Heaven in Ordinarie: the Poetry of Prayer

I offer you a thought so simple you may find it embarrassing, but I consider it worth making nonetheless.

Towards the end of every Office, when attention may be beginning to stray, we have a kind of threefold litany. In English it runs

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

May the help of God remain with us always.
And with our absent brethren. Amen.

In these three short phrases we express what we believe about the Church: that she exists to praise and thank God, a work which will continue into eternity; that the dead are members of the Church whom we pray for as we do the living; and that the company of believers extends beyond what we can see and hear to encompass all the baptized. It is a reminder, as we return to our work, that what we call rather abstractly ‘the liturgy’ is in fact a concrete realisation of our hope and trust in God. We give thanks; affirm our faith; and ask for God’s help in the most direct way possible.

George Herbert speaks of prayer as ‘heaven in ordinarie’, and I think these concluding versicles are a beautiful instance of what he meant. They trip off the tongue almost automatically several times a day, but they contain within themselves a whole world of meaning. They are the poetry of prayer no less than the psalms and canticles, and as with all poetry, they do not yield all their secrets at once. If you pray them today, try to do so a little more slowly, allowing the richness of their meaning to sink in.


4 thoughts on “Heaven in Ordinarie: the Poetry of Prayer”

  1. Thank you for drawing attention to this very simple truth. I often find in the repeated praying of the offices, including psalms etc, that startling insights can jump out of the most oft-repeated words and phrases. Yes, the ordinariness of it all does point us towards heaven 🙂

  2. Thank you for this gentle and timely reminder, Sr Catherine. I was thinking about this only recently. It is especially pointed in the light of those regrettable things that have gone on in the name of the Catholic Church. (And not only RC, of course, though as the Apostolic church of St Peter such lapses are wider open to the charge of hypocrisy.)

    To me, the Liturgy *is* the Church. It is earnest of our intention to invite God into our personal and corporate life so that we may live as close as possible to his will. Even should focus stray, the straying can in itself be drawn into a perspective of enlightenment and renewal by the Holy Spirit. There is a truthful cohesion in stream-of-consciousness.

    Popular perception may ignore this view of the Church, that its human officials are not wholly representative of it – and no one could believe that scandals involving those in spiritual authority are not damaging – but the power of the Liturgy itself remains intact.

    As regards prayer, I ssuspect Satan has a vested interest in making us believe it is a lot more complicated than it needs to be. There is a time and a place for all kinds of devotion, but simple prayer (and ‘arrow prayer’) changes dynamics.

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