SOME RULES OF ASCETIC THEOLOGY FOR THE PIOUS RECITATION OF THE BREVIARY.
There are many reasons why we should recite the Divine Office devoutly,
for (1) the words which we read are holy; (2) He to Whom we speak is
God; (3) we speak in the name of Holy Church; (4) we are the associates
of thousands on earth and in heaven who sing God's praises; (5) the
purpose of our prayer is sublime; (6) it gives glory to God and draws
down His grace and mercy on His Church; (7) and, finally, the
recitation of the Office brings help and strength to those who repeat
ARTICLE I. RULES FOR PIOUS RECITATION OF HOURS
And, firstly, let us see what are the words of the Office. They are the
words of God or of His Church. In the psalms, scripture lessons, gospel
extracts, responses and antiphons, we have God's inspired word. In the
prayers, sermons, homilies, hymns, and often in the responses and
antiphons, as the Church is guided and assisted by the Holy Ghost, it
may be, in a sense, true to say that these her words are divine. For
what is more worthy of respect than the word of God? St. Augustine says
that it is no less worthy of respect than the body of Jesus Christ. Non minus est verbum Dei quam corpus Christi (Sermon 300). How very careful should we be to treat the word of God with respect, worthily, attentively, and devoutly (digne, attente ac devote).
(2) To whom do we speak in our daily service of prayer? We speak to our
Master, Whose very special work we are doing in offering up the great
prayer. His adorable eyes are fixed upon us at this sacred duty. He
listens to us, He reads our thoughts. He judges our intentions, our
efforts and their fulfilment. He is the King of kings, the Almighty
God. Mindful of His presence and majesty should we not try earnestly to
bless His Holy name and to free our hearts from vain, evil and
wandering thoughts? We pray ad benedicendum nomen sanctum tuum; munda quoque cor meum ab omnibus vanis perversis et alienis cogitationibus.
(3) In whose name do we speak? It is a great honour to be an ambassador
for a great king and a mighty kingdom, guarding the interests of the
fatherland in a foreign land. The priest is always such an ambassador.
"For Christ, we are ambassadors," says St. Paul. In this work of daily
recitation of the Office, we are ambassadors, not of some petty king or
tiny state, but we represent the entire Church, the well-beloved spouse
of Christ, to whose prayer He ever hearkens. Sonet vox tua in auribus meis; vox enim tua dulcis est (Canticle of Canticles, ii. 14). And St. Bernard says "Sacerdos publica persona et totius Ecclesie os."
Hence, every priest is the ambassador of Christ and of His Church, the
guardian of His interests. And as it is the duty of ambassadors to
study carefully, to watch and further the interests of the kings whom
they represent, it is a priest's duty to study carefully and further
the interests of Christ's Church by the devout fulfilment of the great
daily duty, the recitation of the Divine Office. History brands as
traitors those ambassadors who through ignorance of the language of the
foreign court, or through want of vigilant attention, allow the
interests of their royal masters to suffer. What a punishment awaits
the days and years of ignorant, careless or inattentive fulfilment of
the great official work of a priest—the Divine Office.
Who are a priest's associates in this work? They are the thousands of
priests and religious throughout the world who say the Hours, and who
send up daily and nightly the great prayer of praise and thanksgiving
to God. Secundum nomen tuum, sic et laus tua in fines terrae (ps. 47, v. ii). Dies diei eructat verbum et nox nocti indicat scientiam
(ps. 18, v. 3). In this holy work of reciting the Hours, we are united
with the angels and saints in heaven in honouring our common Creator;
for, the Church herself reminds us of this ineffable honour in the hymn
for the dedication of the Church:–
"Sed ilia sedes Coelitum Semper resultat laudibus Dumque trinum el unicum Jugi canore jungimur Almae Sionis aemuli."
"That house on high—it ever rings With praises of the King of kings;
For ever there, on harps divine, They hymn th' eternal One and Trine
We, here below, the strain prolong;, And faintly echo Sion's song."
What are the ends for which the Office is said? (a) To glorify God, (b) to help holy Church, and (c) to sanctify ourselves.
(a) "To glorify God," that is, to adore His infinite majesty, to thank
Him for his innumerable and constant blessings, to satisfy His justice
in expiating the sins of the world and to beg His grace and mercy. The
ends for which the Office are said are the same as those for which Mass
is offered, for the Office is the supplement of the Mass (Tronson).
(b) "To help holy Church." The Church militant has many and great
needs. It is her mission to extend the Kingdom of Christ, and to do
this great work she needs freedom from hostile laws, strength and
courage to withstand tyrants and persecution, unity and peace amongst
her children and pastors, zeal in her ministers and recruits for her
militant forces. To obtain these results the Church relies very much on
the devout recitation of the Office. Doubtless, it is for these
purposes that the Church has confided to the care of her chosen
ministers this public official prayer and has laid no such obligation
on the laity. St. Alphonsus did not hesitate to say that if priests and
religious said the Office as they should say it, the Church should not
be in the deplorable state that it then was in. This Doctor of the
Church adds "that by devout saying of the Office many sinners could be
drawn from the slavery of the devil and many souls would love God with
more fervour." The wants of the Church are greater now than they were
ever before. Each devoutly-said Hour draws down God's blessing on His
Church. What a vast number of blessings come from a life of daily
recitation offered worthily, attentively and devoutly (digne, attente, ac devote).
