Thursday, August 7, 2008

Breviaries? What good are Breviaries?

“Good morning, Brothers. Today we celebrate the dedication of St. Mary Major in Rome. We will take the common of the Blessed Virgin starting on page 1732 in the one-volume. Psalms and canticles from Sunday, Week I, starting on page 707. The opening hymn is No. 162, “Hail, Holy Queen”. And we will recite the Benedictus in Spanish…. Please stand….”

Okaaaay... Well, welcome to morning prayer in a typical Franciscan community anywhere in North America. Twice a day, the friars gather to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (formerly known as the Divine Office) together. In doing so, we join our collective prayer with that of the universal Church.

The prayerbook we pray from is called a “breviary” (pronounced BREEVuree) As you may have already guessed, it is meant to be a ‘brief’ or ‘condensed’ collection of the psalms, canticles, readings from Scriptures, and hymns used in daily communal worship. Tradiitionally, this type of worship was restricted to religious communities, but now it is more frequently experienced and enjoyed by laypeople as well. The selection of specific prayers may vary day to day (hence, the complicated football plays at the start of this article) due to various celebrations and liturgical seasons. But there is an overall rhythm to the sequence of prayers and, once you get the hang of it, it begins to serve as a consistent background and foundation to individual and collective worship.

The Liturgy of the Hours has its inspiration and remote origins in the Temple worship of the Jews in Jerusalem—morning and evening prayers which at first accompanied ritual sacrifice, and then later served as a de facto substitute for that sacrifice. In the Christian tradition, the Liturgy of the Hours continues that spirit of dedication to daily and even unceasing prayer, most especially in the context of monastic life. Originally, monks would pray all 150 psalms of David every single day. But in the interests of practicality, the chanting of the psalms eventually spread out over the course of a single week, particularly in the Benedictine tradition.

With the rise of the mendicant orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.) in the thirteenth century in the West, the recitation/ chanting of the Divine Office became even more “brief.” Itinerant friars could not spare the time to pray all of the nine liturgical “hours” that tradition required. They were and are busy (sometimes too busy) people. Consequently, the recitation of psalms in the monastic weekly cycle eventually gave way to the current four-week cycle. The breviary adopted and adapted by the Franciscans was that of the Pope’s own court, or Curia, and eventually became the standard for all “apostolic” communities (i.e., those involved in active ministry). Its present form dates from the reforms of Vatican II, implemented in 1974.

So what good are ‘breviaries’? Well, Francis of Assisi put a great deal of stock in them (literally). In our Rule, Francis wrote: “Let the clerical (brothers) recite the Divine Office according to the rite of the holy Roman Church excepting the psalter, for which reason they may have breviaries.” (RB,III:1). In the time of Francis and Clare and before the invention of the printing press, breviaries were precious, one-of-a-kind objects. Francis would never have permitted the friars to possess such expensive prayerbooks unless he believed that a more important spiritual value was at stake. And he was right!

For Franciscans today, the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours from our breviaries forms the background music of community worship and life. Twice a day, if at all possible, we try to get together to pray. Community prayer brings us together, shapes and molds us spiritually, reminds us who we are and whose we are, and strengthens the bonds of connection between and among us. We could not have survived and flourished for eight hundred years without it.

Of course, the experience of the Liturgy of the Hours recited from the breviary will vary from house to house. So much depends upon the unity and ‘spirit of devotion’ of each particular fraternity. Some places the friars put tremendous energy and passion into communal prayer; other places, the brothers just seem to drone and drag on forever. Welcome to community life! We ain’t in heaven yet, kiddo. But the important thing is that, inspite of ups and downs and in-betweens, we do pray. We have this steady flow of brother-beside-brother praying through which the Lord continues to knit our lives together.

“Like a deer that longs for flowing water, so my soul longs for you, my God.”…. “Oh God, you are my God, for you I long.”….. “Have mercy, O God, have mercy. In your compassion, blot out my offense. Truly I have sinned against you….” Snatches of poetic meter wend and weave their way in and through our individual and collective thoughts, prayers, and longings throughout the day. Over time, they provide us with a rich collective vocabulary in prayer. Poetic, yes; but not limited to poetry. The psalms are tough and sinewy; strong and durable as well. They not only affect us, but they serve to form us as well. It’s the persistence of commitment and effort over time rather than any aesthetic intention which give the psalms, part of the God’s own Living Word, such power and presence.

If you would like to start to pray the Liturgy of the Hours on your own, I can recommend a great starter volume: Shorter Christian Prayer (Catholic Book Publishing) is a slim and handy tome which contains the fundamentals: the complete texts of Morning and Evening Prayer for the entire year. If, in time, you feel ready to enter into the complexities of shifting proper and seasonal readings, then you can graduate to the one-volume Litury of the Hours (also available through Catholic Book Publishing Co.). Either edition will put you in good stead. There is also a special breviary with an adapted Franciscan supplement, and a fancy-schmanzy four-volume set as well. But keep it simple. In this case, you really don’t need all the extra smells and bells.

Where and if at all possible, I would highly recommend finding a way where you can pray the Liturgy of the Hours with others. Some religious communities will gather together in their parish churches to pray on a regular basis with laypeople (we usually don’t because we have such varying work schedules). Or you can find a prayer group which makes its recitation a central part of its purpose.

