Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Daily office.

Even before I was Catholic, I always used some form of a daily office. (From just reciting psalms, to using medeival votive offices, or reciting the old Roman psalter in English.) I've been through more breviaries and publications in the past five years than most religious probably go through in ten years.
In the end, I always end up with the same one: the Newman House Lauds and Vespers, which is my day-to-day office book. I've always had the propers and commons of the saints printed out from a word file, so I get to use the whole of the post-Vatican II breviary in Latin.
It's my companion. I take it everywhere, even though I use the Monastic Diurnal for the little hours and compline. Because, even if I'm not saying the two hours contained therein, it's still full of scripture. It still has the psalms, and the litany, the office of the dead and that of the Blessed Virgin. Mine is chock-full of extra stuff that I've added for my own devotion( The preparation for communion from the 2002 Roman missal, votive offices of the Passion, the Crown of Thorns, the Precious Blood, the Sacred Heart, the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, the litanies of the Blessed Virgin, the Sacred Heart, and the Holy Name, for example.)

In religious life, the brothers at the friary have a name for the breviary: They call if their Wife. It seems witty at first, but it's true and very deep. Priests and religious have the duty of saying the office daily, not (Only) because it keeps them busy, but because they are called for the service of God and the service of God's people, the church. The breviary as the public prayer of the church is both a daily sacrifice of praise to God and a means or interceding for the whole of the church, and praying to God for them in their place.In a sense, the office is a visible reminder of their vocation, like the habit.

The office is spiritual food. It's a banquet that changes every day and yet stays the same. The fare is rich: Scripture and the Fathers. I've noticed on days when I miss the office for some reason, like weakness or sickness, I really notice it. Not just because I'm not familiar anymore with having this blank time doing nothing, but because the office and the mass are the ground of my day. I schedule everything around them, which seems odd considering that I'm a layperson, and I don't have any real obligation to say the office.

But even without the spiritual benefit, even the superficial beauty of the office would be enough to keep me attached to it. (And in dry periods, is often is.) Think of the Saturday office of Our lady: The sweeping prose of "Bonum est confiteri Domino" (Ps.92) and "Domine, Dominus noster" (Ps.8) The almost frightening reproach of the Saturday canticle, "Audite, caeli, quae loquor."Think of the comforting image of Mary, as mother of God, crowned and in glory (Lection, Rev.12) and the Benedictus antiphon which praises her, one aged with centuries of almost universal use, "Sancta et Immaculata Mariae virginitas". The office, from the hymn to the versicles, it's all a poem. Whether it's the prose of the psalms or the verse of the hymn, "O gloriosa Domina", The office has a poetic beauty because it consists essentially of poems.

I can't imagine going through the liturgical year without the 'Conditor alme siderum' of advent, or the 'Vexilla regis' and 'En,acetum' of Passiontide. Without the praises of O admirabile commercium' in Christmastide, or 'O rex gloriae' in Ascensiontide. Holy week would be empty without the stripped offices of the days, with their somber reminders of Christ's abandonment and sorrow in 'Dum conturbata fuerit' and 'Proprio Filio suo,' and all of creation's lament in 'Plangent eum'.
And now, only nine months into its use, my current breviary is in terrible condition. I've already explained it. Or rather, it Was in bad condition. Once I upload the photos, you'll see what $30 and some ingenuity can get you.

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