain the full morning, evening, and night prayer for the year, but not the full Office of Readings. Some one volume breviaries also contain the full office of Day time prayer.

Antiphon - the verse said before and after each psalm and canticle.

Canticle - a psalm-like passage from a part of the Bible other than the book of Psalms.

Invitatory - The psalm that is recited before the first liturgical hour that you say each day. Usually Psalm 95

Benedictus - Latin for the Canticle of Zachariah
Magnificat - Latin for the Canticle of Mary
Nunc Dimittis - Latin for the Canticle of Simeon

Morning Prayer/Lauds - one of the two main hours or "hinges" of the liturgical day, morning prayer may be said any time from when you wake up until mid -morning.

Evening Prayer/Vespers - the other main hour or "hinge" of the liturgical day, evening prayer may be said between 4 and 7PM.

Night Prayer/Compline - to be said later than evening prayer, usually close to bedtime.

Daytime Prayer - a liturgical hour with 3 subdivisions: Mid-morning (terce); midday (sext); midafternoon (none). It is recommended that generally, lay people and parish priests choose one of these as their daytime hour of prayer. Monastics (or anyone who is a real Divine Office fanatic)  may still use all three.

Office of Readings- also known as Matins, this was the hour that monastics traditionally rose during the night to pray. It may be prayed at any time of day, although generally it is done preceding morning prayer, or after evening prayer on the previous day. The Office of Readings consists of psalms followed by two longer readings; one from the Bible and one from the writings of the fathers/doctors/saints of the Church.

Vigils: an extra set of psalms and readings used on Saturday nights in conjunction with Sunday's Office of Readings. You know how the Easter Vigil liturgy has lots of extra readings and psalms? Vigils is analogous to that. A way to make each Sunday a "little Easter".  

Ordinary - rather inadequate instructions on how to pray the office, buried about one-third of the way through the breviary. That's one reason this blog exists: to answer questions that remain once you've looked at the Ordinary. 

Proper of Seasons-the first third of the breviary. It gives all the readings and prayers substituted for what's in the 4 week Psalter during the seasons of  Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.

Proper of Saints - gives the dates, and prayers for saint's feasts and memorials, plus directions on which of the Commons to use if you want to do the day's  hours  in honor of  the saint, rather than just going with the psalter. 

Commons - these are all purpose or generic offices for celebrating a feast of Our Lady or of a saint, with headings such as Apostles, Martyrs, virgins, holy men, pastors, doctors of the church, etc.

As always, comments are welcome. Those of you who are  veterans may suggest any terms that I might have left out.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Table of Liturgical Precedence, or, Do We Do 1st Vespers of St. Joseph on Sunday night?

Whenever a Solemnity laps up against a Sunday (occurring on a Saturday or a Monday) we who navigate the breviary on our own have to stop and figure out what to do.

Yes, yes, I know about the St. Joseph's yearly guide you can buy. But most of  us want to understand the principle of the thing so that we can figure this out for ourselves, rather than blindly following someone else's instructions of "psalter, page XXX, proper of seasons, page YYY, common of male martyrs with red hair and freckles,  page ZZZ."    And let me tell you, that St. Joseph's guide occasionally gets it wrong, too. And sometimes the online breviaries goof up as well. Not often, but every once in a while.

Anyway, next Monday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. A big deal. Does that mean we do Evening Prayer I of St Joseph this Sunday night? *


Suppose the Assumption comes on a Saturday. Do we have Evening Prayer II of the Assumption that evening, or Evening Prayer II of whatever August Sunday in ordinary time that happens to be?**

The answers, my friend, are NOT blowin' in the wind. (If you get that reference you are well over 50 years old.) The answers are to be found in the Table of Liturgical Days According to Order of Precedence.

Those of us lucky enough to have a four-volume breviary will find this in the beginning of volume I, just after the General Instruction. But it's a pain to have to go find your volume I (Advent/Christmas) book in the middle of lent when you are using Volume III. And if you only have a single volume breviary,you don't have this wonderfully clarifying resource at your fingertips.

So instead, go to this link, courtesy of Benedictines who understand our problems.  Print it, if you can, and tuck it into your breviary for future reference.


Friday, March 3, 2017

St. Katherine Drexel Today

It's the optional memorial of St. Katherine Drexel.

Poor saints with commemorations during Lent! Well, it's not as if they care in the least about when or how their day is observed down here. I suppose, in keeping with the virtue of humility, these lenten saints are pretty pleased with the way things have turned out.

But it is important for us Americans to take note of our own. Especially St. Katherine Drexel, a role model in so many ways. Her work with Native Americans and African Americans was a great act of reparation for the injustices done to these people by white men.   Her detachment from material wealth--of which she had TONS--is something we should all strive for in some degree.

And as a Pennsylvanian, I am doubly proud of this amazing woman.

If you wish to remember St. Katherine in your liturgical prayer today, be sure to use her concluding prayer which you will find on,, and  It should also be here on the website.   

Want to learn more about this saint? Here is an ebook for your middle-school aged kids, a reprint from the early 1960s.

For adults, I'd recommend this title, which was very helpful to me when I recently did some research on the saint's life.

Okay, we are three days into lent. Was it nice and confusing trying to figure out which week to use in the psalter for these days after Ash Wednesday?   I don't think any printed breviary actually spells this out. (It's week IV) But it all becomes clearer with the first Sunday of Advent, where we start at week I, go through the four weeks in a row, start over with week I on the Fifth Sunday, and so forth.