(c) "The benefit of the person who recites the Hours." The third end
for which the canonical Hours are offered is for the benefit of the
person who recites them. St. Alphonsus wrote, "If they said the Office
as they ought, priests themselves should not be always the same, always
imperfect, prone to anger, greedy, attached to self-interest and to
vanities.... But if they recited the Office, not as they say it with
distractions and irreverences, but with devotion and recollection,
uniting the affections of the heart with so many petitions which they
present to God, they should certainly not be so weak as they are, but
would acquire fervour and strength to resist all temptations and to
lead a life worthy of priests."
Another blessing springs
from the attentive recitation of the Breviary—viz., the daily
withdrawal from the world and its cares which must be banished from the
soul which speaks with God. For, as St. Alphonsus writes, the saying of
the Hours devoutly, gives occasion to pious souls to elicit many acts
of virtue, acts of faith, of hope, of charity, of humility, etc. For
one psalm, says the saint, moves all the powers of the soul and causes
us to elicit a hundred acts. And in the Breviary are found the most
beautiful formulae of adoration and praise, the psalms above all other
parts of the Office being wonderfully rich in magnificent praise of
God's attributes. Where can such sublime forms of prayer and praise be
found as in Psalms, 8, 9, 17, 18, 21, 23, 28, 29, 33, 45, 46, 49, 54–to
name but a few?
Finally, the attentive recitation of the
Breviary is a source of light and of grace and of merit. How many
lights in prayer spring from these divine words; how many maxims enter
the soul, how many beautiful prayers are said, and if they be well
said, they would obtain for priests treasures of grace, according to
Christ's infallible promise, "Ask and you shall receive"? A person can
merit several degrees of glory by one devout recitation of the Office,
what an abundance of merit may be gained by the devout recitations in a
life of twenty, thirty or forty years! And it was this thought of lost
opportunities and of the great treasures within the reach of priests,
which caused St. Alphonsus when an old man, to study the Breviary
psalms and to write his well-known work.
Nor was St.
Alphonsus alone in his opinion of the great means of sanctification
which the Breviary affords to priests. St. Joseph of Cupertino
(1603-1663) was asked by Monsignor Claver, Bishop of Potenza, to point
out a means for the greater sanctification of the priests of his
diocese. The saint replied, "Monsignor, if you wish to sanctify your
priests strive to procure two things for them, that they say the Office
piously and that they say Mass with fervour. Nothing more is necessary
to ensure their salvation" (Life of St. Joseph Cupertino by
Bernini). The words of the wonderful Franciscan, whose life was a
marvel of piety, were repeated a century later by St. Leonard of Port
Maurice (1671-1751) and are often quoted as his own.
every age of the Church earnest souls drew great sweetness and
consolation from reading the psalms or from reading the canonical
Hours. Writers dealing with this part of priestly work quote the words
of eminent servants of God, They quote St. Augustine, St. Gregory
Nazianzan, St. Bernard, St. Catherine of Bologna, St. Philip Neri, St.
Francis De Sales and St. Alphonsus. It would make this section of this
book too long to quote the words of these saints. But the words of St.
Francis De Sales seem to have a special force. "Sometimes I am so
low-spirited," wrote the Saint, "by business and events, that I do not
know where to turn nor at what end to begin: but during the Office
nothing annoys me, I have not even distractions, I imagine that I am in
heaven singing with the angels the praises of my Creator; and on
leaving the choir I find often that the mighty problems which had given
me trouble are cleared away and, solved in an Instant." Biographies of
God's servants record many great favours bestowed on priests who recite
the Breviary piously. Cardinal Bona, recording a vision vouchsafed to
St. Bernard, tells how the saint saw an angel beside each choir monk,
recording his disposition of soul. Some angels wrote in letters of
gold, others in letters of silver, others in ink, others in water, and
others held their pens but wrote nothing. Our Lord explained to the
saint the meaning of the vision; the writing in gold typified charity
and the fervour of the recitation; the writing in silver denoted
devotion but little charity or fervour; the words in ink-writing
signified careful attention to the full verbal recitation but to little
else; the words written in water meant distraction and little attention
to the meaning or to the words; and the angels who wrote nothing
watched the insolence of those who were voluntarily distracted. The
vision has furnished the theme of much pious writing and a theme for
Christian painters. It shows how God watches over the daily work of
priests, while His angels record in golden or silvern letters the work
of pious recitation, or perhaps hold their pens at rest.
What means should be used to promote pious recitation?
SECTION: Article II.—The Means To Adopt For…
Article VIII.—The Direction Of The…