The Little Office Of Our Lady – On Saying The Office As The Church Wishes, by E. L. Taunton

He who fears the Lord neglecteth nothing, says the Holy Ghost [Eccles. vii. 19.]. The more important the work, the more necessary is it that it should be done properly. And are we called to any higher and more important work than that of being used by the Incarnate Word in His worship of the Eternal Father ? Yet, from the weakness of human nature, from the instability of our minds, from the daily recitation of the selfsame words, we often say the Office in a careless, perfunctory manner, our lips repeating words which find but little or no echo in our heart.
There is, and must be, this danger for every one ; and half of the remedy is to recognise our liability to fall short of our Lord's gracious designs. It will therefore be useful to gather together various practices, examples and thoughts, which have been found useful for guarding against the deadening effects of routine. They will help us to make our Office a living reality.
THE idea of the Office is that of a public prayer of the Church ; public, not only because we are public ministers of the Church ; but public, because it is designed to be said in a public manner. Careful of St. Paul's words : Let everything be done decently and in order [I Cor. xiv. 40.], 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 to retain or regain the thought of God's Presence. In reciting the Office we should endeavour to make use of all 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, facing the altar, or facing one another, 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 misusing a great means of entering more perfectly into the dispositions of Jesus Christ. The author of the Myroure says : "Therefore the holy observances are not only to be kept of them that sing in the choir, but also of all others, to their power ; wherever they say their Service. For a religious person ought to be governed religiously over all, whether he be alone or with others and whatever he do, and namely, in the saying of this Holy Service. Nevertheless, they that have no convenient place to keep all observances and therefore say their Service in continual and reverent kneeling, or sometimes standing, I trow they are excused. But for to say it sitting or lying (without need of sickness), or walking up and down ; it were a token of little love and of little reverence to God. For our Holy mother, St. Brigit, had in revelation, and wrote to a secular clerk that such walking to and fro in service time is a showing of an unstable and a vacant heart, and of a slow soul, and of little charity and devotion. And since it is so in seculars much more is it blameable in religious. And therefore the books that say how some have most devotion sitting, or else whether it be sitting, or kneeling, or going or standing, a man should do as he can feel most devotion ; such sayings are to be understood of the prayers and devotions that a man chooseth to say or to do after his own will. But in Our Lord's Service we ought to labour for devotion in such manner as Holy Church and religion hath ordained to be kept therein " [pp. 62-63.].
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 Charter-house turns into a great choir and the monks in the sight of the angels [Psalm cxxxvii. 42.] commence to praise Him Whose mother was Mary.
There is a point to which special attention ought to be drawn ; and that is, the fact that the first idea of the Office is that it should be sung. It is a choral office, and there is good reason for this. The author of the Myroure says :—
"And no marvel that the fiend be busy to hinder folks from the song of this holy Service ; for in devout singing and hearing thereof is manifold profit to man's soul. First, for it stirreth a man's soul sometime to contrition and compunction of his sins. For the holy doctor St. Isidore saith thus : ' Though the sweetness of the voice or song ought not to delight nor stir a Christian man's heart, but the words of God that are sung, yet I wot not in what wise more compunction ariseth in the heart than by the voice of singing. For there are many,' he saith, ' that by the sweetness of the song are stirred to wail and to weep their sins. And the sweeter that the song is, the more they follow out in weeping tears.' The second, it melteth the heart into more devotion, and therefore saith Saint Augustine to God Himself in his confession : 'Ah, Lord,' he saith, ' how I was stirred to joy and I wept in hymns and songs of Thy Church that sounded sweetly. The voices flowed into mine 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 and I was full well with them.' The third, it causeth sometime devout souls to be ravished and to receive spiritual gifts from God, as ye read in St. Maud's (Mechtildd) book, how she had many of her revelations in time of God's Service. And therefore at a time when Elias the prophet had not ready the spirit of prophecy he got him a singer of psalms on the harp or on the psaltery ; and while he sang the spirit of God came upon the prophet, and then he told by the spirit of prophecy to them that came unto him what they should do. The fourth profit of Holy Church song is, that it doth away (with) indiscreet heaviness. And therefore, saith the Apostle Saint James : If any of you (he saith) be heavy ; let him sing and let him pray with an even heart [St. James v. 13.]