Are you doing anything special with the Liturgy of the Hours for Lent? Say, adding an extra hour, or just making the effort to be more faithful? Waking up earlier in order to have time to do the Office of Readings in less of a rush?  I'm trying to sing the traditional breviary hymns (out loud) for every hour from Father Weber's Hymnal for the Hours.

As usual, questions, comments, and any assorted relevant remarks are welcome in the comments.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Gaze of God Envelops Us

Friends, I am still struggling with trying to get back to regular blogging but that goal continues to elude me.

But you don't need my mediocre meditations when you have the words of St. Benedict with commentary from authentic Irish Benedictine monks.

So enjoy this piece and bring it's teaching to mind as you pray the Liturgy of the Hours today. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

All things Live for Him

Friends, I haven't been around much lately. I hinted about a month ago that both my mother and my brother had been very ill and asked for prayers.

My mother passed away on January 20th, at the age of 92 and after years of suffering with Alzheimers.

This weekend, we'll bury  my brother, David, who entered Eternity last Saturday afternoon, after a brief struggle with an extremely fast-acting brain tumor.

Both Mom and David were strong believers. Mom was one of the few Catholic parents during the 60s and 70s who perceived the sorry lack in post-Vatican II catechetics, and saw to it that we studied more traditional catechisms and scripture at home, and made us understand that sometimes, in those confused times, Sister X.  and even Father Y might teach or preach something that was not quite in line with Catholic teaching.   She also started a firm custom of the family rosary nearly every evening, starting when I was about 8 years of age. That habit stayed with my two siblings and I.   Furthermore, she (and my Dad) created a family atmosphere where spiritual things (such as saint's lives, reports of possibly modern apparitions,miracles and whatnot) were seen as interesting, worth discussing and reading about.  

Like all of us, Mom was not perfect. But she got it right in the things that mattered most. I couldn't be more grateful.

David, my big brother, overcame the youthful handicap of being that introverted, un-athletic, nerdy kid who had tended to be rejected by all but a few peers. (A family pattern: my sister and I were his female counterparts.) His passion for history lead to a career as a county archivist, where he distinguished himself as an expert in local history, and author or editor of several books about the Civil War and about slavery in the northern colonies/states.  He was always an ardent Catholic, and members of his parish study group tell me that his insights and comments would "light up" every meeting.  What I admire most about David was his selfless care of our Mom during her years in the nursing home, visiting almost every single day, coming up with creative ideas to stimulate her diminishing mind, and far surpassing the patience of the staff in getting her to eat a good dinner each day.   My sister and I, raising big families in far off locations, were grateful and relieved that David was able to take on Mom's care as his vocation. We are sorry that after she passed, David was not able to go on to years of pursuing his own interests free of concerns for her care. But God's will be done! We can   presume that even the most pleasant earthly pursuits pale in comparison to what awaits, and all that makes us happiest on earth will find it's super-counterpart in Eternity.

Thanks in advance for your prayers and kind thoughts; if you want to do something special for Mom and David, substitute part or all of the Office for the Dead on any upcoming day where there is no obligatory memorial (E.g. today, tomorrow, or any day next week except Wednesday) and offer it for them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Psalter and Depression: Singin' the Blues with Psalm 77

I meant to post this yesterday, but was travelling across  Pennsylvania on I-80, and they tell me you shouldn't blog while driving. Yesterday, Psalm 77 headed up Morning Prayer. My Facebook pal, Harold Koenig, whose interesting little FB blurb on Praise of God appeared here pretty recently, has some new thoughts to share on Psalm 77. His first encounter (or maybe head on collision) with Psalm 77 came long ago, before he was Catholic, and while in a state of mind and soul that we children of the 1970s referred to as "messed up". So look what happened.

An acquaintance wrote that she went to Episcopalian "Evening Prayer," in search of solace, but "The Scripture reading[s] were not right for me tonight,..." I'd suggest reversing the phrasing thus, "I was not right for the Scripture readings tonight."

I'd suggest that it's too early to tell. Sometimes the Holy Word sneaks by our consciousness and is planted more deeply.  Some phrase or story may return unbidden.

When I was in college, dissolute, confused, and depressed.  I began to pray Compline from some Episcopalian book. I was, let's say, unmoved. But by grace, I stuck with it. And little by little, it soaked in.  "The devil walketh about ... seeking whom he may devour!" That was fun to think of.

Then we were assigned to write an analysis of a poem of our choice. I was at a loss, until Psalm 77 bloomed in my mind. It speaks to a depressed heart! 
"Is his mercy clean gone for ever? * and is his promise come utterly to an end for evermore?
  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? * and will he shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure?
And I said, It is mine own infirmity; * but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most Highest.
This is the blues!  You sing out your worst feelings until an answer comes! The answer: Remember the mercy, even a terrifying and mysterious mercy!

The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee, and were afraid; * the depths also were troubled.
The clouds poured out water, the air thundered, * and thine arrows went abroad.
The voice of thy thunder was heard round about: * the lightnings shone upon the ground; the earth was moved, and shook withal.
Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters, * and thy footsteps are not known.
You're at the point where you feel like saying. "That's okay God.  This is too scary!" Then the Psalmist speaks gentleness!

Thou leddest thy people like sheep, * by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The cosmic terror, he in whose presence nature trembles and begins to fall apart, is a gentle as a shepherd! He cloaks his proper frightfulness in mildness and patience, even for dissolute and depressed college students!

I may have not been right for Compline, but Compline was right for me!