Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Sacrifice of Praise

During our visit to the monastery, we participated in the praying of the full monastic Liturgy of the Hours. All of the psalms were chanted at a reflective pace. We prayed Vigils (Office of Readings) and, after breakfast, Lauds (Morning Prayer). Mass followed, celebrated by one of the Benedictine monks from nearby St. Vincent Archabbey at Latrobe. There was time for lectio divina and then we prayed Terce (midmorning prayer).

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We came together again at 11:45 for Sext (midday prayer) and None (midafternoon prayer). The community celebrated Vespers (Evening Prayer) at 5:00 and then we closed the day with Compline, well, it was supposed to be at 7:30, but because of various activities, we didn't get to the chapel until around 8:30.

The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, is an incredibly ancient practice of the Church. Born from the command to "pray always and never lose heart," the Church has developed an intricate and lovely praise of God. Even now, the Liturgy of the Hours takes various forms in various rites and traditions in the Church, all of them harking back to traditions from the Apostles and their successors.

In the beginning, all Christians followed a general rhythm of prayer: morning and evening, several times during the day and at midnight. We see this reflected in various accounts given in the Acts of the Apostles. But persecution kept it all under cover.

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After Constantine, it blossomed forth with all its strength, again, in various ways. The majority of Christians gathered around their bishops in the cathedral churches, praying at sunrise and at lamplighting in the evening (the service of light at the Easter Vigil descends from such usages). They would gather for vigils at night and, at times during the day. In these cathedral gatherings, external forms grew up: the use of light and incense and water, processions and gestures.

The Office of the monks remained more simple. Striving to literally "pray always," much of the monastic prayer schedule was originally private. But monks together would pray and they would sometimes come together. But together or apart, they strove to give over their hearts, minds and attention to prayer throughout the day and the night.

From such beginnings rose our contemporary Liturgy of the Hours. The monastic Office is more complex; that for the active Christian more simple, but it remains a prayer for all of us - a formal way to sanctify time: the Prayer of the Bride, the Church.

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