Blessed Jordan of Saxony, the second Master General of the Dominicans, was once asked by a novice to teach him the best way to pray. Blessed Jordan replied, “Good brother, do not fail to apply yourself to whatever inspires the most devotion in you. The most beneficial prayer will be the one which moves your heart in the most beneficial way.”
The following story beautifully illustrates the great freedom that exists in the spiritual life. Each and every one of us finds God in prayer, but we do this in completely different ways. There are many different prayers par excellence that we may use, but God listens to those prayers that are genuinely from our hearts. Whether it be a Rosary or an extemporaneous prayer, God listens to everything we say to Him.
I’m afraid that I am not one of those people that is very good at extemporaneous prayer. I suppose this is because it is very difficult for me to make up something on the spot. Also, I’m not very good with saying the Rosary. I suppose it is because I can’t meditate really well and because I am always distract when I do pray it.
Yet the Divine Office is a prayer that I can recite every single day and derive great benefits from it. Like Blessed Jordan said, we should pray in the way that is most beneificial to us. One of the great benefits of the Divine Office, in my opinion, is that it is the prayer of the Church. Ever since the earliest days, Catholics have always prayed the psalms together. While the breviary has constantly evolved over the century, it’s core has always remained the psalter and that psalter is much older than even Christianity.
The words of the Prophet David run throughout the course of the day. The psalms speak about various needs in society and among different individuals. There are psalms that beg for God’s intercession on behalf of the oppressed, while there are others that rejoice in the beauty of His works and the magnificence of His glory. Every psalm is different and yet every psalm has something to say to us about God and ourselves. Even if some of the psalms were not written by King David himself, they speak very well to our own times and our own needs.
While the psalms form the core of the Divine Office, there are also many other things that can be savored by those that use it. One of my favorite things is the lessons that are read during Matins. The Benedictine breviary that I use contains twelve lessons for feast days and Sundays, while the Roman Breviary contains nine. These lessons come from the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the Lives of the Saints. They bring us closer to the heart of the feast itself and allow us to understand the Gospel in a new light. Indeed, they are a preparation for the coming day and allow endless meditation.
It seems to me that the Divine Office is addictive because it connects us to God in an intimate way. We speak to Him in the psalms and then He speaks to us through the readings. Sometimes, those readings can be the same thing week after week and day after day, but we do need repetition in our lives in order to understand where we are going and how we are going to get there. Indeed, God sometimes thwacks us with two by fours to get our attention and the daily lessons can be like that for me.
Yet there is also something else about the Divine Office that can be endlessly attractive. It is the fact that we consecrate a part of each day to God. A priest I knew once told his congregation that priests tithed by reciting the Divine Office. I realize know how true that is because it takes a great deal of sacrifice to drop what one is doing and recite the psalms. Yet that is what God calls us to do and that is what we can do.
Of course, one need not have an entire breviary set to recite the Office. There are excellent one volume editions of the Divine Office that exist out there. For example, A Shorter Breviary is an excellent pre-Vatican II breviary that can help someone to learn the Divine Office. There is also the excellent Little Office of Our Lady by Baronius Press. In fact, the Little Office was the favorite prayer of many saints including St. Thomas More and St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. In addition to these excellent pre-Vatican II breviaries, there is always Christian Prayer.
The thing that I’ve learned above all else about the Divine Office is that it doesn’t matter if one uses a beaten up breviary or a brand new one. What matters is the intention behind the prayer, our disposition, and our perseverance. God will grant us tremendous graces if we use these prayers. Why not start today?
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
Holy Prophet David, pray for us!