Sunday, July 31, 2016

Prayer options for the stealth hermitess (and others) - Part III. The Divine Office

So far in this series I have canvassed the non-liturgical options around prayer.  

In this post I want to talk about liturgical prayer in the form of the Divine Office.

The importance of liturgical prayer

The Divine Office plays little part in the lives of most modern Catholics.  

Yet it should.  

All forms of prayer can be good and effective.  But liturgical prayer has a higher status than other forms of prayer.  Dom Fernard Cabrol, first abbot of Farnborough, writing in 1915, explains it this way:

Private prayer has a personal value, varying according to the degree of faith, fervour, and holiness of he who prays.  The Church's prayer has always, in itself, and independently of the person praying, an absolute value.  It is a formula composed by the Church, and carrying with it her authority...Liturgical prayer is superior to all others not only because it is the Church's prayer but also because of the elements of which is composed...this prayer holds the first rank on account of its efficacy, or the effects it produces in the soul. (Introduction to Day Hours of the Church, vol 1)
And contrary to most of the emphasis of the last couple of centuries, the Mass is not the only thing that constitutes liturgy.  Rather, the Divine Office, the 'Work of God', is intended to extend and support the effects throughout our day and week.

The importance and value of the Office is still upheld by the Church today, at least on paper. The 1983 Code of Canon Law for example says:
In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church, hearing God speaking to his people and recalling the mystery of salvation, praises him without ceasing by song and prayer and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world. 

In practice, though, it has all but disappeared.  This is something we need to change!

Early history

The Divine Office has an ancient history: fixed times of prayers has Jewish roots, and was certainly practised in primitive form in the very earliest days of the Church.  

Many of the Fathers point to the references to prayer at the third, sixth, ninth hours and in the night in Acts as the origins of this tradition.  

Certainly very early Church documents indeed attest to the idea of regular prayer at set times: in the first century Didache mentions praying the Our Father three times a day, while the fourth bishop of Rome, Clement (died 99 AD), wrote of prayer at the appointed times and hours for example.

The Office in the life of the Church

Early Church documents clearly assume that the laity as well as the clergy would pray at set times through the day and night.  That doesn't mean, though, that anyone has ever expected the laity to say all 150 psalms in a week at the Office, or say all the formal hours of the Office - far from it.

The tradition as far as I can see, has always been for the duty of praying the whole Office to be entrusted to monks and nuns (and to some degree the clergy), with laypeople joining in where possible and sensible.  In the later Middle Ages in England, for example, parish priests were certainly expected to say Lauds and Vespers publicly on Sundays, and many joined in with this.  But when it came to Matins (Vigils), if the people said it at all, they used one of the many short Offices, such as that of Our Lady.

All the same, the Office in many varied forms was an integral part of the life of the Church (including the laity) for many centuries, with more 'books of hours' produced prior to the Reformation, than any other single book.

The decline in the use of the Office

All that changed with the Council of Trent, when the need to combat the spread of heresy led to much tighter controls over the liturgy and devotions more generally.

One of the key changes made at that time was the restriction of the delegation to pray the Office liturgically to priests and religious.  The effect of this was that the laity could only take part in the Office when it was led by a priest or solemnly professed religious.

Several other factors also probably contributed to the decline in the popularity of the Office.

The Office is fundamentally meant to be performed communally and sung.  But the years after Trent favoured the 'low Mass' mentality deeply at odds with this.

The shift in Scriptural exegesis from the seventeenth century onward, from a focus on its spiritual meaning and in particular to seeing Christ in the psalms, to a focus on their historical and literary context instead, probably did not help.

Even so, in many places, attending Sunday Vespers at least was often regarded as nearly as mandatory as attending Sunday Mass.

Over time though, this tradition gradually fell away as priests in particular increasingly saw the Divine Office as an obligation that was rather burdensome to fulfil, rather than a source of spiritual fodder and solace.

 Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem?

The twentieth century saw a string of 'reforms'  - from the Pius X psalter of 1911 to the Liturgy of the Hours of 1971 - ostensibly aimed at reviving the use of the Office.  Unfortunately, they have mostly had the opposite effect.

There was, though, one positive reform that came out of Vatican II, and that was the restoration of the right of the laity to pray the Office liturgically.

Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium made some rather ambiguous statements on the subject of the laity praying the Office that could perhaps be interpreted a number of ways.

