\ ANGLO-CELTIC DIVINE OFFICE
HOLY TRINITY CELTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH
CELTIC ORTHODOX BENEDICTINE FATHERS
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Saint Benedict of Nursia called praying the Divine Office / Liturgy of the Hours
the Opus Dei meaning in Latin the work of God. The term Divine Office means
divine duty and refers to the obligation of all ordained clergy in the Celtic Orthodox
Church to daily offer the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass and daily pray the
Scriptures according to this ancient formula. Last revised in the 11th Century
this Divine Office is most commonly called the “Breviary”. The term Breviary
refers to the book containing the Psalms, Readings, Prayers and
Inspirited Songs of the Divine Office.
When prayed in community with Rubrics it is
called the Liturgy of the Hours.
HISTORY OF THE CELTIC ORTHODOX BENEDICTINE FATHERS
Next to the Holy Mass, the Divine Office (or Breviary) is the most
important prayer offered to God. It is offered by the Church and in the
name of the Church, conferring multifold graces and blessings on those
who recite it worthily, attentively and devoutly.
The Church lives in time and with time. This truth is brought out
beautifully in the canonical hours. They provide a perfect way to
consecrate the whole day to God and make it holy. The admonition of our
Lord, that we are to pray and not grow weary, is thus perfectly
fulfilled. For every part of the day the Church has drawn up a special
prayer-form, an hour, as it is called, that corresponds to the
particular need of that time of the day. The day is like a journey
through an arid desert, but every three hours we come upon an oasis that
offers us the waters of grace and the cool refreshing shade of heavenly
assistance. Spiritually we may revive ourselves at the canonical hours
The theme of a canonical hour is that special thought or motivation to
prayer that arises from the needs of that time of day: it is the hour's
prayer intention. The background from the story of salvation is the
mystery or event which bears upon the hour and should enter into the
prayer intention while the hour is being prayed; it should be an
illustration for the text of the prayer, to channel and intensify the
spirit of devotion (eg., Terce—descent of the Holy Ghost).
It is night. The turmoil of day has died away and everything is still.
The Church is at prayer. She remembers the night-time prayer of the
Bridegroom; she thinks of the night vigils of the early Christians in
the catacombs. Times have changed, but the Church continues to insist
that night is not just for sleep; night is a time for prayer. From
earliest ages Matins was the Church's prayer for the Second Coming; she
prayed and waited for the return of Christ as Judge of all the world.
Night is also a symbol of life on earth. We are like the virgins in the
parable, waiting for the Bridegroom with our lamps in hand.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that today Matins retains its proper
theme only to a very slight degree—Matins is generally very loosely
connected with the night hours and thus it can equally well be
anticipated, that is, prayed on the day before, without any appreciable
loss of devotion. In place of a theme proper to the time of day there is
generally some theme from the feast being celebrated that day, a theme
which is expressed in the readings (or lessons, as they are called) and
the other variable parts. On feast days, Matins is a meditation on the
feast, a drama of prayer.
In order to assimilate the full meaning of a feast, it is necessary to
examine Matins. Many feast-day Matins are masterpieces of composition,
for example, the Tenebræ services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of
Holy Week, the Office of the Dead, the consecration of a church, Corpus
Christi. The psalms of week-day Matins are mostly a prayerful meditation
on the kingdom of God, a preparation for fitting the coming day into its
proper place in the divine plan of redemption.
Matins has a splendid introduction, the invitatory, and on feast days,
Sundays outside the penitential seasons, and during Eastertide, a grand
conclusion, the “Te Deum”. The invitatory, or introduction song,
combined with the powerfully stirring Psalm 94, is a liturgical
masterpiece. But in order to sense the full, dramatic dynamism of the
invitatory, one must hear it in its final form of development, sung in
choir during the night watch of early dawn.
On Christmas, for example, the joyous tidings “Christus natus est nobis”
(Christ is born unto us), resound through the choir like a mighty
proclamation, a veritable Gospel of good tidings in the still of night,
and perfect overture to the solemnity of the day's liturgy.
Lauds is a jubilant hour, fresh as the morning dew, perhaps the most
beautiful of all the hours. Its symbolism deserves attention. It is
night; nature and men are asleep. In the Far East the grey of dawn
appears; then the ruddy hue of morning, the harbinger of a new day,
spreads across the horizon, and the world of nature begins to stir. But
all this natural beauty is only a symbol and reminder of a most
wonderful event in the story of salvation. It was at this beautiful hour
that our Savior burst the bonds of death. Resurrection—that is the
background theme of Lauds. And the two pictures together, dawn and
resurrection, remind us of a third arising from slumber, the spiritual
awakening of the human soul.
