Invenisti gratiam apud Deum

the_annu.jpg
Advent and the Annunciation
Our Lady, the glorious Virgin of Isaiah’s prophecy (Is 7:14), is everywhere present in the liturgy of Advent, and this from the very first day. This morning at Matins, I delighted in the beautiful responsories woven around Isaiah’s prophecy of the Virgin with Child, and the mystery of the Annunciation.
Praying With a Short Attention Span
The reading from the Prophet Isaiah — and all the long readings at Matins, for that matter — are, in the ancient tradition subdivided into small lessons; each lesson is followed by a responsory. This practice is eminently pastoral. It takes into account the weariness that one sometimes brings to the long Night Office and the perennial problem of all who try to remain recollected in prayer: the short attention span! Each lesson is no more than five or six verses long, and is followed immediately by a responsory that engages the listeners in an inter-active meditatio.
This morning, for example:
Lesson I: Isaiah 7:1-6, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear.
Then, the Responsory:
R. The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin espoused to Joseph, to bring unto her the Word ; and when the Virgin saw the light she was troubled till the Angel said : Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. * Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.
Lesson II: Isaiah 7: 7-9, If you do not believe, surely you shall not established.
Then, the Responsory:
R. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee : * The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
V. How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? and the Angel made answer.
R. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Lesson III: Isaiah 7: 10-17, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
Then, the Responsory, this time with a Gloria Patri:
R. We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ : * Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
Wisdom
The wisdom and benefits of this carefully crafted approach to the readings at Matins/Nocturns is, I should think, evident to anyone who has attempted to pray his way through the more turgid reformed Office of Readings which gives them en bloc, as it were.
Advantages of the Traditional Structure
If I were to sum up the advantages of the traditional structure of lessons and responsories at Matins/Nocturns, I would say:
1. The lessons are brief, allowing the listener to extract one significant phrase to be stored up in his heart. See the phrases from each of the lessons that I give above as an example of this. Doing this, one is already practicing lectio and meditatio.
2. The responsories, built around the repetition of a single sentence, deepen one’s meditatio and effectively dispose the soul to oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (simple abiding in adoring love).
3. The Gloria Patri added to the last responsory (for which, according to the injunction of Saint Benedict, all rise out of reverence for the Most Holy Trinity) gives to the whole structure a doxological impetus. In Christian prayer, praise has the last word.
A Critique of the Structure in the Liturgia Horarum
Now, if I may be so bold as to critique the structure found in the current reformed Office of Readings of the Liturgia Horarum:
1. The readings are relatively long, giving one the impression of a didactic exercise. One has the impression that the framers of this innovation (and I knew one of them very well) wanted to supply for the average priest’s need to have some element of study or spiritual reading in his day. The very designation, Office of Readings, is suspect, reflecting more the goals of its framers in the 1960s than the tradition of the Church. This pragmatic use of the Divine Office — killing two birds with one stone, as it were — is foreign to the tradition. Saint Benedict, in fact, reserves the time after the Night Office precisely for study.
2. The suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading is a regrettable impoverishment of the Divine Office. The responsories of Matins constitute, in fact, one of the richest elements in the liturgical corpus of the West.
3. Again, the suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading minimizes the fruitful interplay of listening to the Word and tunefully (chantfully?) repeating it until, at length, it descends into the heart as a seed of contemplation.
4. The doxology in the responsories was completely suppressed by the artisans of the reformed liturgy. A most curious innovation, given the great antiquity of the Gloria Patri in this particular context. A mere detail, one may say — Not at all, say I. It reveals the shift in the liturgical paradigm from God to man. The liturgy becomes something one can use for one’s personal growth as opposed to something one offers gratuitously to God.
Liturgical Haste Makes Liturgical Waste
The current reformed Liturgia Horarum was put together in haste. It reflects the prejudices and limitations of the redactors who were, in fact, more concerned with producing a practical breviary for the modern clergy — something to be read— than they were with working in organic continuity with the Church’s age-old and perennially fruitful practice of the Divine Office.
The time has come, I would argue, for a complete mise en question of the 1970 reform of the Divine Office. Any future reform of the Divine Office will, I pray, incorporate the recovery of elements such as those discussed above.

13 Comments

Add a comment