. For as the Gloss saith there—the sweetness of singing and of psalmody putteth away noxious heaviness; and Isidore saith that devout singing in Holy Church comforteth heavy hearts and maketh souls more gracious; it refresheth them that are weary and tedious ; it quickeneth them that are dull, and it stirreth sinners to bewail their sins. For though the hearts (he saith) of fleshly people be hard, yet when the sweetness of that song soundeth in them their souls are stirred to the affections of piety. The fifth is, that it chaseth and driveth away the fiend ; and that was figured in David when the fiend vexed King Saul and David smote on his harp and the fiend fled away. And much more he fleeth where the Psalms of David and other Divine service is devoutly sung The sixth profit is, that it con-foundeth and overcometh the enemies of Holy Church and of God's servants as well bodily as ghostly; and this is shown in holy scriptures by King Josaphat that was King of Jerusalem [II. Paralip. 20.]. For when his enemies came against him in so great power that he knew well that he might not by man's power withstand them, he ordained singers of God's service to praise God and to go before his host singing. And when they began to praise God, God turned the enemy each of them against the other, and each of them slew the other, so that none of them all escaped alive. A marvellous working of God's service. . . . And thus you may see that there is no better armour of defence against all enemies than devout singing of our Lord's service ; wherefore David the prophet said thus: Laudans invocabo Dominum et ab inimicis meis salvus ero ; that is, I will call upon our Lord in praising, and so I shall be safe from all mine enemies. For it hath not been seen that ever any place was mischiefed where God's service was devoutly kept. The seventh profit of Holy Church song is, that it pleaseth so much God that He desireth and joyeth to hear it. And therefore He saith to His spouse, Holy Church : Sonet vox tua in auribus meis; that is, Let thy voice sound in mine ears [Cant. 2.]. Glad, then, ought ye to be to sing that song that God Himself desireth to hear. But so it ought to be sung that it sound well in His ears, for else it availeth but little. For He taketh more heed of the heart than of the voice ; but when both accord in Him then is it best. And if either should fail it is better to lack the voice than the heart from Him. Therefore, they that would praise God with voice of singing and cannot or may not, our Lord will hold them excused, so that they say devoutly such service as they can, and keep their hearts clean in meekness and in obedience. For as our Lady said to St. Brigit : A clean heart and a meek pleaseth God in silence as well as in singing " [Myroure, pp. 32-35.]
This will show that it is profitable to follow out the Church's idea and to sing our Office ; and that it is a loss to neglect it altogether. There are few convents that cannot aim at singing each day or at least on Sundays and festivals the Office, either wholly or in part. The practice of fervent communities may here be recommended. If they cannot sing every day the whole of the Office they at least sing a part—such as Vespers every day—and on Sundays Lauds as well. On feasts of the second class, the Invitatory, Hymn and Te Deum at Matins, with the whole of Lauds and Vespers. On the Great feasts the whole of the Office. Some make a point of at least singing the Antiphon of our Lady after Lauds and Compline.
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. The Plain Song of the Church is most perfectly adapted to the spiritual needs of mankind when it is sung by those who know and love it. Nothing could be better and more fitting for religious than this chant which, we may add, requires a religious person to sing it properly. It is, then, indeed, a sweet echo of that New Song which no man can utter, as it should be uttered, unless he be taught by the Lamb Whose very Own Song it is.
Beautiful voices are God's gift and have to be used for Him ; and the music of God's worship should be of the very best. But loving hearts form a sweeter harmony before the Throne than the rarest voices, if full of self-love. He sings well, says St. Bernard, who sings to God. 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 skilful singer to chant the Magnificat in honour 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. " Would that we could have that fair singer with us every day," said the abbat to one of the ancients, who nodded his approval. But that night as the abbat lay a-bed, lo ! 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," said she, " have you on this high festival omitted my song, the Magnificat " " Lady !" said the abbat, " it was sung to-day, and in strains sweeter than we have ever heard before ; for as we be but a handful of feeble, croaking old men, with no music in our voices, we sought the rarest and most beautiful voice in the land to sing thy praise." " I heard it not," said the Vision. '' No sound came from the minster at Even-Song, and mine ears missed the music they are accustomed to hear daily from you and your brethren. That singer sang for himself and not for me ; so his song could not rise to my throne, but fell back earthwards again."
