18 January 2010

Entering More Perfectly into the Dispositions of Jesus Christ

The following is excerpted from a 1903 treatise on the Little Office of Our Lady. It was written by Ethelred L. Taunton, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster. This particular portion of the treatise focuses on the importance of praying the Divine Office/Little Office properly. For those who pray the Office, this will either confirm you in what you already do, or perhaps it will cause you to consider some changes in how the Office is prayed.

The idea of the Office is that of a public prayer of the Church. Holy Church has surrounded the recitation of her public prayer with a minute code of rules and ceremonies, all of which are eminently calculated to help our soul retain or regain the thought of God’s presence. In reciting the Office we should endeavor to make use of the ceremonial she has ordained; and let these forms do the work for which they are intended. Bowing the head and the body, signing ourselves with the Cross, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, are all ceremonies full of life and meaning to those who use them intelligently; while those who neglect them, or carry them out carelessly, are missing a great means of entering more perfectly into the dispositions of Jesus Christ.

The Carthusians, who say the Little Office every day, recite it in their cells; but strictly carry out all the choir ceremonial. They know that they do not say it alone. For when the bell rings the whole Charterhouse turns into a great choir and the monks in the sight of the angels commence to praise Him Whose Mother was Mary.

There is a point to which special attention ought to be drawn; and that is, that the first idea of the Office is that is should be sung. It is a choral Office. Saint Augustine said to God Himself in his Confession: “Ah, Lord, how I was stirred to joy and I wept in hymns and songs of Your Church that sounded sweetly. The voices flowed into my ears, and truth was molten into my heart, and thereby the affection of piety and of love was made hot in me, and tears ran out of my eyes.”

God does not want fine singing but prayerful singing: not singing which tickles the ear, but that which raises up the soul; singing which will not remind us, by earthly music, of the passing joys of this world, but rather a kind of unearthly music like that which is ever resounding through the heavenly courts.

There is a beautiful story, told in the annals of a certain monastery, where the monks, all old men, sang as best their quavering uncertain voices would let them. But once, when some high feast came round, they bethought themselves of getting the services of a skillful singer to chant the Magnificat in honor of the solemnity. He came, his voice wondrously beautiful, clear and pure, and round in tone, like a flute, soared upwards and, ringing around the vaulted roof of the old minster, enchanted the hearers. That night, as the abbot lay in bed, a great light as of many suns filled his cell, and in the midst thereof a vision of one stood before him. It was the Mother of God, Mary ever blissful.

“Why,” she said, “have you on this high festival omitted my song, the Magnificat?”

“Lady,” said the abbot, “it was sung today, and in strains sweeter than we have ever heard before.”

“I heard it not,” said the vision. “No sound came from the minster at Evensong, and my ears missed the music they are accustomed to hear daily from you and your brothers. That singer sang for himself and not for me; so his song could not rise to my throne, but fell back earthwards again.”