Saturday, August 4, 2018

Reflection on The Divine Office and the Changing of Volumes

When the weather is mild and pleasant, I prefer to pray on the porch of my rectory. Most mornings when I arrive, a retired priest who lives in our rectory is already there. We briefly exchange pleasantries and then he returns to his prayers and I begin mine. It is a ritual remarkably consoling and profoundly fraternal. We enter into the Church's Divine Liturgy, sanctifying time and place, offering to God on behalf of humanity the praise and worship that is His due. 

The Divine Office is prayed throughout the day, from morning until night. It marks the passing of the hours, of the days, of the seasons, of the years, and of the centuries. In the praying of the Hours, we enter into and live the memory of Salvation History. Hour by hour, day by day, season by season, we preserve and carry within us truths that save us. 

This evening as I was changing from Volume III to Volume IV of the Divine Office, I felt the significance of the passing of time. This is the thirtieth time in my life that I've begun Volume IV. As my fingers turn its pages, my mind turns the pages of memories. Life has been lived in so many places and with so many companions. Whether it was in chapels or courtyards, on boats or high in the Alps; whether with college students, brother priests, or alone, the hours are all lived near to the Lord. Even when alone, they were prayed with others, especially our companions. Even when physically far away, in the Divine Office, we meet one another in prayer. A passage, a saint, a prayer brings to mind a loved one. Even those who have departed this life who were with us along some part of the way, we meet them in the Divine Office. The hours spent with them in this life are offered to the Lord in our prayers.

The language of the Divine Office shapes us and makes us more familiar with the ways of God. They anchor us and increasingly tether us to Him. The perpetual repetition of the cycle of prayers and psalms gradually frees us from being slaves to the ephemeral. As the years roll on, we become increasingly aware of our shallowness. Words we've prayed thousands of times before suddenly strike us as entirely new and stop us in our tracks. We discover within the pages of these volumes the patience of God. All of these years He has been teaching us to grow in gratitude, to advance in praise, to bow humbly under the weight of our guilt, to confidently seek mercy, to advance steadfastly along the path of hope. 

The words of the psalms and the canticles become the words of our heart. We desire to enter into His rest, to listen to His Voice, to not grow stubborn, but to bow down and worship Him. We long for Him to create within us a pure heart and to have mercy on us. Our heart seeks to join all creation and to bless the Lord. We yearn to live entirely for Christ, that awake we might keep watch with Him and asleep rest in His peace. 

With the passing of time, we also recognize how many hours we have squandered; so many events, be they joyful or sorrowful, that could have been taken up in the Divine Office and offered to God in worship. The passage from one volume to the next can feel as though the record book has closed and what's done is done. And yet, a new volume opens and all that was wasted or squandered before may be added to our offering now. With each new hour, the Lord provides a new opportunity to present not just this moment, but all moments to Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to Him, and all the ages.

At the end of every day, we entrust ourselves and the whole world to the maternal love of the Blessed Virgin, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. Every moment of her existence has been an offering of praise and worship to God. Her presence beside us as we conclude each day encourages us to offer everything in our life to to the Father, through her Son. She stood by Him in His perfect offering on Calvary. Her standing near to us in the Divine Office gives us hope that our offering will be made acceptable. Her presence at our side fills our offering with a glorious sweetness. Our weak offerings--and even the offering of our sins and failures--become sweet by her presence. As we close our eyes each night, with each passing volume, and at the hour of our death, the presence of Our Lady assures us that a new day and new life always awaits us.


  1. As you opened your column IV I opened the one that accompanied you for most of those 30 times you began it. Thanks, dear friend. It's a wonderful companion.

  2. Changing to Volume IV than to any other volume evokes the most reflection for me. Perhaps it's because I am a teacher and this switching of volumes usually falls around the closing of my summer vacation. And hence I take up the Office of Readings to seek solace in musing upon the precepts of Amos and Hosea and the other minor prophets.