Something for Liturgists to Remember

We are almost at the end of the liturgical code in the Rule of St Benedict. We have read through the chapters that tell us how many and which psalms and canticles are to be said at the various Hours of the day and noted Benedict’s instructions about the way in which they are to be performed. We stand in honour of the gospel; we sing the Invitatory psalm of Vigils rather slowly, so that latecomers have time to arrive; we know when to sing alleluia and when not. But it is only after all these regulations that we come to chapter 19 and Benedict’s treatment of the dispositions we need to sing the Divine Office worthily. How many liturgists today would think of leaving to the end of their treatise what most of us would think of as the starting-point?

Benedict reminds us that God and his angels are always present and urges us to ‘sing the psalms in such a way that mind and voice may be in harmony.’ (RB 19.7) There are times when the routine of the Office may overtake us, when we sing the words and perform the ritual gestures with less than full attention, but that is clearly not the ideal. I think the placing of this chapter is an oblique comment on the temptation to think that the correct performance of the liturgy is enough; it isn’t. Our hearts and minds must be fully engaged, too, and as anyone committed to reciting the Divine Office every day will admit, that is not always easy. Moreover, although Benedict makes plain elsewhere that he isn’t keen on those with very modest singing or reading abilities acting as cantors or giving out antiphons, he assumes that the choral office will be the prayer of the whole community. It is not the preserve of the chosen few. The corollary is, of course, that everyone has the duty to prepare properly. Those who need better knowledge of the psalms and lessons, for example, are told to devote the time between Vigils and Lauds to studying them (RB 8.3). As we shall see elsewhere in the Rule, mistakes caused by negligence are subject to correction. Benedict will not excuse any slovenliness or inattention.

So, what can we take from this for today, especially if we are not monks or nuns? I think in the first instance we can take heart. Prayer is important, and the common prayer of the community, be it the local congregation or that of the universal Church, has special value. It requires of us more than mechanical participation. It is a means of entering into the prayer of Christ himself, ‘the chief prayer of the psalms’ as St Augustine calls him, which means we must make an effort to be attentive. Little by little prayer changes us. One day, we may change the world — but only insofar as we have allowed Christ to become all in all to us.

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9 thoughts on “Something for Liturgists to Remember

  1. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of prayer.

    Some say that Prayer is a waste of our time, but others such as me say that Prayer is central to our identity and something that if we didn’t do, would make us feel apart from God, through Jesus Christ, a situation that I for one, do not wish to be in.

    And if we consider our prayer to be joining the prayer of others, ascending to God, alongside the continuous stream of prayer of “All of the Saints” past and present, how much more we should value being part of that stream of prayer.

    Its interesting that some people who come to our church, strangers to us, but who come and just sit quietly at a pew at the back of church, or come forward to the Lady Chapel to light a candle or two for their intentions, which may be diverse, but a sign that even those who don’t normally pray, in time of need, will pray anyway.

    Its a privilege, if they choose to speak to us, to listen, to welcome and to affirm, something that might be missing in their own lives, and it helps us to see that in our supposedly secular world, that people still recognize and value the Church being open and accessible and without judging them in any way.

    I think that this is discipleship, making yourself available, to serve others in this way and sharing the love and grace that has been gifted to us with those who may need that themselves.

    Prayer starts the day, fills the day and ends it. What a wonderful gift we have been given.

  2. Thank you. So thought provoking…
    But … Oh dear!… The sin of omission. What I have failed to do…
    But the sun is out! God’s in His Heaven! Enveloping us in the warmth of His Love.
    I’ll go on trying… and smiling. Amen

  3. I am always thrilled when you explain the rule in simple but careful style. I could never fully understand unless it was explained in this way. Thank you.

  4. God does indeed work in mysterious ways, as this particular blog post speaks to me so very loudly at this particular time! I am a lay person (former novice in a contemplative community) and I pray the entire Office every day. I try my best to pray it as my monastic community taught me, complete with chanting and singing the hymns. There are days, inevitably, the Office can feel incredibly routine, especially since I do not have the support of a community, and my mind can wander so much, I’m sometimes tempted to chuck it all. This week has been one of “those” times. Thank you so much for this post; it came at exactly the right time for me!

    • Be encouraged, Leticia: as St Catherine of Siena remarked, ‘God does not desire a perfect work but an infinite desire.’ If you can go on wanting to pray the Office, that is more than half the battle.

    • Dear Leticia, being without a community must be very difficult. I applaud your efforts to continue in your solitude to be diligent in maintaining the daily Office. God bless and care for you. Peace and love be with you xx.

    • Leticia, it’s good to know I am not the only layperson who prays the Office daily (although I don’t chant or sing it and don’t pray Readings). I think it is a wonderful source of nourishment – I feel that every day there is a morsel in it for which it was worth praying all the hours!

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