It is early in the morning. The friars and an assembled mass of lay faithful are seated in the choir stalls. Some look at their watches. One of the friars flips through a battery of books and looks up at the number board. He nods ever so slightly and sighs, looking towards the tabernacle. No one says a word. Expectation. Silence.
The prior knocks on the stall twice.
The community rises, and faces the tabernacle.
One of the friars intones, “O Lord, open my lips.”
The community responds, while signing themselves, chanting, “And my mouth shall declare your praise.”
The first time I experienced the Divine Office in its fullness, I found my chin on the marble floor at our House of Studies, the Priory of Saint Albert the Great, in Oakland. I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything like it. What is this and how come I have never seen this before? I thought. It is a perfectly Catholic way to pray. Fifty or so friars and a handful of lay faithful engaged in this liturgical ballet of chanting the psalms, reading from Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, reciting prayers of the faithful in an elegant, liturgical English. But mostly, it was the chanting that had enchanted me. It is the chanting, really, that still enchants me.
“Seven times a day I praise you…” the psalmist wrote in Psalm 119, and the Church continues to stop and pray throughout the day, also answering St Paul’s urge to pray constantly.
Over the next few weeks, we will have present a number of posts regarding the Divine Office, more commonly known as the Liturgy of the Hours. What is the hidden liturgy that sits in the heart of the heart of the Church? What is this open-secret that all religious and clerics have been sanctioned and blessed to engage with several times a day? What is this ancient form of prayer in which any baptized member of the faithful may partake?
With joy in my heart, I hope to write several reflections on this part of our parish’s life. The Liturgy of the Hours is a way of prayer that has sustained me since entering the Order, and will sustain me till my dying breath. I am so happy to share this gift with you.
In case you would like to partake in Office as we go through these posts, you are welcome to refer to the “Liturgical and Devotional Schedule” tab on the home page.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!