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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Divine New Math and the Litgury of the Kitchen Table

 Sister, I have a question for you. I am looking to deepen my commitment to the faith by reciting the Divine Office. But I don't know where to begin—literally. Or for that matter, how to get
through the middle and make it to the end, I have seen the four-book set for the Liturgy of the Hours, but having tried to get through it once, I became thoroughly lost. Do you know of any website or other resource that can explain how to do it? Also, can you explain a little about the Little Office of the Virgin Mary. It seems much less confusing. Is that an acceptable substitute for a lay person, or is it meant as a supplement to be said in addition to, rather than instead of, the regular Liturgy of the Hours? Any help you can give is appreciated. —A faithful reader.

Oh, I feel your pain. Explaining the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours reminds me of when I was a little girl and my mother would help me with my math. I couldn't understand any of it and it just sounded like....she may as well have been speaking Greek or Lithuanian or some sort of gibberish made by mixing them together. Eventually, I would cry. I couldn't help myself. It was all so hopeless.

I don't mean to imply that the Divine Office is gibberish. But I agree that explanations I have read are nearly indecipherable. I tell you this to assure you that you are not alone in feeling lost and overwhelmed.

So, I did a little research for you, figuring the internet tubes are the best way to find a simple explanation, or a set of guidelines that anyone could understand. And here's what you're up against:
What is the Divine Office?

It starts out pleasantly enough, but ultimately makes me want to cry. There was a point where my eyes glazed over, kept working, but shut off any information from traveling from my eyeballs to my brain.

So I tried that vast store of information for the informationally challenged, Wikipedia.  And lo and behold! It actually has a fairly succinct and understandable explanation. Because even though I actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I could never have laid it all out and explained it like that without reducing you to a crying little girl at the kitchen table trying to comb through long division while hobbled with the new method of teaching math known as "new math".

But it does bog down a bit when it starts to explain what to do. I got worried that if you have four books of what to do and can't figure that out, Wikipedia isn't going to iron that out for you.

Let's stop for one moment and say, please don't become obsessed with doing it "right". Of course, it would be lovely for you to pray the way you're "supposed to", because the Church has gone through great pains over centuries to formulate the Liturgy of the Hours and the prayers and when you say them and what you read and sing and therefore think about.

But in the end you're praying. Period. It's very difficult to do that wrong. You'd have to really work at that. Praying is talking to God. You only do it wrong when it becomes rote and/or thoughtless. And to that end, you might do just as well to just pray during the appointed hours, rather than to mumble out a bunch of stuff you don't understand while you quietly worry about that new weird sound your car is making.

The real thrust of the Liturgy of the Hours, is that the whole Church (or as much of it as we can muster) is praying together around the clock and the power and grace that may produce for the world.

But I persevered. The internet, with all its problems, misinformation and sinful imagery, is also a wonderful place full of useful information, explanations, understandable charts and the like.


That should help you. You won't have to juggle four books and you clearly know how to use the internet. Voila (as the French say).

Let us know if this works for you!


Sasha said...

Oh, Sister! I am so glad you addressed this topic. By the way, for smartphone or tablet users, Universalis has great Android and Apple apps.

But this raises a related question for me. I have been trying to be faithful to at least morning and evening prayer. You say "You only do it wrong when it becomes rote or thoughtless." And I wonder, what is the difference between reading the Office and praying it? I asked Father after Mass once and he sort of mumbled something about intent and said I should be able to tell the difference. But I can't tell! If I'm reading the words with the intent to pray, but I don't 'feel' anything while I'm reading them, is that still prayer? And sometimes, I notice that I've gotten distracted, and I go back to the point I last remember being attentive... I've been operating on the assumption that I should continue regardless of the way I feel, because otherwise it makes the prayer more about me than about God, you know? But Father's comment that "I should be able to tell" disturbed me. Maybe I really *am* off track.

I should add that I chat with God inside my head throughout my day. I think that's prayer, too, so hopefully my attempts at the Divine Office aren't my only prayer.

Anyway, anything you could say to shed some light on this would be appreciated. I'm a convert and I often feel clueless, but I want to pray well to express to God the indescribable gratitude I feel every day.

Sonja said...

Hello Sister,
I wanted to also add that I enjoy using a Liturgy of the Hours audio. It is free at http://divineoffice.org/

Sophie Miriam said...

They also sell little pamphlets which say, for example, For May 23rd, use the Psalms from page X and antiphons from page Y and so on. I found it very helpful to show me the flow of how it all worked. I think the pamphlets, which last a year, are only a few dollars.

Wendy said...

I use iBreviary on my phone. It's free and it also has the daily readings. It's also available on the web as is Universalis.

Reading the Office with the intent to pray it is praying it, even when you don't feel anything. If you aren't praying it with someone else, sometimes it's nice to pray it slowly and meditate on a part that catches your attention.

Marion Teague said...

Last year I bought a subscription to Magnificat, published in the UK by the Catholic Herald. Brilliant. A gorgeous little bedside book for each month containing morning and evening prayer and Mass readings for each day, meditations and lives of saints. Love it. Wonder if they'll give me a discount for this plug? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sister, this was my question. Thanks so much for doing all that research. I think the Universalis site is just the place for me to start. One step at a time. With prayer, at least I know it's a step in the right direction. Thanks again! A faithful reader.

Anonymous said...

If you have a smartphone there are several apps that put it all together for you--including music--every day. Could not be easier!

Anonymous said...

I was about to suggest starting small and working up to the whole shebang ... maybe begin with just morning and evening prayer ... later add midday/noon ... and night ... etc. That would give someone time to get comfy with the routine.

That Universalis site looks great!

Lesley Casha said...

Coming into this discussion a bit late but I found this blog http://dariasockey.blogspot.co.uk/ really helpful.