More Thoughts on the Office

The last week or so has had me praying most of the Benedictine Office from sunup to sundown every day, and it’s been nostalgic. It’s nostalgic because I have fond memories of being a Roman Catholic layman devoutly praying the same psalm schema as St Benedict himself, and because I love the rhythm of the hours, their symbolism, and how aside from Matins the whole Office is fairly easy to pray. The Little Hours are short and to the point, yet they have a depth that is hard to explain.

 

The Benedictine Breviary is the mystery of Christ set to psalms, hymns and patristic readings. I had immersed myself into it for a few years, and as you get used to praying it the various psalms, antiphons and hymns start to mean something to you, as if it is God Himself speaking to you through a verse or a psalm. I have memories of standing on the beach in St Augustine, the waves crashing their lullaby on the shore while the rays of sunset burst out of the cloud like an image of grace visible, all the while praying Saturday Vespers with it’s majestic psalms speaking of the Kingdom of Christ, and our Heavenly homeland. I cannot pray Saturday Vespers without thinking of this. Of course that’s just one example! In short, the Office becomes a part of you, and the wheel of the liturgical year takes you into it’s mysteries and sanctifies time. In a secular world busy erasing every last vestige of Christ from it’s horizons, the Breviary can be a Godsend, a means of coping with our Brave New World.

The agony of it all is that, while I love the Western Office I feel deeply estranged from the Roman Catholic Church. I sometimes go to Mass at the local chapel but that’s really because there isn’t any Orthodox Church around. I honestly do not believe in the papal claims at all, in fact, I cannot even in good faith WANT to pray in union with Pope Francis.  I actually long for a church community that actually lives by a traditional Lex Orandi. There are some decent places associated with Rome where this exists—places like Silverstream Priory–but they are in spite of papally sanctioned destruction of the Latin Patrimony, and I wonder if I could ever really handle the cognitive dissonance of praying in old fashioned ways in a small community that belongs on the hinterlands of a Church that no longer teaches, preaches or prays in the way it used to.

Will I go back to my Old Orthodox Prayerbook or continue getting back into the Western Office? Time will tell…

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6 thoughts on “More Thoughts on the Office

  1. T Graham says:

    J.D.: I noticed your comment on New Goliards that using a traditional Western rite makes you feel more estranged from the church than using the Horologion. This sense of alienation (on the horizontal level, vis-a-vis the church around me) is something I share when saying the Sarum office. But I like your point here, that to say the traditional office with e.g. St. Benedict is our real point of communion. God is the God of the living & it is a real and living union in which we are praying, it is prayer with its roots in heavenly places with the saints in light.

    • Thanks for commenting Mr. Graham. I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling this alienation sometimes. You have reminded me (rightly I think) that it’s really the communion of saints that we pray in union with, and the communion of saints are over and above time and space, reaching us wherever we may be. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  2. Re: both your (ABH) and T Graham’s comments, one of the many reasons I take so much solace in the Little Office of Our Lady is because I know that when I pray it, in Latin, and better yet, chant it, I am saying the same* words, and/or chanting them in the same tones, as saints have done for over 1,000 years, including King St. Louis of France, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Margaret of Hungary, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. Frances of Rome, and countless others, including at one point all Western clergy (!) and many, many medieval layfolk (especially the pre-reform English and later recusants), and Carthusian monasteries to this very day where they recite the complete Officium Parvum in addition to the canonical monastic office. And it is compatible with both the Ordinariate (where I belong and worship), the TLM (which I love and occasionally attend), and the Novus Ordo. Heck, even St. Seraphim of Sarov is reputed to have loved it.

    *Yes, for liturgical nitpickers out there, I realize that there have been some reforms over the centuries [esp. Popes Barberini, Sarto, Pacelli]. Nonetheless, substantially the Little Office has stayed the same — certainly in organic continuity with its essence. And in its 1961 form as authorized by Summorum Pontificum, it is still considered to be a valid and licit canonical form of liturgical prayer in the Roman Church, prevailing novusordoism notwithstanding. I actually think that’s kind of a big deal, considering the last 50 or so years in the Western Church. I am firmly convinced this (along with the general brick-by-brick revival of the Latin tradition, and not merely in 1950s Low-Mass reenactment style, is a providential proof that the heretics can try as they might — they can amass as much power as they want, papacy included — they can’t ultimately take Holy Tradition and the Church.

    • You know I had never considered the Little Office in the way you describe but you make a convincing case. I am familiar with some of the reforms done to it over the years but I would agree, they are largely cosmetic and don’t touch its substance. I might get a hardcopy and take it up. I think St Bonaventure Press has a nice hardbound pocket sized one.

      Thanks for commenting and stopping by.

      • I don’t own the Bonaventure edition, but have heard good things about it. It’s a reprint of the 1904 Benziger Brothers edition, with a foreword by Blessed Fr. F.X. Lasance. That also means of course that none of the Pius X and later changes are included.

        I own the two current “official editions” (Angelus and Baronius Press), as well as a photographic reprint of a 1939 Little Office in the Carmelite Rite. I don’t really use the latter, but each of the other two are great and have different features to recommend them (happy to go into detail if desired).

        I find the Little Office particularly healthy for me because it helps me stick to something straightforward, doable, and completely irreproachable — despite my constant temptations to bite off more than I can chew, jump from Office to Office, etc. I’ve found it to be a good exercise in humility, a cure for Breviary-hopping and spiritual gluttony, and a solution for living out the Benedictine idea of stability (not just of place, but of spirit and devotion). Besides, what it lacks in breadth of psaltery and readings, it more than makes up for in infinite spiritual and theological depth.

      • I actually printed a copy of the 1939 version at work and have been slowly cutting out the pages and using a glue stick to put them on a small journal style notebook. I have started to try the Little Office again and I like it. The advantage of this is that I can supplement my Old Orthodox Prayerbook and Horologion with the Little Office since the latter is not necessarily tied to any particular calendar. After almost two years of praying 1st through 9th hour of the Horologion and using the Julian calendar it was extremely hard to go back to the Gregorian calendar for me, not for any dogmatic reason but simply because I had become acclimated to it.

        Once again, thanks for your comments and suggestions. Eventually I think I’ll buy the Bonaventure Press version but for now DivinumOfficium and my cut and paste version will have to do.

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