As a child in Bulgaria, I was always fascinated by wells. There used to be a well near the cement apartments in which my parents and I lived. Going out on walks with my mother or grandmother, I would always stop by and look over the edge. The well had dried out years ago and the only things that a person could see at the bottom were other people’s garbage: plastic bags, old calendars, magazines, toilet paper, you name it. Essentially, it was a dump where people threw away their waste if they ran out of room at home.
Near my house, there is another well. It’s not a real water well like the one in Bulgaria, but a decorative one. It has a pumping mechanism that makes water flow out of a jug. It’s cute and quaint, but nowhere near the real thing. Back in Bulgaria, many people still have fresh water wells made out of stone in their back yards. It always been a necessity in a mountainous country, where water is hard to come by. Out here, wells like that don’t really exist except in the movies or in out of the way places.
Of course, there are also wells in the Bible. One can talk about Jacob’s well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. One can talk about Isaiah’s famous reference to people “washing in the Savior’s fountains.” There also endless references to wells in the lives of the saints. One story, in particular, has to do with St. Gertrude the Great and how she found water in a place that was otherwise completely dry. Another favorite is about the spring that welled up at Lourdes and has since cured countless people.
There is a mystery about wells and something beautiful about them. If ever lean over the edge of a stone well and look down, you will probably be staring down into a dark abyss. Of course, the mind tells us that there is water down there. But the unconscious tells us that the place is inhabited by snakes, frogs, and other living creatures. It does want to touch the bottom of the well because it is afraid.
I was recently reading a blog entry that spoke to me. It dealt with one mother’s attempt to integrate the Divine Office into her life. As I read it, I suddenly thought about my own journey with the Divine Office and how much it has changed my life. Indeed, how it has turned my life around.
For the me, the Divine Office has become the well into which I go down for those springs of living water. Every evening, as it is a custom in some Benedictine monastery, I take down my Breviarium Monasticum and begin to read Matins. It is a time for me to quietly reflect on the coming day in the Church’s year of grace. I read at different speeds, but I also find myself praying. Even when the Latin of St. Jerome or St. Augustine is completely incomprehensible to me, I just keep soldiering on because I know there is something at the bottom of the well. Even if it is one tiny drop of water, it is worth more to me than anything else in the world.
In the morning, I go to the well again and draw water. This time, it is the hour of Lauds. That hour during which we praise God for having brought us to a new morning. During feast days, it is my favorite hour to pray because of a hymn called the Benedicite. This hymn comes from the story of the three youths in the furnace and how, when they were there, the king heard them sing the praise of the Lord. It is these praises that are sung every Sunday and feast day by the Church. All things bless the Lord and glorify His name forever.
During the rest of the day, I take time from my days work to go back to the well. Short drinks of water are important because they can help us to take a break from our chores. The Little Hours (Terce, Sext, and None) are like that. They allow us refreshment in the middle of the days’ toil and the work that we have set out to do for Our Lord.
When the sun finally sets in the sky, it is time for Vespers. Again, the soul goes to the well and draws water. Now, it is time to thank God for all of the blessings that we have been given and to sing with Mary her beautiful hymn of praise. The Magnificat is, like the Benedicite, a hymn in which we thank God for His mercies and for having chosen the Blessed Virgin to be the mother of His Son and, therefore, our mother as well. Indeed, it is a joyful way to end the day and then later during the night, it begins again.
The water at the bottom of the well is the psalms and readings that come up during the Divine Office. It has been specifically placed by Holy Mother Church because it is necessary for us. Sometimes, the lessons can be difficult to understand or the psalms may not be what we are feeling at the present time. Yet the important thing is to keep lowering the bucket. If we quit, like I have many times, then it can be very difficult to start back up again. “Of course,” you say to yourself, “He’s exaggerating.” Perhaps, but the devil hates the Divine Office a great deal and if he can get you to quit, then half of the battle is already over.
Holy Mother Church mandates that every seminarian, priest, monk, or religious sister recite the Divine Office. Different people, of course, do it differently. Before Vatican II, some congregations had their own different breviaries that they employed to recite the Divine Office. The Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Norbertines, and others had differently designed wells. Some were closer to what the Church mandated in its “Breviarium Romanum,” while others were completely different. Yet these differences aside, the importance of the Divine Office is that it is the Church’s prayer par excellence. When one prays the Divine Office, one is praying with the Church and for her intentions. This is the reason why the Divine Office is so important.
I remember once talking to a Sister of Mary, Mother of the Church, who is a dear friend of mine. As we talked, I mentioned the Divine Office and how greatly it has helped me in my spiritual life. The sister replied that it was like having a direct line to God’s ear. I couldn’t agree more. When I pray the Divine Office, I feel that I am speaking to Him directly and I know that He speaks to me.
Therefore, what is there that is preventing you from going to the well, dear reader? There is nothing for you to lose in reciting the Divine Office and everything to gain. Even if you can’t afford a breviary, there websites a plenty that can help you. I’ve listed some of them in the links section of this blog.
May God bless you greatly and I will praying with you also every time you open your breviary.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!