An aside. I would love to meet a fundamentalist Protestant who accuses Catholics of not honouring the Bible and point out to him that priests and religious each day pray a minimum of 15 psalms, or portions of psalms, and canticles and read five extracts from the Scriptures as they pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Then you can add the two or three readings at Mass along with the responsorial psalm. I doubt if even the most ardent fundamentalist or ‘Born Again’ Protestant could match that.
I’ve always found the Breviary to be a bedrock in my life as a priest. I have one friend, an American single woman, who prays the whole breviary each day, including the Office of Readings. I know of one national figure in Britain, a married woman, who does the same, as I learned from a priest who knows her. The Office gives a rhythm to the day, to the week and to the year.
And in these days of Interfaith Dialogue, the Liturgy of the Hours parallels what faithful Muslims do, pray five times a day at set times, no matter what other activities they may be engaged in. I have been edified to see Muslims at airports and on ships here in the Philippines take out their prayer-mats, go to a quiet corner, face Mecca and pray. By the same token, I’ve seen Filipino Catholics, from bishops to very poor lay people, take out their Rosaries in the same places and in buses and quietly pray, without any ostentation.
What set me thinking along these lines was what our Holy Father said at Vespers in Paris on Saturday: Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the soul of our priestly life. Each morning the word awakens us. Each morning the Lord himself "opens our ear" (cf. Is 50:5) through the psalms in the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer. Throughout the day, the word of God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ. In the celebrated phrase of Saint Jerome, to be taken up in the XII Assembly of the Synod of Bishops next month: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (Prol. in Is.). Dear brother priests, do not be afraid to spend much time reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine Office! Almost without your knowing it, God’s word, read and pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you. As the manifestation of divine Wisdom, if that word becomes your life "companion", it will be your "good counsellor" and an "encouragement in cares and grief" (Wis 8:9).
I know the truth of the words of Pope Benedict that I've highlighted.
Another aside. In pre-Vatican II days many priests prayed the Office at one go and didn’t see any intrinsic link between the name of the particular hour, eg, Lauds or Morning Prayer, and the time they actually prayed it. The emphasis was on fulfilling a serious obligation. And priests took this obligation seriously. Monasteries followed the proper times. When the Breviary was reformed we were encouraged to pray the hours at the appropriate times. I remember back in the 70s having a friendly argument with a now-deceased Columban of the ‘old school’, ie, ‘strict Irish parish priest’! – who simply couldn’t see why we should pray the Breviary at the 'proper' times. What was important for him was fulfilling the obligation. He wasn’t against anyone who wanted to pray Morning Prayer in the morning and Evening Prayer in the Evening but for him the time had no significance.
And just now I came across this little item in a review by Norman Fulkerson of The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard OCSO (1858-1935), a book I read during my seminary days:
All of this reminds me that it's time now for Evening Prayer.
While walking across the campus one day Jean Baptiste happened upon a priest praying his breviary. This priest was unaware of the impression he was making on the economics student. "His bearing, full of respect and religion, was a revelation to me," said Dom Chautard, "and produced in me an urgent need to pray from then on, and to pray in the way this priest was praying. The Church appeared, concretized, so to speak, in this worthy minister, in communion with his God."
This reminded me of something said by one of our teachers in the seminary, Fr William Halliden, one of three brothers who became Columbans – a fourth was a diocesan priest. He told us of his astonishment while watching the movie Boys Town when Father Edward Flanagan, played by Spencer Tracy, excused himself and said to someone, ‘I have to pray now’ and took up his Breviary. (The movie came out 70 years ago). Until then, Father Halliden, ordained the year after the film was issued, had seen the Divine Office as an obligation, but not particularly as a prayer.
Fr Edward Flanagan, above.
Spencer Tracy playing Father Flanagan, below.