On the Recitation of the Divine Office in Choir.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Recitation of the Divine Office in Choir.
(Those who do not say the divine Office in choir, may consider this meditation as applying equally to ordinary prayer before Jesus in the tabernacle. Every Priest, and indeed every devout Christian, will, if possible, spend some part of every day in adoration of the hidden God who is present upon our altars.)
Think upon the solemn moment when you take your place in the choir to chant the praises of God. During this service no tapers are lighted on the altar, for those who sing the psalms ought themselves to be mystic lights, kindled by holy fervor, consumed by ardent love, as they stand in the presence of the adorable Sacrament. The divine Office is truly a grand, a sublime act of worship!
1st. Consider the divine praises as they are sung in Heaven. Soar aloft in spirit to the realms of celestial brightness, where the vast choir of angels and saints, standing around the throne of the triune God, unite their voices in that glorious ascription of praise, the Sanctus. St. John was once privileged to gaze on that wondrous sight; he beheld that heavenly choir “round about throne, and the number of them was thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and benediction. And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard all saying: To Him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb, benediction, and glory, and power for ever and ever.” (Ap. v. 11-13.) How marvellous is this tribute of praise raised by the shining choirs of cherubim and seraphim, sung by the countless multitude of glorious apostles and prophets, by the white-robed army of martyrs, by the company of virgins who bear lilies in their hand. What words can describe those enchanting harmonies, what words can depict aright the grandeur and majestic beauty of the song those choirs sing? Do you feel no longing stir within you, my soul, to be permitted one day to unite your voice to that celestial ascription of praise? But for this it is not necessary to look forward to some future day; you can, even now, at the present time, at least to a certain extent satisfy this desire.
2d. Consider how the earthly choirs sing the divine praises. The Office is recited in presence of the Most Holy Sacrament, before the tabernacle where Almighty God is pleased to dwell in mysterious silence, and we grieve to say, too often in complete solitude. Whilst the jubilant song of blessed spirits, standing before the throne, fills the courts of Heaven, how seldom does a hymn of praise raise up from before that throne of God on earth; in how many of our churches does He abide for weeks, nay months, alone and unheeded, without a single tribute of praise resounding to His glory. Do you not feel your heart burn within you at the thought of this neglect? Do you not feel impelled by it to hasten with joy and gladness to the choir, in the company of your Brethren, your Sisters, that there, before that “throne of the Lamb,” you may fill an angel’s part? Yes verily, Priests, Religious, assembled in presence of the Most Holy Sacrament to recite the Office, are the earthly representatives of the angels. The ground on which they stand is hallowed, the language they make use of in their prayer is hallowed, the psalms they intone are hallowed, and the same sacred words resound on earth as in Heaven, Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus; Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth. Well may St. Cyril of Jerusalem exclaim: “The choir-monks, singing the praises of God, are perfectly aware that they represent the angels on earth.” And St. Laurence Justinian says: “In the recitation of the divine Office man holds with God, and God with man sweet, enjoyable, gladsome converse, fraught with ineffable delight.” But alas! you do not hasten, you rather loiter on your way to the choir, and perform this angel’s service in an indifferent, unwilling manner, as if you had to do something disagreeable; you cannot repeat the divine praises fast enough, in order to exchange as soon as possible the work the angels love to perform for the contemptible inanities of earth. Whence comes this? Can you imagine this to be the way to prepare yourself for joining the heavenly choirs?
3d. Consider that the prayer and praises you recite in the choir are not merely a type of the worship of Heaven, but also a most efficacious means of spiritual progress for yourself and your fellow men. Standing before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in the company of pious, devout souls, you are in a place which in itself is hallowed ground. From the walls the pictures, the images of saints, of the saints of your own Order, who now chant joyously in Heaven the psalms they recited devoutly on earth, look down upon you with approval and encouragement. Standing, I say, amid such surroundings, the fervor of your devotion must surely be more hotly kindled, you must feel yourself inspired with greater ardor in prayer for your soul’s salvation there than elsewhere. Consider further what St. Justin says on this subject: “The praise we sing to the glory of God excites within the breast a holy longing for that which forms the subject of our song; it eliminates the unruly promptings and desires of the flesh, it counteracts the wily suggestions of the devil, and it is the best remedy for sadness of heart. For the divine Office is composed of the words of God and the sayings of His saints, and these are powerful weapons for resisting the hellish foe.” And as for the benefit this, your act of worship, is to the world in general, only consider, my soul: At the moment when the bell summons you to recite your Office, how many millions of your brethren in the world groan beneath the burden of enforced labor; how many thousands of your sisters toss in pain upon a bed of sickness; how many hundreds of your fellow men are guilty of sins which cry to Heaven for vengeance. Do you not feel yourself impelled, inspired, to sanctify the wearisome toil, to alleviate the grievous sufferings, to make atonement for the crimes of your fellow men by the service of praise and prayer which you are by God’s grace called to offer? Such is the great intercessory, propitiatory power of the prayers you recite in choir. Wherefore from henceforth apply yourself to this exercise with increased assiduity and devotion; banish distractions; remember the example given us by our Seraphic Father, who once threw a dish of food into the fire, the thought of which had intruded itself upon him at his prayers, saying: “I will offer it up to the Lord, whose sacrifice it was the means of marring.” When the bell again calls you to the choir, lay aside what ever you are doing, leave everything as it is, and hasten to worship as the angels do before the throne of the Lamb.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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