Subsequent legislation, however, including the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, and more particularly the 1983 Code of Canon law (in turn reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) has made it clear that the laity are now officially deputed to pray the Divine Office on behalf of the Church, even when praying in small groups without a priest, or by themselves.

This a wonderful privilege.

Laypeople face a considerable challenge, though, in actually exercising this privilege in that few churches or even Cathedrals actually regularly offer the Office publicly (head to most and you more likely to find an evening Mass than Vespers!), the Office is not taught in schools or parishes; and the books for the Office are not easy to use.

The 1971 Liturgy of the hours 

The modern Liturgy of the Hours has the advantage for many, in being available in the vernacular.

But it is, as Laszlo Dobszay pointed out, a radically new product, not something in continuity with tradition: it abolished the characteristic structure of the Hours, abandoned the traditional principles for the distribution of the psalms and created something that is fundamentally a book to be read, not a communal office meant to be sung.

Older forms of the Office

The alternative is to use one of the older forms of the Office such as the 1962 Roman Breviary.

The problem is that, as far as I am aware, all of the pre-Vatican II forms of the Office still approved for liturgical use require it to be said in Latin - translations are available to assist in understanding only.

That means anyone wanting to say the Office has to commit to learning at least how to pronounce the Latin adequately, and study the texts sufficiently to have at least a general sense of what they mean.  

Even if you only plan on saying a few suitable hours - Prime and Compline for example, and perhaps Sunday Vespers (a more than adequate regime for most people) - that can be quite a few psalms to learn.

Little Office of Our Lady

One possible option that minimises the learning curve is the Little Office of Our Lady.  

The Little Office is not actually short - it takes as long to say or sing as the full Office. 

But the psalms (apart from Matins) are the same every day, reducing the amount of learning involved while still providing a very satisfying source of prayer.  In addition it has very few seasonal or festal variants, so does not require juggling ordos and finding texts from multiple places in a breviary.  Moreover, for those who really want to say all of the hours (at least occasionally), it offers a very manageable option for Matins (three psalms each day) with some variety to it.

Then too, prayer honouring Our Lady is attractive in its own right: the Little Office has its origins in eighth century Benedictine tradition, but seems to have spread rapidly.  For many centuries it was said by religious as well as the normal Office of the day.  In more recent times it was used as a form of prayer by many religious in simple vows and by third orders.  

The Baronius edition supplies the chants necessary to sing it, and there are resources available around the web to help you learn to say it.   It should be noted however that the Baronius edition is not actually formally approved for liturgical use in accordance with the requirements of canon law - so if you want to say it liturgically you would technically need to find a version that is, for example in a full breviary (the 1962 monastic breviary for example includes the Little Office).  Of course, whether this really affects the validity of the Office (as opposed to the liceity) seems to me doubtful..

1962 Roman Office

The Little Office though, does lack variety, and many eventually want to use a wider range of psalms.  The 1962 Roman Office is the next obvious step to consider.  

It has a lot of advantages for traditionalists, not least that if you learn it you might be able to persuade your priest to lead Sunday Vespers (there may b a question about whether use of another rite or use will satisfy his obligation to say the Office).  

There are guides on how to say it around, as well as Ordos such as the excellent one put out by the Latin Mass Society.  The Liber Usualis provides most of the chants necessary for those who want to sing it.

It's main disadvantage is that the breviary itself does not come cheap.  There is however a free downloadable app available on itunes for it available for it that may suit many people.

The other problem is that in my view at least, the psalm distribution it uses simply doesn't work all that well - some of the repetitions it eliminated (such as of Psalm 50 and the Laudate psalms at Lauds each day) are actually quite important spiritually.  And few of the individual hours or days have much internal coherence in my view.

By contrast, the much more ancient Office of St Benedict seems to me to provide a psalm cursus that is both closely linked to the spirituality of the saint's Rule, and is a tightly constructed masterpiece.

There are some issues, though, around the use of the Offices of the religious orders that are worth touching on, including how much of it to say - and who (if anyone save for professed religious) is actually entitled to say it.  So more on the Offices of the religious orders in the next post in this series.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Prayer options for the stealth hermitess (and others) Pt 2 - Devotional Offices

Liege book of hours associated with Beguines,
National Gallery of Victoria

In my previous post on options for an active prayer life, I pointed to the challenges posed by saying the Divine Office liturgically.

One possible way around this is to use one of the devotional Offices available.

