Domine, doce nos orare

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Seventeenth Sunday of the Year C


Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2: 12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Making Connections

In his classic commentary on the liturgy, The Church’s Year of Grace, our wise old friend, Dom Pius Parsch, taught us the importance of making connections. He showed us how to relate the antiphons of the Divine Office to the chants, readings, and prayers of the Mass. He invited us to experience the sacred liturgy as an organic whole. Each individual part can and must serve as the key to another.

Taking It In

Rarely is there but one theme in a Sunday Mass; the liturgy is too vast, too lofty for anything like that. There are, rather, multicoloured threads running through the Divine Office and Mass of any given Sunday. One can focus on one or another of these, or one can stand back, as one would from a tapestry, and take in the magnificent whole. This, of course, requires some investment of time and study on our part. More than anything else, it demands humble prayer. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26).

The Divine Office

Sunday Mass can be approached in a variety of ways. But how, I ask you, does the Church herself approach it? And how does she prolong it even through her evening sacrifice of praise? The Church approaches Sunday Mass and prepares our hearts for it through the Hours of the Divine Office, beginning with the First Vespers of Sunday on Saturday evening. Sunday Vigils (or Matins) follow and, in the day’s first light, Lauds, the morning offering of praise. The Little Hours, though brief, are steeped in the graces radiating from the Holy Sacrifice. The Second Vespers of Sunday, traditionally followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrement, constitute a solemn thanksgiving for the grace of the day’s Gospel and for the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist that fulfills it.

Looking at the Antiphons

Dom Pius Parsch would have us look very closely at the proper antiphons of the Divine Office, especially those of the Magnificat at First Vespers, of the Benedictus at Lauds, and of the Magnificat at Second Vespers. Today, I want to follow his wise counsel, and his method as well.

Magnificat I Antiphon

The Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers placed us in the setting of today’s Mass. Here is the text given in the Liturgy of the Hours: “As Jesus was in a certain place praying, one of his disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Lk 11:1). Domine, doce nos orare. To observe Jesus in prayer to the Father: what an incomparable grace! To contemplate His Face, to read there the secrets of His Heart, to receive from His lips even a fragment of His dialogue with the Father in the Holy Spirit! Did the disciples remember at that moment the word of the Father on the holy mountain, “This is my beloved Son; hear Him” (Lk 9:35)? “One of his disciples,” moved by the Holy Spirit, “said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Lk 11:1).

Teach Us to Pray

There is no need to search for a particular intention in this Sunday’s Mass, no need to formulate any request apart from the one given us last evening at Vespers. “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is Church’s great desire today. All else is subordinate to this one request. This is the one essential petition. One who says, “Lord, teach us to pray,” asks, in effect, for the grace containing all other graces. Saint Alphonsus Liguori (whose feast we will celebrate this coming Wednesday) is one of the great Catholic teachers of prayer. The Neapolitan Doctor says, “God in His goodness grants to everyone the grace of prayer by which they are able to obtain all other graces which they need in order to keep the commandments and be saved.”


Saint Alphonsus

I recommend that all of you read (or read again) — as soon as possible, preferably this week — Saint Alphonsus’ splendid little work entitled “On Prayer.” It is available in any number of very readable English editions, one of them translated by the late Barry Ulanov. Here is the saint’s conclusion:

I say and repeat and will keep repeating as long as I live
that all our salvation depends on prayer
and therefore that all writers in their books, all preachers in their sermons,
all confessors in their instructions to their penitents,
should not urge anything more strongly than continual prayer.
They should always admonish, exclaim, and continually repeat,
Pray, pray, never cease to pray;
for if you pray your salvation will be secure,
but if you stop praying, your damnation will be certain.

Benedictus Antiphon

The Benedictus Antiphon this morning at Lauds gave us Jesus’ answer to His disciple’s petition. The disciple (and each one of us with him) said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In the Benedictus Antiphon, Our Lord answers, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Lk 11:9). Here we have three promises of the Sacred Heart to each of us — but they are conditional promises. Only if you ask, will it be given you; only if you seek, will you find; only if you knock, will it be opened to you. Our Lord makes it clear that we are to persevere in prayer. Never stop asking. Never stop seeking. Never stop knocking. In a word, pray always.

Pray Always

Learn to pray with every heartbeat and with every breath. If you find it difficult, or even impossible to pray, pray for the grace of prayer. And even that is hard for you, pray to be able to pray for the grace of prayer. Again, Saint Alphonsus says, “To save one’s soul without prayer is most difficult, and perhaps even impossible, according to the ordinary course of God’s providence. But by praying our salvation is made secure and very easy. It is not necessary for salvation to go among the heathen and give up our life. It is not necessary to retire into the desert and eat nothing but herbs. What does it cost us to say, My God, help me! Lord, assist me! Have mercy on me! Is there anything easier than this? And this little will suffice to save us if we will be diligent in doing it.”

With the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ceaseless prayer, like all other graces, comes to us through the maternal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is in the Gospels another response to the disciple’s petition, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1), and that is the word from the Cross related by Saint John, and the example of the Beloved Disciple himself: “After that, He saith to the disciple, ‘Behold thy mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own” (Jn 19:27). The Blessed Virgin Mary initiates into ceaseless prayer all who welcome her into their homes and into their hearts. If you would persevere in obeying the injunctions of Jesus to ask, to seek, and to knock; if you would experience the truth of His threefold promise — “it shall be given you; you shall find; it shall be opened to you” (Lk 11:9) — then consecrate yourself to Mary, and never let a day pass without praying her rosary. The rosary obtains all sorts of graces for those who pray it, but the first and greatest grace granted to souls devoted to the rosary is the grace of prayer itself.

Magnificat II Antiphon

This evening at Second Vespers of Sunday, the Magnificat Antiphon will sum up all that God would give us today: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Lk 11:13). These words of Our Lord, sung before and after the Magnificat, are the seal and pledge set upon today’s Mass and Divine Office. “Your Father from heaven will give the good Spirit to them that ask Him.” He who has the Holy Spirit has everything. To him who has the Holy Spirit, nothing else is wanting. This, all through history, is the teaching of the saints.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Where is the Holy Spirit given most abundantly, if not in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Every Mass renews and actualizes the mystery of Pentecost among us. One who has the Holy Spirit will necessarily pray with confidence, and pray always. “The Spirit,” says Saint Paul, “also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27).

The Priest at the Altar

The Church teaches that when, in every Mass, the priest goes to the altar to stand before it, he does so in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the Head. When the priest, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, asks, and seeks, and knocks, it is Christ Himself, Beloved Son and High Priest who, through his ministry, asks, and seeks, and knocks. The Mass is the actual presence of Christ who has entered “into heaven itself, that He may appear now in the presence of God for us” (Heb 9:24). The priest in prayer before the altar is the icon of the interceding Christ. Is it any wonder then that the Catholic faithful, through the ages, have said to their priests, “Father, remember me, remember my petition at the altar.”

Do This

It is time now for us to ask, time to seek, time to knock with boldness and confidence. “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). “This is my body which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me” (Lk 22:19).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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