Some thoughts on the Divine Office.

For probably 16 years now, I have tried to make the effort to pray the Divine Office. In college, shortly after being received into the Roman Communion, I began praying the Liturgy of the Hours (hereafter LOTH), first from the single-volume Daughters of St Paul edition of Christian Prayer, later from the 4-volume edition. I stuck with it for a while, and resumed it periodically, usually for a month or two at a time. I recall getting back into it around the time John Paul II died; since becoming Catholic, I have always had a great devotion for the dead, and I felt like I was contributing my own small part to the papal novemdiales by reciting the Office for the Dead.

Eventually I was drawn to what is now called the Extraordinary Form (hereafter EF) of the Office; I acquired a 1943 edition of the Breviarium Romanum (hereafter BR), and stuck with that for quite a while, occasionally vacillating between observing the 1960 rubrics and the rubrics in force in 1943. This vacillation was to become a theme for me over the next few years. I eventually acquired a chunky hard-cover reprint of the 1960 breviary; I think it is Preserving Christian Publications? And so I was off with that.

I eventually acquired an Anglican Breviary (hereafter AB), which I enjoyed very much. Though I can read Latin and indeed teach it, I do not like praying in Latin by myself. It’s fine at Mass (though my views on this have changed a lot), but it seems artificial in solitary prayer. In any event, the AB represented several issues for an incessant quibbler like myself. One, obviously, is that it was not published by Catholics, but rather Anglo-Catholics. It is often asserted that there is nothing against the Catholic faith contained therein, and while that is basically true, it still occasionally didn’t seem right to use a book published outside the Catholic Church for prayer.

Another issue was that it was based on the calendar and rubrics as they stood in 1954, roughly, immediately before Pius XII modified the rubrics. Since the Church has authorized the “1962” Missal for the EF, I quibbled over this fact. This “calendrical” tension rears its head a lot for me personally, and it seems to plague both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, though in the case of the former, the vast majority of Catholics are probably unaware that more than one calendar exists.

I acquired the Nova et Vetera edition of the BR, a beautiful volume that was a bit pricy, but rivals the breviaries of old in terms of quality. There are few material things I can appreciate more than a quality book, and that edition is terrific.

Of course along the way, I mostly attended the Ordinary Form (hereafter OF) of Mass, though I would occasionally attend the EF – I lived in a fairly EF-friendly diocese, which I have subsequently learned is a blessing I took for granted. Anyway, attending OF Mass and praying the EF Office put the calendar issue in front of my face virtually every day of the year, outside of a few major dominical feasts that were on the same day. So I would occasionally switch back to the LOTH to attempt to harmonize Mass and Office, as the mind of the Church has always had it. Nevertheless, the LOTH seems so impoverished – an assessment I will talk about at length another time – that I was constantly pulled back and forth.

After various attempts at replacing the Office with different self-constructed prayer rules (based on the old English Primer) or using the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in lieu of the great Office, I eventually decided to force myself to use the LOTH.

Well, we moved to another diocese, I was consistently appalled by the state of liturgy in the new diocese, and I have been worshiping in a Byzantine parish for most of the last year. So I have been developing a more Eastern prayer rule, which is basically the following:

Morning Prayers:
A lightly abbreviated version of the Morning Prayers found in the Jordanville prayer book, followed by the First Hour. Fortunately, the Byzantine Catholic Church’s Metropolitan Cantor Institute (MCI) hosts a Menaion that contains the troparia and kontakia for each day; combined with my pew book, which has the troparia and kontakia for the major feasts of the movable cycle, I can say First Hour in full every day. On days I receive Holy Communion, I replace the Morning Prayers with the Service of Preparation for Holy Communion from the pew book.

Evening Prayers:
I have settled on Small Compline, generally omitting the Canon, except on nights before receiving Holy Communion, when I add the Canon of Preparation. At the end of Compline, I add a series of intercessions based on those given in the MCI edition of Small Compline, changing those specific to a monastery and adding family-specific intentions.

So far, this new arrangement is working for me. If I can successfully stay with this for an extended period of time, I might begin working the other hours (Third, Sixth and Ninth) into my day, but from long experience of mucking around with a prayer rule, it’s better to pray twice well than seven times distractedly. The latter always leads to giving up the prayer rule!

Māran etraḥam ‘lay! (Our Lord, have mercy on me!)

And so it begins.

I have not blogged in a long time. I used to have a Blogger site, long deleted, and a MySpace account wherein I posted portions of the Roman Martyrology and occasional elements from the Roman Breviary according to the day and season of the year. I was never much one for inserting my own commentary, just letting the Roman Liturgy speak for itself. That fizzled out when I began graduate school, and the combination of school and the addition of children pretty much guaranteed the end of that.

Lately I have been dealing with two major sources of stress in my life, (1) a doctoral dissertation that progresses more slowly than I would like and (2) a spiritual dissatisfaction that is the source of much consternation and discomfort. Both will receive attention here, though in what proportions and to what degree of detail I do not know.

I am a canonically Latin-rite Catholic who worships at a Byzantine-rite parish with a great admiration for Eastern Catholicism, Orthodoxy, both Eastern and Oriental, and the Assyrian Church of the East. Though largely sympathetic to the liturgical and doctrinal concerns of Catholic traditionalists, I could hardly lay claim to the title “traditionalist.” I also daily grow more weary of what I’ve taken to calling “Catholic taxonomy,” dividing co-religionists into “liberal,” “conservative,” “traditionalist,” “progressive,” “neo-Catholic,” etc.

The title of the blog is an allusion to the second stanza of the first hymn on Paradise by St. Ephrem the Syrian, under whose patronage I place this little blog. The relevant portion, in the translation of Sebastian Brock:

I took my stand halfway / between awe and love; //
a yearning for Paradise / invited me to explore it, //
but awe at its majesty / restrained me from my search. //
With wisdom, however, / I reconciled the two; //
I revered what lay hidden / and meditated on what was revealed. //
The aim of my search was to gain profit, / the aim of my silence was to find succor. //

(St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise (trans. Sebastian Brock; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990) 78)

Though I anticipate airing concerns and grievances with the Church, in addition to more general commentary, I hope to avoid creating a spot to merely complain. I’m not sure what this blog will be or how often I will update it. I will probably post portions of the hymns of Giwargis Warda I am working on, along with virtually anything else from the world of Christianity that interests me.

Māran etraḥam ‘lay! (Our Lord, have mercy on me!)