Treasury of the psalter

The psalms and formulas of the Office are a rich spiritual treasury with intrinsic merit in and of themselves, so well worth exploring.  St Athanasius, for example wrote that:
SON, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as it is written; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure.
Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch, for example, tells of the beginning of the world, the doings of the patriarchs, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the ordering of the tabernacle and the priesthood; The Triteuch [Joshua, Judges, and Ruth] describes the division of the inheritance, the acts of the judges, and the ancestry of David; Kings and Chronicles record the doings of the kings, Esdras [Ezra] the deliverance from exile, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city; the Prophets foretell the coming of the Saviour, put us in mind of the commandments, reprove transgressorts, and for the Gentiles also have a special word. Each of these books, you see, is like a garden which grows one special kind of fruit; by contrast, the Psalter is a garden which, besides its special fruit, grows also some those of all the rest. (Letter to Marcellinus)
You don't have to say the Office formally in order to access this garden of delight!

Approval for liturgical use?

There are a lot of books (and online offerings) floating around that look like forms of the Divine Office but strictly speaking (almost certainly) aren't, but can provide an excellent way into exploring the psalms.

The issue is this: in order to be used for the Office, Canon Law requires the book in question to have official approval for liturgical purposes.  Pope Benedict XVI, for example, confirmed that the permission to use the 1962 Roman Office was for the Latin, not any of the English translations floating around.

Now it has to be admitted, that post-Vatican II the question of what exactly constitutes sufficient approval for this purpose is rather fuzzy.  The Benedictines, for example, most embarked on the usual period of wild liturgical experimentation post-Vatican II.  The Congregation of Rites eventually endorsed some pretty broad guidelines (the Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae) on what constituted a valid Office (including use of one of a choice of psalm schemas), but not actual books as such.

The more conservative elements continued to use the old chant books, but adapted them to the modern calendar - they have mostly now migrated to the new Antiphonale Monasticum Solesmes finally got around to producing from 2004 onwards (though they are yet to disgorge a book for the Night Office).  A fair proportion of monasteries, though, even today, don't actually have officially approved books (though I presume they do have to use versions of the psalms that have been approved for liturgical use). 

And there is still a note on the Carthusian Order's website to the effect that they haven't had their reformed Office books agreed by the Vatican as yet.  

I'm pretty sure no one doubts that what these monasteries are are doing is liturgical though (well ok, I'm pretty sure the Carthusians are good at any rate; what some so-called Benedictine monasteries do might be another matter...).

Regardless, it seems to me that there is a big difference between books that and orderings of the office that have received imprimaturs and various forms of official endorsement within religious orders (and that have essentially been used with only minor changes for centuries), and books produced that were never claimed to be liturgical in nature in the first place.

Devotional forms of the Office

Nonetheless, non-liturgical forms of Office can still be very worthwhile forms of prayer, well worth considering, as a way of accessing the psalms and other treasures of the Office.

A lot of early twentieth century 'short breviaries' for example were produced specifically for laypeople (for a wealth of material on this topic, including a listing of most of them, go look at the wonderful work of Theo Keller on this topic).  

One well worth considering just by virtue of its ready availability (ie you can download it for free online) is the Day Hours of the Church, a two volume version of the Roman Office put together by the Nuns of  Stanbrook in the early twentieth century and published by Burns and Oates.  

Another devotional version of the Roman Office available at relatively low cost is the translation by Maquess of Bute (compare its $25  or less per volume to the $360 for the Baronius three volume edition of the Roman Breviary).

There are still modern devotional Offices being produced, including the 'Benedictine Daily Prayer' book produced by the monks of Collegeville (though I have to admit I find it difficult to identify anything specifically Benedictine about it myself).

Anglican books

One sub-category of devotional volumes I should mention are the assorted Anglican versions of the monastic and Roman Offices.

I know they are popular with many (for example for the Night Office).  

But I personally think that is a case of taking ecumenism too far - the principle lex orandi, lex credendi (in effect, the way we pray determines what we believe) dictates that we should be very careful indeed in selecting our books for prayer.

If you want an English translation of Matins, use the Clear Creek booklet.  It doesn't give you all the variants for feasts and so forth, but it is Catholic.

And if you want something more comprehensive, but with a nice traditional sounding translation, consider the new Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, which uses the Coverdale translation of the psalms.  The introduction is a little coy about the extent to which it can be considered liturgical prayer (it says it is "permitted by a simple imprimatur for daily devotional use and worship" in the Ordinariate and that "Those canonically bound to recite the Office will be guided by the appropriate authority as regards the extent to which these texts may be used.").  But for devotional use at least, a good new option.

