Previously we considered forms of prayer for souls navigating tough times: liturgical prayer, lectio divina, mental prayer, and devotions, as well as practice of the presence of God. In this article and over the next four, we consider each in turn.
Liturgical prayer is obvious: for us, this means the Mass. Daily Mass should be the bedrock of our spiritual life, to the extent we are able to assist at the Holy Sacrifice. The Church does not require daily assistance at Mass of us: we are obligated on Sundays and holy days of obligation, unless we are dispensed. Yet the Church’s saints and doctors have always recommended daily assistance, and they advise us to attend with a missal in hand. Why? Our minds so often drift during the readings; and though we know the ordinary parts well enough – though not perfectly: can you recite all the prefaces? – propers, those parts of the Mass assigned to particular feasts, can slip right by us, and so we lose some meaning of the Liturgy of the Word and thus its preparation for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Only in modern times have the laity been encouraged to receive Holy Communion daily: it was Pius X who foresaw the need of the laity for this divine food and medicine.
Daily Mass and frequent communion are the soul’s best defenses against the onslaughts of the enemy. They bath us in the Word of God pronounced, preached, and delivered sacramentally; they strengthen us for combat; they elevate our minds and souls; they prepare us perfectly for the Holy Spirit’s action; they make of our souls mansions fit for the Lord.
It isn’t always possible to attend daily Mass, for many reasons known to us. When we cannot assist at Mass, we can still read the missal and even in this limited way in this way participate in the Mass, making good spiritual communions. Indeed, making spiritual communions throughout the day is one of the ways we prepare well for Mass and extend its blessings to us after.
There is more we can do, too. We can pray the Liturgy of the Hours – the breviary, as it used to be called. This Liturgy is sometimes called the Daily Office or Divine Office; the term comes from the Latin, officium, meaning “duty.” Prayer is our daily duty: we owe this to God, and we owe it to the Church, whether we laity pray the Office or not. Clergy are obliged by canon law to pray the entire Daily Office; we laity are encouraged to do so, as much of it as we can. Traditionally the laity prayed Morning and Evening Prayer, and perhaps Night Prayer as well. Several wonderful apps and several wonderful books, all easily found, can instruct us in how to pray this beautiful prayer which takes its origin in the Jewish Morning and Evening Temple prayers and finds its first full development with the Desert Fathers. The Benedictines taught the Western Church how to pray the Office and its usage became widespread during the Middle Ages, throughout the various orders, to the diocesan clergy, and then through the congregations of active life. Over the course of time, abridgments were made for those congregations and for the laity; the volume Shorter Christian Prayer is the current official abridgement and it is a nice place to start if you are daunted by saying the entire Office.
Why pray it? Holy Mother Church recommends it to us, and she recommends only that which is useful or beneficial. The Office teaches us to read Scripture with the mind of the Church. It is primarily in worship that the Church presents us with the truths of Sacred Scripture: readings at Mass have pride of place, and the readings in the Office both prepare us for the readings at Mass and extend their meaning throughout the day. The Office fills us with the Word of God throughout the course of the day. We are told to pray without ceasing: what better way than to fill ourselves periodically with the readings and with praise of God found in the Psalms so as to fill our hearts and minds as we go about our ordinary business? In this way we come to know and love the Psalms and the major passages of Holy Scripture, making them our own, implanting the powerful and living Word of God in our souls. As we come to know the Psalms, we learn that we are not the first to soar to the heights of prayer in praise and thanksgiving, nor to sink in despair at God’s apparent inaction. We come to see how the Lord deals with those who faithfully seek him come what may.
If this sounds like a lot, think of the amount of time a day you spend in social media or other diversions; then consider what it would be like to drink from the wellsprings of eternal life consistently throughout the day. The battle is raging; the world, the flesh, and the devil call us incessantly. Praying the Office is a beautiful way to “come to me, all who are wearied and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
David Carradini is a Knight of Malta, of the Holy Sepulchre, and of the Constantinian Order. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Navarre, and resides with his wife in Virginia.