Friday, December 05, 2008

Monastic Prayer - The Prayer of the Church

Bout Psalter

Immersed in the Advent Moment

The Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours together form the great, deeply rooted trunk of contemplative monastic life. This pillar of life nourishes perseverance in in the vows and devotion to private prayer. In addition, as is particularly evident in the Advent season, participation in the official public worship of the Church, provides penetrating connection with the Paschal mystery of Jesus' birth, life, death and Resurrection. To take part in these two expressions of the Church's official public worship is to be totally immersed in the meaning and invitation of these days.

The Roman Catholic breviary (The Liturgy of the Hours) currently in use was first published in 1970 by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy. Like the Sacramentary used for the celebration of Mass, its readings, antiphons, prayers, petitions and music are specific to the season and/or the feast of the day. It is amazing that these books of ritual and prayer so necessary for public worship were created and edited without the use of computers on which we so totally rely for organizational and editing assistance today.

In our monastery we are blessed to have Mass every day and we celebrate together The Office of Readings, Lauds (Morning Prayer), Midday Prayer (one of the "little hours", Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (NightPrayer). In these times of prayer and celebration the ambiance of the season, its deepest spiritual significance will plunge us into the mystery of the Incarnation over and over again.

The day begins with the antiphon for the Invitatory Psalm 95:
Come worship the Lord, the King who is to come.
The first hymn of the day began:
Lift up your heads you mighty gates; behold the King of glory waits.

The first selection for the Office of Readings told of Isaiah's prophecy of the conversion of Egypt and Assyria. The second reading was one of my all-time favorites, a selection from the Proslogion by St. Anselm. It begins:

Insignificant mortal, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

Enter into your mind's inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.

The wise Bishop Anselm then speaks of how difficult this is and how hard it is to see God who is, after all, light inaccessible. But he ends with a beautiful plea, a prayer for all seekers.

Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. When the antiphons, readings, responses and prayers of the Office combine daily with the prayer texts and scripture readings provided for the celebration of the Liturgies of the Word and Eucharist at Mass, those who are blessed to participate are plunged into the life of prayer particular to this season. Every provision has been made to create the atmosphere necessary for the coming of Jesus within. We are not waiting for Jesus to be born 'out there'. He was born 'out there' over two thousand years ago. Rather, we ourselves are gestating the appearance of the Jesus within, the Jesus who is in us by virtue of his very birth in human flesh. Jesus is to come alive in us, to be unveiled for all to see.

How blessed we are in our contemplative monastic home to be surrounded by these gifts of the Church.

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