Liturgical Offices

In the next post in this series I will look at the liturgical forms of the Office around, and some of the issues around their use.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Prayer options for the stealth hermitess (and others) - Part I

God's Reluctance - Julian of Norwich  "Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing."    "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.":
St Julian of Norwhich

One of the posts I've been meaning to put together for a while is on choosing which form of the Office (or other prayer) might best suit your needs.

Given the latest assault on religious life by the Vatican, this seems like a good moment.

Pray without ceasing

Every Christian, of course, is called to 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thess 5:16-18).

Just what that means in practice has always been fairly controversial.

At one end of the spectrum, some of the Desert Fathers are those who take the injunction very literally indeed, even hiring people to pray for them when they had to stop to eat or sleep.  St Clement of Alexandria also articulated a 'gnostic' ideal of  the person devoted to continuous prayer, and some religious orders down the ages (including modern ones devoted to perpetual adoration) have devoted themselves to the maintenance of continuous prayer at the collective level, even if not the individual.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who see the injunction fulfilled through the orientation of our lives: good works as liturgy, as it were.

St Benedict's Rule advocates something of a happy medium: formal prayer at seven set intervals through the day, and again once at night, in order to fulfil the injunctions of Psalm 118 (Seven times a day will I praise you, and at midnight I rose to give praise to you); provision for private prayer as led by the Spirit; and a balance of work and spiritual reading to fill out the day.

St Benedict's Office, of course, was not designed for laypeople, or even really hermits or anchorites.  First it is quite hard to learn, and requires considerable effort to do regularly and correctly.  Secondly, it was intended to be sung, preferably in community, and in my view loses a lot when it is just said (private recitation is a relatively modern innovation, and really a Jesuit thing, not a Benedictine one!).  Thirdly, it  takes several hours a day to sing in full, requiring more time than most people can spare.  Finally, while some or even all of the day hours will be manageable for many, even if you just say it, the long Night Office (especially on Sundays) is a much more formidable undertaking (and there are no good translations of the full night Office available).

So what to do?

Devotions and private prayer

Everyone should, of course, have their own regime of private prayer as a base to build on.  Things like making a morning offering, grace before (and ideally after) meals, and an evening prayer for a happy death.  Most people will say some of the rosary each day.

The thirteenth century Anchoresses Rule (one of my favourite books I have to admit) has a lot of concrete suggestions, for this, starting from:
"When you first rise, bless yourself and say In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritui Sancti, Amen.  and begin at once Veni Creator Spiritus..."
Lectio divina (spiritual reading), systematic study and meditation on Scripture and other spiritual works is also absolutely essential for everyone in my view.

Monks can devote several hours to it, but even devoting a short amount of time each day to being nourished by Scripture is worthwhile in my view (provided it is guided by good Catholic commentaries, since the meaning of Scripture is not self-evident, and Catholics do not believe in 'sola scriptura'!).

But what more?

Association with the monks and nuns

The first thing you should consider, I would suggest, is to become an Oblate of a monastery, and thus gain a special share in the prayers they offer.

Oblation doesn't excuse from the obligation to pray yourself of course.  But your financial and spiritual support for the monks or nuns of your monastery (Benedictines are always associated with a specific monastery, there is really no such thing as the Benedictine Order in the same sense as the Carmelites, Francisans or Dominicans for example) helps ensure that the Work of God they carry out on behalf of the Church can continue.

The point is that we are one body but many parts, each with different roles, and the role of monks and nuns is above all to pray; the orientation of (most) laypeople should be to the things proper to their state of life, including family, work and active works.  We each support each other, but work in different ways for the kingdom.

Attending the Office when it is available

The second thing is to attend the Office (in whatever form) when it is available.

Up until the Council of Trent parish priests were pretty much expected to sing the day hours in their churches, and the laity often attended and joined in, particularly on Sundays.  The tradition was never, as far as I can determine, for the laity to attempt Matins (Vigils) - that was always viewed as a particularly monastic preserve.

These days it is a rare parish that makes even Sunday Vespers available, but if it is possible to attend, go.  And consider making a retreat at a monastery that actually does sing the Office (should such a thing exist in your location!).

 Listening to the Office prayerfully

A more accessible option for many will be listening prayerfully to the podcasts of the Office made available by the monasteries of Norcia and Le Barroux (see the sidebar links).

