Why pray the Breviary (iii)


Prayer of the Church

Private devotions, such as the Rosary, are prayers often performed by members of the Church but are not therefore themselves “the prayer of the Church.” The same is true with devotional or theological books. They are stand in an exegetical relation to the Book of the Church (the Bible) but are not identical to it. Both have pages with words on them dealing with spiritual subjects and have many aspects in common. They look the same in many ways but are not. As with the Bible and devotional/theological books so with prayer.

Over time the sacred authors (theologians in the words of Pseud-Dionysius) wrote the books that are now in our Bibles (73 of them) and over time the Spirit guided the Church into forming a canon of books which we now refer to as “the Bible.” Similarly the Spirit guided the Church into a “canonical” form of prayer. This is the essential structure and contents of the Divine Office. though certain features of Scripture and the Divine Office can be or must be adapted to time and geographical location as a divinely given fact they cannot simply be abandoned, replaced or radically restructured so as to be unrecognizable from what it was before. It essential form must remain identical and unchanged. The Scriptures may be translated from Latin (Vulgate) into vernacular but the number of books cannot be changed. Different choices may be made in naming certain books (opening different versions of the Bible will quickly make evident that 1 Samuel and 1 Kings can refer to the same book depending on which bibles are being compared) but the general “order” of books may not be changed without creating significant disturbance and chaos in the use and sometimes even inner coherence of the books of Scripture. The same is true for the Divine Office.

Now if we were to change the order of the 12 minor Prophets, or the books of the New Testament no significant distortion of the inner coherence and narrative of it occurs, but having been accustomed for many hundreds of years to the order in which have them a practical disturbance will occur. More problematically the impression is given that the NT can be subjected to arbitrary changes and it discourages proper reverence for the NT as divinely constituted and given. The NT becomes malleable. It becomes subject to human “creativity” rather than the authority guiding human creativity. This is why the acceptance of the Protestant Canon of Scripture is simply unthinkable as is any subscription tot Article VI (from the 39 Articles of Religion) which says that there are some books which cannot be read to establish doctrine from (referencing the universally rejected private opinion of St. Jerome). Neither Jerome’s not the Reformer’s private opinions are to be preferred over the universal judgment of the Church. Jerome and the Reformers are just men with an opinion the centuries old established tradition is the guidance of the Spirit in the Church. When private opinions are asserted over the Divine Office a similar problem occurs which explains the troubled history of the Book of Common Prayer from its first enforced public use to its troublesome position today. We ought to heed the warning from Proverbs that “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are ways of death.” (Prov. 16, 25 & 14, 12). The reforms of the 16th and late 20-ieth century have indeed brought about the near death of the Divine Office as divinely given.

The Prayer of the Church is therefore a given not unlike the Holy Writ itself is a given. Our private devotions depend on and are learned from Scripture and the Divine Office not the other way around. Both have grown in the Church and having been once for all established are untouchable in their essential features. Much the trouble in our liturgical churches today is that we think of liturgy (and Scripture) as opportunities for our creativity (our creativity being the framework within which liturgy works) rather than seeing liturgy as the framework within which our creativity is expressed. Insisting and defending the God-given tradition of the Prayer of the Church does require lots of creativity and persistence!

In the Prayer of the Church it is not the individuals that independently and creatively invent liturgy, rather the individuals are entering a preexisting Prayer-life which conforms the individuals to its Divine Author, thereby making individuals One Body. To conclude with a pregnant remark:

It is clearly the work of the sacred liturgy in which God reveals himself in the person of his Son through his Spirit to the believer who anticipates God’s self-disclosure in faith and hope. The liturgy is the interpretation of Scripture belonging to the Church. Here is a further reason why liturgy can never be ‘made’ – it is part of what is ‘given’ by God.

Laurence Paul Hemming, Worship as a Revelation, p. 115.

Gregory Wassen +

(to be continued)

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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