Genius of the Church

Dominican Sisters Praying the Divine Office

I’ve started praying morning and evening prayers (Lauds and Vespers, respectively), and I’ve noticed a few things.

First, I noticed that they dovetail quite nicely with the day’s Mass readings, and when you start with Lauds, move to Mass later in the day, then finish with Vespers, you see a real pattern and are able to truly contemplate the Gospel and its ties to the Old Testament. It’s a way to contemplate the Bible in a very connected way. And when you must stop your day to read from Scripture again, you must slow down and meditate on the message imparted to us by Holy Mother Church.

Breviary of Franciscan Use (15th Century)

After all, it’s the Church who not only compiled what we now call The Bible, but also who set up the cycle of readings for both daily Mass (a two-year cycle) and Sunday Mass (a three-year cycle) – cycles that guide us through most of the Bible in that time, all the while showing us how the Old Testament points to the New, and the New Testament reflects upon the Old.

This alone ought to make people stop in wonder at the genius of the Church!

But there’s more. Lately, I’ve noticed that the prayers we pray in Lauds and Vespers could have been written last month in order to help us through the times we are in. Here’s a sample from today’s Lauds (Morning Prayer):

Psalm 108
Praise of God and a plea for help
Since the Son of God has been exalted above the heavens, his glory is proclaimed through all the earth (Arnobius).

My heart is ready, O God;
I will sing, sing your praise.
Awake, my soul;
awake, lyre and harp.
I will awake the dawn.

I will thank you, Lord, among the peoples,
among the nations I will praise you,
for your love reaches to the heavens
and your truth to the skies.
O God, arise above the heavens;
may your glory shine on earth!

O come and deliver your friends;
help with your right hand and reply.
From his holy place God has made this promise:
“I will triumph and divide the land of Shechem;
I will measure out the valley of Succoth.

Gilead is mine and Manasseh.
Ephraim I take for my helmet,
Judah for my commander’s staff.
Moab I will use for my washbowl,
on Edom I will plant my shoe.
Over the Philistines I will shout in triumph.”

But who will lead me to conquer the fortress?
Who will bring me face to face with Edom?
Will you utterly reject us, O God,
and no longer march with our armies?

Give us help against the foe:
for the help of man is vain.
With God we shall do bravely
and he will trample down our foes.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
– as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

And the Intercessions for today:


Christ, the splendor of the Father’s glory, enlightens us with his word. With deep love we call upon him:
– Hear us, King of eternal glory.

Blessed are you, the alpha and the omega of our faith,
for you called us out of darkness into your marvelous light.
– Hear us, King of eternal glory.

You enabled the blind to see, the deaf to hear,
help our unbelief.
– Hear us, King of eternal glory.

Lord, keep us in your love, preserve our community,
do not let us become separated from one another.
– Hear us, King of eternal glory.

Give us strength in temptation, endurance in trial,
and gratitude in prosperity.
– Hear us, King of eternal glory.

If I wanted to pray and ask God to help me in this Fortnight for Freedom, I would have written prayers that said similar things (though not as well) as these prayers that are set out for us by the Church. Not last week, not last month or even last year. This ancient form of prayer was set down long before our present troubles. And this fact gives me great hope and courage.

Our troubled times are not the first to be faced by Christians. While I know in my head that certainly the persecutions the Church faces in America today are by no means anywhere nearly as bad as the persecutions of the early Church, sometimes the shock that it’s happening here – in our land with religious freedom written into the law – causes me to forget how good our situation still is.  And reading and praying these prayers daily reminds me that, not only am I not the first one to face a government or society that hates me, I am also not alone in this matter on this day. In other countries, far worse happens to Christians daily. They cannot go to daily Mass without fear of being killed for doing so. They cannot openly talk about their faith or wear a Crucifix or even explain the faith to a friend.

Praying the Divine Office helps me remember this, and reminds me to pray for my brethren around the world who face persecution much worse than anything I experience.

And when I pray the Divine Office, I am also reminded that I am praying with other Christians around the world for the same intentions. We unite our prayers, we pray the same universal prayers. There’s real power in that.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…

There are some Christians who do not understand how Catholics can pray these written-down prayers. It seems formulaic, dry. But for someone who wants to pray in union with others, there’s nothing quite like being able to comfortably call up words to a prayer already written that perfectly sums up how you feel and what you need. It provides us with a real unity that freeform prayer does not give. When I pray the St. Michael Prayer with my family, we can all pray in unison the exact same sentiment – and vocalize it together. For me, there’s a palpable power when that happens. And I love the way we can succinctly pray for what we need at that moment. While some people might say it’s taking the easy way out, I see it more as a “why reinvent the wheel?” moment. If someone has written a beautiful prayer that says exactly what I want to say, and I know that prayer (and I mean what it says), why not reverently say those words?

So it is with the Divine Office. It’s a way for me to pray the Psalms in a structured way, to center my day around the Lord by beginning my day with prayers asking for His assistance throughout the day, and for asking His protection through the night as I end my day with Vespers.

The Divine Office is a way for me to pray for intentions I, frankly, might not be thinking of because I’m too wrapped up in my own selfish little world. It reminds me to look to God throughout the day and rest in Him throughout the night.

And all of these are good things.

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