THE CANONICAL HOURS
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Our deepest gratitude to the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns of the Ty Mam Duw Monastery in Harwarden, Wales, for their indispensible contribution and direction, apart from whom this series would be impossible.
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Through the Incarnation, when Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the divine nature of the Son of God was united, and forever remains united, with the human nature of the Son of Man such that the one divine Person Jesus Christ, is indeed both "truly God and truly man".
The Unum Necessarium (the one thing necessary)
Mary is the one person ever to contribute, to truly give, the one thing to God that was not already His, even as He first imparted it to her. “The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24.1)
It was something necessary to the final and perfect fulfillment of the will of God. In fact, it was the one thing that God created but did not possess. Apart from it, the suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection — absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of God’s will for the salvation of the world, for the redemption of souls from bondage to sin and death — was impossible: her very flesh! Mary assented to the will of God: “Et Verbum caro factum est”, "And the Word became flesh!"
Jesus Christ took the substance of His sacred humanity from Mary. It was in this Sacred Humanity that Christ preached, healed, raised from the dead, gave sight to the blind. It is also in His Sacred Humanity that Christ suffered, was crucified, and died for our sins and through which He purchased our salvation. Had Mary not consented to the will of God; had she refused to be the Mother of God's Son (Who Himself is One with the Father), the one thing absolutely necessary to our salvation — the flesh and the humanity which Jesus Christ assumed, and through which alone salvation came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ — could never have been possible.
"God is a Spirit" (St. John 4.24), and spirit is not possessed of flesh together with all the limitations inherent within it. God is infinite. Flesh is not. God is everywhere present, flesh is not. God is perfect felicity, which is to say, God in Himself has ever been, is, and ever will be, perfectly happy, unassailed by suffering, and pain cannot touch upon Him — but flesh is not! For this reason, Saint Paul tells us that Jesus Christ, "Who being in the form of God ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2.5-7). How? Through the Incarnation. Through whom? Through Mary who contributed her flesh (giving Christ, Who had emptied Himself of "the form of God", the "form of a servant"; in fact the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53 through Whom mankind was redeemed. Only in the humanity that Christ took from Mary alone, could He possibly suffer ... even die!
Theologians speak of this in terms of the "Hypostatic Union", or the union of God and Man in the Person Jesus Christ. Christ is both! But it was in His humanity that He suffered and redeemed the world — the humanity, the flesh, given Him by Mary alone. In her assent to the will of God, in her "Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum", "Be it done to me according to your word" (Saint Luke 1.38), she, the lowly "handmaid of the Lord", gave to God the one thing that Spirit does not, cannot, possess: flesh. Her flesh — which the Son of God assumed, becoming through her assent, "True God and True Man."
This is beautifully expressed in The Little Office during this hour of Prime through the hymn, "Memento, rerum Conditor":
|Memento, rerum Conditor
Nostri quod olim corporis
Sacrata ab alvo Virginis
Nascendo formam sumpseris
|Remember, O Creator Lord!
That in the Virgin's sacred womb
Thou wast conceiv'd, and of her flesh
Didst our mortality assume
Mary’s role, then, in our salvation is not, as some contend, marginal; it is central and she can no more be understood apart from Christ than Jesus in His Sacred Humanity can be understood apart from Mary. His flesh is her flesh, and commingled with the flesh of no other! His humanity is, substantivally, Mary’s humanity… from whence it came and from which it is inseparable.
When Jesus gave Mary to us on the Cross, and us to Mary, He never ceased calling us to Him through her. Jesus Christ speaks to each of us in this way:
“… I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go, till I bring him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that bore me.” (Song of Songs 3.4)
It is to a loving acquaintance with Mary, His Mother, that Christ first calls you; to His Mother’s House, which is Holy Mother Church, and into that chamber of the love that bore Him, that you, too, may know the love of Mary ...and be no more an orphan in this world, nor a stranger in the world to come.