There is, then, a threefold resurrection: nature awakens, the Savior
rises from the dead, the human soul celebrates its spiritual
resurrection. Such is the background to our prayer of Lauds. It is an
explicit song of praise; praise is the hour's central theme. If we can
get a feeling for these three pictures intermingling in our Lauds
prayer, if we can enter into the spirit of this threefold resurrection,
if we can enlist the forces of nature to pray and praise and exult along
with us while reciting this hour reasonably early in the morning,
perhaps even in the open air, then we are certain to be struck by the
full impact of its meaning.
Lauds is, actually, one of the most striking examples of what a proper
observance of the characteristic thought of an hour and the background
theme from the story of salvation can do for personal devotion. The
psalms at Lauds are all specially chosen hymns of praise.
The climax of Lauds is the Gospel song, the “Benedictus”. It is a hymn
in praise of man's redemption, a greeting to the dawning day of
salvation which is destined to be one more step toward its completion.
It is the Church who prays the Benedictus taking Zachary's place.
Every day is a new coming of the Redeemer, and the Church greets her
Savior as the "Day-Spring from on high".
Sunday and feast-day Lauds are classically beautiful. First the praises
of awakening nature before God the King upon his throne, the earth,
decked with all the wonders of creation, Victor over the primeval chaos
(Ps. 92); then a pious man in procession to the sanctuary (Ps. 99);
morning prayer ("the bride-soul's morning kiss for the divine
Bridegroom"—Ps. 62); finally a joyous exclamation over the works of
God's hands and the great symphony of praise that echoes through the
Prime is the Church's second Morning Prayer, quite different in tone
from Lauds. Lauds is the ideal morning prayer, a "resurrection song" of
all creation and of the Church. Prime is the morning prayer of a sinful
human, a subjective prayer. The basic theme of Prime is dedication of
and preparation for the day's labors and conflicts. This theme runs
through the whole hour.
There is no special reference to any chapter in the story of salvation.
Thus, the theme of the canonical hour, preparing for the day, assumes
the center of attention, and indeed to such an extent that even on feast
days, themes proper to the feast are generally suppressed at Prime. The
hymn at Prime enlists all our efforts and abilities in the service of
the Lord and arms us against imminent dangers—perfectly in harmony with
Prime's basic theme.
9 o'clock. The Church wants us to pause briefly during our day's
activity and raise our hearts to God; that is the purpose underlying the
little hours. They are a chance to catch our breath, an oasis in our
desert wanderings. It is important that we do not pray them all at once,
but whenever possible we should pray them at the corresponding hour of
the day as a renewed consecration of the day's work. The little hours
are short, because the day is for work.
The story of salvation has a role to play in Terce: it was the third
hour (9:00) when the Holy Ghost came down upon the young Christian
community on Pentecost Sunday (Pentecost Terce begins with the hymn Veni
Creator). Quite appropriately , the Church recalls this mystery in the
hour of Terce: Terce is thus the "first Confirmation", a strengthening
for the conflicts of the day.
The hour's theme is invocation of the Holy Ghost. The hymns proper
to the little hours are a further development of the theme proper to
each, and to the corresponding time of day.
12:00 noon. Theme of the hour: The day's conflict is at its climax, the
heat of passion is at its strongest, the powers of hell have greater
influence over man, our lower nature seems to have gained mastery. Theme
from the story of salvation: the Savior is hanging on the Cross (12:00
to 3:00); hell is bringing all its forces to bear against him. This
scene from Good Friday is the background for Sext; foreground is the
battle against sin in us and in the Church. "Lead us not into
temptation" is the message of this hour.
3:00 to 6:00. This day of salvation is slowly beginning its decline. Our
thoughts are taken up with the end of life. Looking to my future I ask:
will I persevere? Perseverance is the hour's theme. There is no theme
from the story of salvation. At the most there is eschatological
shading—the last things.
Vespers, or Evensong, is the Church's evening prayer. It is very similar
to Lauds, both in construction and in basic theme. The Church looks back
on the day of salvation just passed with all its redeeming graces—and is
fervently grateful. Vespers is a thanksgiving prayer. Thanksgiving is
the principal theme: the “Magnificat” is the climax, the great
thanksgiving song of the Church. The canonical-hour theme is this:
thanks be to God for the day just passed, both in the soul and in the
Church, thanks for all his saving graces.