Just listening to broadcasts of the Office is not a participation in liturgical prayer of course - it is akin to Mass for you at home on the television.

But Gregorian chant and even singing the Office recto tono (on one note) has an inherent spirituality that can assist our own private prayer.

Use the prayers and psalms of the Office devotionally

Another option worth considering is to use prayers and psalms of the Benedictine Office devotionally.

Praying the Office liturgically is a serious undertaking, in my view, that requires knowledge and preparation.

But there is no reason why you can't use the Monastic Diurnal, for example, to access the spiritual riches of St Benedict's legacy devotionally.

You could, for example, start off just by saying the opening prayer of the day hours - O Lord come to my aid, O God make haste to help me - at the seven times of the day St Benedict expected his monks to pray (first light, before work, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, before bed).

You could add an Our Father to this.

Or perhaps say one of the fixed psalms of the Benedictine Office - St Benedict, for example gave his monks Psalm 3, a song of the spiritual warfare, as one of the repeated psalms of the night Office, and it is a great way to start the day.

Liturgical prayer

Finally, you can learn to pray at least one or more hours of one or other forms of the Office liturgically.

The Divine Office is  part of the formal worship of the Church, just like the Mass and sacraments.

One of the positive fruits of Vatican II, though the 1983 Code of Canon Law, was to make it clear that laypeople can pray the Office liturgically not only when they are present when it is said by monks, nuns or priests, but also when praying by themselves.

Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, priests and religious are required to say some form of the Divine Office, and laypeople are 'earnestly invited' to participate in the Office as an action of the Church. 

This a wonderful privilege.  But as with all privileges, it carries obligations with it.  We can't just make it up as we go along, and muddle through.  We have to do it correctly, lest we be guilty of liturgical abuse.

Still want to do it?  I'll go through the main options for saying the Office in my next post in this series.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Feast of St Benedict (July 11)

St. Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order.jpg

Today is the feast of Our Most Holy Father St Benedict.  St Gregory the Great started off his Dialogues, Book II as follows:
"There was a man of venerable life, blessed by grace, and blessed in name, for he was called "Benedictus" or Benedict. From his younger years, he always had the mind of an old man; for his age was inferior to his virtue. All vain pleasure he despised, and though he was in the world, and might freely have enjoyed such commodities as it yields, yet he esteemed it and its vanities as nothing.
He was born in the province of Nursia, of honorable parentage, and brought up at Rome in the study of humanity. As much as he saw many by reason of such learning fall to dissolute and lewd life, he drew back his foot, which he had as it were now set forth into the world, lest, entering too far in acquaintance with it, he likewise might have fallen into that dangerous and godless gulf.
Therefore, giving over his book, and forsaking his father's house and wealth, with a resolute mind only to serve God, he sought for some place, where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose. In this way he departed, instructed with learned ignorance, and furnished with unlearned wisdom.
All the notable things and acts of his life I could not learn; but those few, which I mind now to report, I had by the relation of four of his disciples; namely, Constantinus, a most rare and reverent man, who was next Abbot after him; Valentinianus, who for many years had the charge of the Lateran Abbey; Simplicius, who was the third superior of his order; and lastly of Honoratus, who is now Abbot of that monastery in which he first began his holy life."
Happy feast day, and do enjoy this recording of the hymn for Lauds."

Friday, July 1, 2016

St Benedict Novena - July 2

Tomorrow is the day to start your Novena to St Benedict, leading up to the feast on July 11.

If you do say it, could I ask that you make one of your intentions the spiritual health and growth of all those participating in the Learn the Office mini-course I'm going to run?

Learn the Office Course

And for those still thinking about it, it is not too late.

The course is aimed at absolute beginners or people still struggling with the Diurnal, and will begin on July 11.  It is aimed at helping participants learn more about the traditional form of the Benedictine Office, including:

what the Office is, and how to prepare to say it;
finding your way around the Monastic Diurnal (or other Office books you can use);
how to say/sing Compline and Prime; and
how to get started on the other hours of the Office.

It will be structured so you can work through the material at your own pace, but to get the most out of it though, you will want to keep up with the group so you can participate in discussions on the material posted each week.

In order to follow the course you will need a copy of the Monastic Diurnal (ideally one of the recent editions published by Farnborough Abbey in English and Latin, but earlier/other versions can be used as well).

If you are interested, drop me an email so I can grant you access to the blog I will be using for this.