* This does not mean that you cannot or should not pray the entire Office with all 8 Canonical Hours. If God gives you the time, and the inclination (it is His to give, not ours), you are encouraged to do so, although God recognizes that for most of the laity this is not possible with all their obligations to family life and work, which are intrinsic to their holy vocation as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, the single and the providers for their families. This is your primary vocation. It is through this that God calls you to sanctity in your life. It is far more pleasing to God to attend to a crying or wayward child, an elderly parent, or a distressed spouse, that to utter all the prayers in the world as though you can multiply the grace God gives you through praying much and loving little. One Hour (not 60 minutes) of the Office, if this is all that is available to you, will give you all the grace that you need from God. Remember the Widow's Pence. ("And looking on, he saw the rich men cast their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in two brass mites. And he said: Verily I say to you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast into the offerings of God: but she of her want, hath cast in all the living that she had.") (St. Luke 21.1-3)
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At the beginning of Compline in the Office of The Blessed Virgin Mary we pray. "Convert thou us, O God our Saviour." (note the communal aspect; we are not just praying for ourselves, but for all Christians).
The response is:
"And turn away thine anger from us....."
In this prayer we acknowledge our own guilt and we pray also in the name of all sinners fearing punishment from God, Who in fact abundantly gives His grace and mercy to the truly penitent, however held fast in the sinister web of sin from which they struggle in vain to escape. Alone, they cannot. They know this. And God does, too. Acknowledging their guilt, as the Good Thief on the Cross they cry out, "Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom. Behold me, Lord, I am held fast by my sin. 'In justice I have been condemned', but in hope I yet cry out, Mercy, Lord, mercy! Do not turn
away from me. Save me!"
It is the prayer of the guilty. Are there none among us?
We join, then, our hearts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Mother of Compassion and pray for grace, remembering that a sinner, one guilty — and not one just — was the first to enter the Kingdom. "My ways are not your ways", God has told us again and again.
What, then, are we to say of anger ... particularly God's anger? Is not anger one of the Seven Capital Sins? How can we, then, ascribe this to God Most Holy? We are perplexed by references to God's anger, most often dismissing them to the cultural peculiarities and obscure literal nuances of Jewish literature evident, most notably, in the Old Testament, where, we are told, God was simply misconstrued as a "God of wrath" — unlike His Son Who revealed Him in terms of love. But even in the Son we find, "the wrath of the Lamb" (Apoc. 6.16) in the Book of the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation). What, then, are we to make of this seeming contradiction between the God of Love that we have come to understand in Jesus Christ, and the God of wrath? Is He the one, or the other? Is He both? Or is it the case that the notion of anger itself is an expression of love?
Remember man, remember woman, that His ways are not your ways.
God is Love
To understand the passion of God's love, we must look carefully at our own. We are, after all, made in the image of God, and God is Love. What does love prompt in us? What does it motivate us toward? Let us look deeply into our own love first before we attempt to understand the love of God, which, we are told repeatedly, is "a jealous love".
Who has not come to understand in a way that allows of no equivocation, the depth and intensity of the love of a spouse — once that love has been provoked to jealousy through being threatened by the competing love of another? In the face of this outrage, one begins to grasp the deep sense of ones value to the lover. Who has not experienced a profound and deeply humbling sense of irreplaceable worth, when the jealous love of a lover expresses itself in anger, both at the beloved and the one provoking the jealousy? A completely righteous anger is stirred in the lover who perceives the possible loss of the beloved to another ... especially to another who would mistreat, use, and value far less the beloved who, to the lover, is of unsurpassable worth. Who would see his wife wrenched from his absolute love and devotion, throw off her dignity as wife and mother, and become in the eyes of the world, and eventually in her own eyes, a mere courtesan through the passing and passionate whim, the lies and deceits, of another? Who could withhold his anger? Who would not strike out, not in punishment, but in pain? Would we characterize, even dismiss, such a hapless man, in this paroxysm of jealousy and indignation, as simply an innately angry individual with a penchant for punishment? This is the Book of Hosea. If you really want to understand the nature of God's love and the essence of what we misconstrue as His "anger", read the Book of Hosea. Is there a more poignant account of the love of God for His people than what we encounter in these pages?
Let us take another tack: what father, upon seeing his son innocently responding to the wanton and perverse solicitation of another man, would not scold the child in a rage as towering in height as the love that provoked it, and strike out at once and without compunction at the one seducing his son from his of innocence?
What father, loving a child, would reason thus: "Well, such things are acceptable in these evil days, and any expression of anger on my part would not be deemed "correct", and what is more, I am liable to infringe on the liberty of that man, however salacious (albeit, in a day long gone) his intentions are, and however harmful they will be to my son. I will then restrain myself, hold to correctitude, and say nothing and do nothing that would compromise my esteem in the community." Do we not say as much in our reproach to God's anger?
How incredibly blind we are to the love of God! We despise His anger as unworthy of a perfect God, instead of seeing the perfect love of God within it!