There is also a theme from the story of salvation to be found in
Vespers—the Last Supper. At the very same time that Vespers is prayed,
Christ was seated with his apostles in the upper room. This gives
Vespers a special connection with the holy Eucharist, and as a matter of
fact, a great number of the Vesper psalms are Eucharistic songs or at
least can easily be referred to the Eucharist. This is particularly true
of the so-called Hallel psalms (Psalms 112-117), which were sung at the
Last Supper, and the Gradual psalms (Psalms 119-131), which were
procession songs for pilgrimages to the temple. The Last Supper is
itself a symbol the heavenly banquet.
There is one big difference between Vespers and Lauds: whereas the
psalms of Lauds are all specially chosen songs, the Vesper psalms merely
follow a numerical sequence in the psalter. They are not a series of
thanksgiving hymns exclusively, as perhaps we might have expected.
Compline is the Church's second evening prayer, and as opposed to
Vespers, it is a subjective and individual prayer for the sinful soul
who wants to make her peace with God. The hour is a masterpiece of
construction, the work of St. Benedict; we might call it the ideal night
Particularly beautiful is the symbolism of Compline. The hour begins
uniquely without introduction, and at once halts for an examination of
conscience and an act of contrition.
Light and sun are favorite Scriptural and liturgical symbols of God,
Christ, the divine life. Christ is the divine Sun, the Christian is a
child of the Sun. These thoughts are to be found frequently in the
hours. But also the opposite of light, night and darkness, is a frequent
liturgical symbol for the sinister power of the devil; night is the
cloak for the prince of this world. The child of God, being a creature
of light, is afraid of the night. Like a tiny chick he huddles beneath
his mother's wings; there he is safe from the attacks of the hawk, Satan.
It is important to notice that our liturgical prayer thinks not only of
ourselves, but of all our fellow men: for them too it is evening now, an
evening of temptation, sin, death. It is a matter of experience for all
of us that the devil particularly likes to use the hours of night for
setting the snares of his temptations. It is almost as if hell were
depopulated every evening and hosts of evil spirits came as agents of
sin to plague the earth. How many sins does the night cover with her
thick black veil! The religious soul prays this night prayer for his own
protection from the powers of darkness and for all souls, everywhere.
Sleep, too, is a symbol, an image of death. Spontaneously we think of
death when we go to sleep—Compline is also a night prayer to life, a
plea for a happy death. It is precisely in this setting that it contains
some splendid thoughts. The short and meaningful blessing at the
beginning of Compline expresses the double application of the night
prayer very concisely: "May the Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and
a perfect end." Background from the story of salvation is the agony of
Jesus in Gethsemane; we pray Compline for the Gethsemane hours in our life.
Thus, the hour expresses earnest petition; contrition, plea for
protection, and deepest confidence are its main elements. Particularly
beautiful is the invariable part which immediately follows the psalms.
First there is a night-prayer hymn, then the consoling chapter "Thou, O
Lord, art in the midst of us..." Jesus is in our midst, it is in his
name that we are gathered. "Leave us not." That is the main theme, the
chief petition—it is repeated and amplified in the Responsory that follows.
Two images of death come next; the first, Jesus hanging on the Cross and
uttering his last words: Father into thy hands I commend my spirit. We
pray the same words, repeatedly, from our heart: Father, Redeemer, into
thy hands I now commend my soul for this night-time of the day, of my
life, of my soul. The following Versicle stresses two particularly apt
images for night time. (a) Keep us as the apple of an eye. We need
protection just as much as the delicate organism of the eye, and we hope
to be as dear to God as his own eye. (b) Hide me under the shadow of thy
wings. Like little chicks running for shelter to the mother hen.
Another reference to death occurs in the canticle from the Gospel, old
Simeon's swan song. He holds the child Jesus in his hands; his dearest
longing has just been fulfilled: he has seen the Redeemer and now he
begs to be dismissed from his lifelong service to God. We are in a
similar position: we bear the mystical Savior in our hands and in our
hearts, the saving graces of the day. Our eyes have seen "his
salvation," the divine "light" has risen for us, Christ is our "glory."
Now we, too, can pray to be dismissed from service; it is the night of
rest that follows the day's work. We are God's hired laborers and we
must be ready every day to be dismissed by him. These two themes of
death are magnificently done.
The antiphon to Simeon's canticle is also very rich. Bodily and
spiritual waking and sleeping intermingle: Save us, O Lord, waking,
guard us sleeping (at night), that awake we may watch with Christ (in
life, through grace), and asleep we may rest in peace (by a happy death).
Again and again, we cannot help noticing that Compline is a night prayer
and a prayer for a happy death.
Please pray for me, a repentant sinner, worker in the Vineyard of Christ and
His Unworthy Priest,
Bishop Brian J. Kennedy, O.S.B.