The Little Office Of Our Lady – On Some Aids To Attention, by E. L. Taunton.

No matter how careful we may be at the beginning of the Office to fix our attention and secure our wandering thoughts, we soon find, in spite of all precautions, that we become distracted and our fervour dwindles away. Holy Church, as far as she could, has tried to remedy this by weaving her Office out of Psalm, Antiphon, Hymn, Versicle, Lessons, and Prayers, in order to give variety. She, moreover, orders that at one time we should sit, at another, stand, or kneel, or bow, or cross ourselves. This variety of posture is one of the practical advantages that saying Office in Choir has above private recitation. But as these means fail when we say our Office by ourselves, we want others to help the infirmity of our minds.
A great means, and I am speaking now of private recitation, is to be careful of the place in which we say the prayer. There is no place where God cannot be found ; but there are places where He is to be found more easily. The Lord is in His holy Temple: The Lord's throne is in heaven [Ps. x. 5.]. But we have already spoken of this in a preceding chapter.
Wherever we say our Office there is one thing we can always control—unless sickness or something exceptional makes it impossible—and that is our attitude. But there are few things about which we feel less scruple or so easily listen to excuses. And how glibly we quote to ourselves St. Theresa's saying that one of the conditions favourable to a good prayer is a comfortable position 1 Now, what the saint means is that a physically uncomfortable position will naturally direct our mind to the pain we feel [The unwise, I would almost say wicked, practice of giving as a penance certain prayers to be said kneeling on the hands, or in some other hard position, can only be tolerated by those who do not know what prayer is. Under such circumstances it is impossible to pray well, and what is said degenerates into a superstitious gabble.] ; and, therefore, a position free from these inconveniences should be secured before beginning to pray. She did not mean that sofas or armchairs are the best places for prayer, unless it is God's will we should occupy them.
Sancta sancte: Holy things should be done in a holy manner. Our body, as well as our soul, has to give its meed of service to God. Our Divine Master gives us the example of a reverent posture in prayer. The Evangelists tell us : He raised His eyes to heaven [John xvii. I.] ; He prostrated on the ground [Mark xiv. 35.] ; And kneeling down He prayed [Luke xxii. 41.]. And such of His servants as St. Vincent Ferrier, St. Charles, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis de Sales, the Venerable Cure d'Ars, said their Office on their knees. St. Paul of the Cross always said his Office bare-headed; and one of the successors of St. Francis de Sales, Mgr. de Bernex, used, at the end of his prayer, to prostrate himself and kiss the ground out of piety and humility. M. Bacquez states that the late Pope, Pius IX., used to say all the Divine Office kneeling without any support.
But if we are not able to kneel for any length of time, and have to change our position, we can always adopt one that is reverent and recalls to our mind that we are speaking with God. To get this, the real truth about the Office, well into our mind, is a sure means of securing reverence, no matter what position we are obliged to take up ; for where the heart is regulated there the body will correspond.
As to the proper time for prayer, God is always ready to hear us. However, as the Church has fixed seven hours for prayers, the Office, as far as possible, should be said either at these hours, or as near to them as possible. Happy he who can (and how few there are who cannot if they would !) snatch a few minutes every three hours to take part in the prayer fixed for that hour. Custom has, however, sanctioned a division into three parts. The three parts are—Matins and Lauds said over night, the Little Hours in the morning, and Vespers and Compline in the evening or afternoon. The objection to this is, that it makes a night prayer of Lauds, and thus loses sight of the fact that it is the original morning prayer of the Church. We would therefore suggest—as a better division—Matins over night, Lauds, Prime, Terce, and Sext in the morning; Nones, Vespers and Compline in the evening. Compline might be said before Matins, with only a short interval for mental prayer.
But when we foresee a day before us fuller of engagements and occupations than usual, it will always be well to get all our Office said at once in the early morning so as to secure " that nothing be preferred to the work of God." The Office must be our first care. An old writer says : " To pray before the time is providence; at the fixed time obedience; but to postpone it is negligence."
" Is it useful to have a companion and say the Office aloud and alternately ?" asks M. Bacquez. And he thus replies : " It is good sometimes, to use this method, in order to prevent the bad effects of habit and to stir up our fervour. If true piety is present, each one is excited and edified like the seraphim of whom Isaias speaks. The more they conform to the usages of the Choir, the less difficulty also will they have in entering into the spirit of the Office" [Op. cit. p. 225.].
Another useful way of guarding our attention is to mark in our books some fixed places, such as certain verses or words. These will serve as signals to recall our soul if wandering. For instance at the Gloria Patri, St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi told one of her sisters that she had been taught by her confessor to make offering 'of her life to the Holy Trinity whenever she bowed her head at these words : " As though I were presenting my head to the executioner to undergo martyrdom." The blessed Jordan, the second general of the Dominicans, used at these words to implore in a special manner the blessing of the Most Holy Trinity. Once at Matins, when the Invitatory was being sung he saw our ever-dear and blessed Lady coming down from heaven and bearing in her arms her Son. A throne was set up for them by the Angels. During the Venite, our Lord and His blissful Mother regarded the friars with great benignity, and whilst they were bowing at the words Gloria Patri the holy man saw God's Mother take the tiny hand of her Son and make the sign of the cross over the brethren.
The word Oremus is a direct invitation to recollection ; the Per Dominum nostrum, with which so many prayers end, recall our union with Jesus Christ; the Amen, a word so often used, and its meaning so little realised ; these and others, at choice, are some of the obvious places at which we can regain our attention. Then some verse or some particular word sheds one day a special light into our soul. This should be marked to recall the light we have had. Two of those great spiritual writers in which the French Church has been so prolific, Cardinal Berulle and Pere de Condren, tell us that when saying the Office alone we are to remember that we do not interrupt or distract ourself if we pause at some particular passage which there and then affects us. We rather are obeying Holy Writ, which tells us to meditate day and night upon the Word of God and to find in it all the light we require. The Holy Ghost has a message to give us, and we must listen to it. How can we listen to His voice if we are always speaking ?

From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907