The Father in His righteous anger — which flows from and is motivated by love — unmistakably communicates to the child exactly where the line is drawn —- beyond which only evil lies; His anger conveys nothing of malice; to the contrary, it is an indication of His watchful care — and above all else, His constant and ever vigilant love.
From the beginning — "anger" is first ascribed to God as early as Exodus 32.12 — man in his sinfulness and guilt invariably misunderstands, or better yet, misconstrues what he interprets as God's anger, likening it to his own which, more often than not, is unjust and proceeds from the sole desire to inflict punishment, not justly, to the end of correction that is motivated by love, the constructive love which seeks the good of the beloved — but gratuitously, as a pathological means to the satisfaction demanded by pride and exacted through fury, which is disordered anger, blind, and always destructive. There is a vital difference between the two. In fury, punishment is not motivated by love, and it is not expressed as a means to correction. It is not meted in a measure commensurable with the offense (and is therefore intrinsically unjust), and of itself seeks no coherent good — which is why it is understood as disordered. This is the unbridled anger of man, the anger that caused Cain to slay Able in the beginning. It is not the anger of God.
Who among us has not encountered a situation where gentle appeals to correction fall on deaf and unwilling ears? How often has God first said, "Come, let us reason", and that failing, resorted to the means alone through which correction would be motivated?
Even after 40 years in the desert, Israel remained "a stiff-necked people", just as we remain obdurate in our sins until some calamity befalls us that finally causes us to recognize that the way we have chosen — which was not God's way, and distinctly contrary to it — is precisely what brought calamity upon us ... and not God, Who relentlessly called us away from it. After how many appeals to a child not to touch a hot stove, does the child yet persist until, apart from our will, he has his way ... and to great sorrow? Who will call us to account? Only after he is afflicted does he see, understand, that our appeals were motivated not by malice, but by love, and that, after all, our wisdom exceeds his own? Sometimes, perhaps even often, affliction is the only way through which we begin to trust God — Who in all ways and in every place, seeks our good.
In our fallen state, even this too often fails. So Jesus Christ came to reveal his Father not as one eager to inflict punishment — but as LOVE. In Exodus we read, "God is a God of mercy, slow to anger and abounding in truth and love" (Exodus 34.6). And still Israel wandered in the desert for a generation.
In the 2nd letter of St. Peter, we are told, "He is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins".
When the human heart is cleansed from sin, when a heart is pure it does not fear punishment — it knows God as love (1 John 4.18). It comes to know God as "Abba", as "Father" in the most meaningful and intimate way. It comes to understand that nothing proceeds from the hand of the Father but good, and precisely because it does not always comprehend, faith supplants understanding, and through that faith, trusts! The soul, that is to say, comes to a loving trust in God that it would never have acquired apart from that anvil of Righteous Anger... upon which it was forged by the love of God.
V/ means Versicle: a versicle is the first half of one of a set of preces (the Latin plural of prex, "prayer") are prayers in liturgical worship that are short petitions, said or sung, and answered with an
R/ response by the congregation or choir
Strictly speaking, the following prayers are not part of the Divine Office, but they are widely used by those who pray any Office , both as a preparation for prayer in the beginning and as a thanksgiving at the end. It is not always feasible to add additional prayers to our Office because of time constraints, but when it is possible it is advisable, because the prayer of preparation enables us to focus upon what we are about to do, making us conscious of the fact that we need Gods help if we are to bring our poor wandering hearts and minds to worship. God can read us innermost thoughts, he knows our hearts and the proclamation of this prayer says to our God, "Lord you know I want to worship you, I want to give myself to you, despite the reality of how poor my response may be at times .God who sees the depths of all things knows, and he loves us.
Open thou my mouth, O lord to bless thy Holy Name,
Aperi, + Dómine, os meum ad benedicéndum nomen sanctum tuum.
Everlasting praise, honor power and glory be given by all creatures to the most holy and undivided Trinity, to the Humanity of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ Jesus, to the fruitful purity of the most blessed and most glorious Mary ever Virgin, and to the company of all the saints, and may be obtain the remission of all our sins through all eternity. Amen.
SACROSANCTÆ et indivíduae Trinitáti, crucifíxi Dómini nostri Jesu Christi humanitáti, beatíssimae et gloriosíssimae
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Pope Saint Pius X
“I shall spare myself
neither care nor labor nor vigils for the salvation of souls”