Either way, becoming acquainted with the Liturgy of the Hours through the breviary is well worth it. It gives us, individually and collectively, a wonderful opportunity to enter into the power and beauty of the Word. What good are breviaries? Well, I happen to think they’re pretty darn good, through and through. //

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Transfiguration: A Meditation by Cardinal Martini on Mount Tabor

August 6, 2008. The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. A little more than a year ago, (June 30 – July 8, 2007), I was part of an international group of more than 200 “young” friars—those in solemn profession for under ten years-- who gathered in the Holy Land as pilgrims. This special meeting, or “chapter of mats” as it is called in Franciscan parlance, was to prepare for the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Rule of St. Francis in 2009.

As part of that event, we moved from site to site to observe, study, pray, and experience as brothers the lands of the Bible. On July 5, 2007, we were privileged to spend an entire day on Mount Tabor, a venue which tradition associates with the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. At that time, we received a special conference from Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, retired Jesuit cardinal archbishop of Milan and internationally respected Scripture scholar. At 81, the Cardinal was in fragile health—he suffers from Parkinson’s disease-- yet in surprisingly full voice as shared his reflections. Speaking in Italian (roving translators whispered his remarks to various clusters of friars), he told that he had been coming to Mount Tabor for the past twenty years to spend his annual retreat. He demonsrated an intimate knowledge of the place, and he recited relevant Scriptural passages from memory:

“Jesus, when you came to this mountain, what were You praying? What was your meditation about? The Gospel says nothing. Maybe you don’t want us to know. Maybe You were meditating without a topic. Or, if there was a theme, it may have been about the Kingdom of God, so central to your ministry. All three synoptic Gospels tell about the event, especially Luke 9:27. You spoke about the Kingdom of God, not just for your own time but for all time. Because the Kingdom of God manifests the fullness of all time and of eternity.

I will recite the passage in Luke by heart. I prefer to rely upon my memory since I have read and prayed and meditated upon it so many times here. The Gospels do not mention any specific mountain. Where is it? Well, it could be Mount Tabor. Jesus: his garments are so white, so brilliant. So peaceful. He is shown in the fullness, in the plenitude of his Glory. But Jesus is not by himself. Moses and Elijah are there. There are not (standing) in silence. What are they speaking about? Things that have changed the course of history? Peter says something stupid. Maybe it is winter, so he is thinking tents would be better….

This story is not just for us to contemplate. Rather, we need to grasp the consequences of it for our lives and in today’s world. The cloud comes. It represents our fear. Then the Father speaks about the Son: “This is my beloved Son… listen to him.” This is the central theme of the story. Our methodology here is that of lectio divina. Part I: we read the text. Part II: We question the message.

Part I: We read the text. We look at the central fact of this event, the glorification of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is anticipated by the disciples. It is a Kingdom not just for now, but for all time. It is the ultimate: (the) God of all in all. At this time in my life, I am on the waiting list. I face the end of my time. And the end of time itself. (In this Gospel passage) we experience the dream of God: a diverse and united family given to the Father. This is the vision which strengthens us: the fullness of the manifestation of God as Absolute Truth manifested in us. I refer to St. Paul when he says, “I count all of my sufferings as nothing…” We have to have this definitive vision and call.

Jesus, why did You appear with Moses and Elijah? Why not with Abraham or someone else from the Old Testament? Why didn’t you just appear in your glory all by yourself? Why these figures from the Old Testament? Jesus is incomprehensible without the Old Testament. He was loved, admired, and appreciated by his people. He is a Jew, the son of Mary. He is part of a tradition still alive in this country. If we want to understand Jesus fully, we must understand Him in the context of his culture.

Why Moses? Moses understood the Law as the Word of God written down to be lived… The Torah is about service, a way of conducting one’s life. In order to live fully, we must adopt certain values, have a certain discipline and order in our lives. For example, I go to bed at exactly the same time every night. Today, with cell phones and computers, it is so important for us to put order into our lives.

Why Eijah? Elijah is the prophet of surprises. According to Moses, God is in observance. In Elijah, God is the God of surprises. We should not be afraid of new things in our lives. They are a manifestation of the Kingdom.

What did Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about? They spoke about the Exodus, the freedom from slavery for the Jews. The return to their own land. (This speaks to us of) the exodus of Jesus to Jerusalem (Luke 13, 3 ff). The prophet must die in Jerusalem! Jerusalem is the end and object of your pilgrimage. And for me too, now, at the end of my life. There is a red line through all of history which leads to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and opens the world to the light of God. Never forget Jerusalem!

Peter and his companions are there. (we experience) their superficiality. Peter speaks about what is so beautiful. He is speaking about aesthetics, but aesthetics are not enough. Like us, Peter is afraid of silence, of coming closer to God. He is so afraid of silence. How do we speak to God at such a time? Peter is invited to come closer.

Part II: Question the message. Jesus, you ask us not to be worried about success. With my life I want to show that You are right. I want to follow You just as Francis followed You.

In your contemplation, here are some suggestions for your prayer: Remember the importance of the big picture, the larger vision and perspective. (cf. Hebrews 11, 27ff). We need to learn to walk with God without seeing. We need to remember that there is a sense to everything we do—even in the most insignificant things we don’t even like doing.

Prayer transfigures us (with Jesus). If we are to pray in the proper way, we must be prepared and attentive. Sit in silence, adoration, and humility. Prayer will change your heart and your face will be brilliant with light. Take the example of Moses and the Torah. Learn quickly to give order to your life—eat, read, study in accord with Jesus, linked with His presence in the world. Put yourself before Jesus: Jesus, you are right. I want to do Your Will."

St. Francis, pray for us. All the saints in heaven, pray for us.//