The liturgical spirit, so necessary to be cultivated now-a-days, is, when we look at it simply, only that of mere obedience to the Church. It consists in doing the Church's work in the Church's way. If, therefore, occupations hinder us from keeping choir still, in this spirit of desiring to carry out the Church's ideas as far as possible, we should endeavour to say our Office in church ; and for these reasons which the Myroure gives : " This holy service ought also to be said in due place ; that is, in the church ; except if sickness, or such reasonable cause, hinder that you may not come thither. For churches are hallowed and ordained for prayer and for Divine service to be said and heard therein as our Lord saith Himself : Domus mea domus orationis vocabitur [Matthew xxi. 13.i], that is to say : ' My house, that is Holy Church, should be called a house of prayer.' And it is most profitable for you to pray in that place for many causes, (Matthew xxi. 13.) One for more worship of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother our Lady in whose worship the church is hallowed. (Super. Cant. serm. 7.) Another cause, for the blessing and the prayer of the bishop at the time of the hallowing of the church which helpeth and furthereth much the prayer of them that pray therein. (Gen.xxviii. 17.) The third cause, for the Angels of God dwell there to help us in time of prayer, and to promote our prayers towards God. . . . And, therefore, saith St. Bernard : ' Oh, whoso had open eyes and might see with how great care and joy angels are amongst them that sing devoutly and pray !' [Super. Cant. serm. 7.] Wherefore he saith : ' I admonish you my most loved friends that you stand purely in the praising of God, and that you do it reverently and gladly. The fourth cause is, for the fiends have less power to hinder prayer there than in any other place ; and therefore the patriarch, St. Jacob, after he had seen the vision said : Quam terribilis est locus iste [Gen.xxviii. 17.], that is, How fearful is this place. For the holiness of the church and the devoted prayers made therein, and, namely, the presence of the holy Sacrament of the Altar ; rebuketh the boldness of the fiend, and maketh him afeard.The fifth cause is, for our Lord will take heed of them and hear their prayer that pray in holy church as He saith Himself : Oculi mei erunt aperti et aures mece ad orationem ejus qui in loco isto oraverit [II. Paralip., vii. 15.], that is to say, Mine eyes shall be open to see Him and Mine ears dressed up to hear his prayer that prayeth in this place, that is Holy Church " [Myroure, pp. 27, 28.].
And one more especial reason which should prompt us to say our Office in Church is the Abiding Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. From the lowly tabernacle is ever going up before the Father the most perfect worship of adoration, of thanksgiving, of atonement, of prayer ; for Jesus is verily and indeed there. As we are chosen to give expression to these acts, as it is in union with Him as our Divine Head that our prayers have value in God's sight, we should delight to add our worship (which is indeed His) in union with that Life, all glorious and immortal, which He lives in the Sacramental state of the Eucharist
[The idea which a false sentimentality is trying to introduce, of the Prisoner of the Tabernacle is untrue, and against the very idea of the Adorable Mystery. Christ rose again never to die, never to suffer; Death shall no more have dominion over Him (Rom. vi. 9). Therefore, in His sacramental Life the glory of light inaccessible, in which God dwells, surrounds Him in the Tabernacle. He is on the Altar, as He is in Heaven, the King of Glory; but the manner of His presence is otherwise. There He is present naturally; here, sacramentally. The Church has no other way for expressing His state in the Holy Eucharist but by saying it is a sacramental state, that is, one after the manner of a Sacrament which is an outward sign of inward grace. To bring in materialistic views into our ideas about the Blessed Sacrament is sure to do harm; and the history of the Church is full of the mischief done thereby. St. Thomas the Angelical has set forth the dogma as far as human wit can fathom. With him we are safe, mindful of the words of Holy Writ, Search not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thine ability', but the things that God hath commanded thee to think on them always, in many of His -works be not curious (Ecclesiasticus iii. 22). Faith and adoration is all we can do, aught else is but failure.].
Oh magnify the Lord with Me [Psalm. xxxiii.], He cries to us from the tabernacle. And there at His feet we can best obey His invitation.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907