Academic journal article Sacred Music

The Psalmody of the Divine Office: A Path to Holiness for the Apostolic Religious

Academic journal article Sacred Music

The Psalmody of the Divine Office: A Path to Holiness for the Apostolic Religious

Article excerpt

Addressing a large assembly of men and women religious on September 9, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said:

  From the monastic tradition the Church has derived the
  obligation for all religious, and also for priests and
  deacons, to recite the Breviary. Here too, it is appropriate
  for men and women religious, priests and deacons--and
  naturally Bishops as well--to come before God in their daily
  "official" prayer with hymns and psalms, with thanksgiving and
   pure petition.

  Dear brother priests and deacons, dear Brothers and Sisters in
  the consecrated life! I realize that discipline is needed, and
  sometimes great effort as well, in order to recite the Breviary
  faithfully; but through this Officium we also receive many
  riches: how many times, in doing so, have we seen our weariness
  and despondency melt away! When God is faithfully praised and
  worshipped, his blessings are unfailing. ...

  Your primary service to this world must therefore be your prayer
  and the celebration of the Divine Office. The interior
  disposition of each priest, and of each consecrated person, must
  be that of "putting nothing before the Divine Office." The
  beauty of this inner attitude will find expression in the beauty
  of the liturgy, so that wherever we join in singing, praising,
  exalting and worshipping God, a little bit of heaven will become
  present on earth. (1)

The Heiligenkreuz address to religious was the first time Pope Benedict XVI spoke so clearly of the place of the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, in the life and mission of all religious. In affirming that the primary service of religious to this world is their "prayer and the celebration of the Divine Office," the Holy Father placed the other essential elements of the consecrated life in a compelling and challenging perspective.

Citing a key phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI invited all religious to the interior disposition of "putting nothing before the Divine Office." (2) The application of this principle to the reality of daily life in apostolic communities will, necessarily, oblige religious to review their daily round of prayer and work critically and effectively, so as to give priority to what the Holy Father calls the primary service of religious to the world.

Wherever religious rise to meet this challenge by embracing the Holy Father's vision of a consecrated life characterized, first of all, by the worthy celebration of the hours, "weariness and despondency will melt away," and "a little bit of heaven will become present on earth."

PSALMODY

In order to respond effectively to the liturgical vision of religious life articulated by Pope Benedict XVI, I will focus on the single most important element of the Divine Office in its various forms: the recitation of the psalter. The Roman Liturgy of the Hours, reformed after the Second Vatican Council in view of the many demands made on the time and energy of the diocesan clergy and apostolic religious, distributes the entire psalter over four weeks. Each hour contains, nonetheless, an element of psalmody. The psalms belong, then, to the very substance of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The psalms, inspired by the Holy Spirit and entrusted to the Children of Israel in view of the day when Christ himself and, after him, his bride, the church, would pray them, are lyrical poems expressing every sentiment of the human heart and directing those sentiments Godwards. The psalms are, at once, universal and personal. Rowland E. Prothero, writing over a hundred years ago, says:

  The Psalms are a mirror in which each man sees the motions of his
  own soul. They express in exquisite words the kinship which every
  thoughtful heart craves to find with a supreme, unchanging,
  loving God, who will be to him a protector, guardian,
  and friend. They utter the ordinary experiences, the familiar
  thoughts of men; but they give to these a width of range, an
  intensity, a depth, and an elevation, which transcend the
  capacity of the most gifted. … 
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