Before prayer prepare thy soul and be not like a man that tempteth God [Ecclesiasticus xviii. 23.]. Do not let thy heart be swift to pour forth thy words before God. For God is in heaven and thou upon earth [Ecclesiasticus v. I.],
The consideration of what the Office is, should be quite enough to make us realise the necessity of due preparation before we begin. "For by the wound of original sin and by our own actual sin and evil custom, the corrupt body is so heavy and loath to all virtue and the heart so unstable that without great inward labour, and without we do a manner of violence to ourselves, we can neither make the rebel and disobedient flesh to do reverently ; nor gather the mind in unity to (the) feeling of devotion " [Afyroure, p. 63.].
The Abbat Cisneros of Montserrato (about 1500), says in the " Directory for the Canonical Hours" : "When we have risen from our beds and are dressed, staying awhile in our cell and standing where we are wont to pray, we should gather up our thoughts as best we can, and think thus within ourselves; what are we going to do, and why have we risen from our beds? For whosoever does not think before acting must needs be careless in his work. And what are we about to do, brethren, at the time of the Office unless it is to appear before the sight of God and His holy angels in the company of our just and holy brethren ? Wherefore we must diligently bear in mind that we are going to (1) adore God; (2) give thanks to Him ; (3) and pray to Him. . . . Therefore after dwelling on the aforesaid three points let us on our knees humbly beseech the Lord to grant us worthily to adore Him in the judgments of His justice, and devoutly to pay Him the duty of our homage. When, therefore, the sound of the bell has struck upon our ears, rising from prayer, we should say : This is the sign of the great King ; let us go and seek His face and offer Him gold, incense and myrrh, the gold of devotion, the incense of attention, the myrrh of respectful and manly demeanour."
St. Charles Borromeo attached so much importance to his Office that he always spent at least a quarter of an hour in mental prayer before he ventured to begin, and then said it on his knees [Giussano's " Life of St. Charles Borromeo," Eng. ed., vol. i. p. 90; ii. p. 292.]; and St. Bonaventure used to tell his novices : " Never begin to say the Office without preparing yourself by a collect and a prayer. We are tepid and slothful in the Divine Office, because we have not roused ourselves beforehand by acts of devotion; hence, as we have entered cold, so do we leave the choir dissipated in heart" [De Institutions Novitorum.].
As it is a special grace from God to say the Office well, for we cannot, St. Paul tells us, Say the Lord Jesus except by the Holy Ghost [I. cor. xii. 3. ], we must ask for this grace humbly and fervently. Origen writes : " We must beseech the Lord that the Lamb of the tribe of Juda may come and deign Himself to open the sealed book. For it was He who, opening the Scriptures, set on fire the hearts of the disciples so that they said : Did not our hearts bum within us while He opened to us the Scriptures " [Migne, P. G., vol. xii. p. 385.]
Now of the preparatory prayer. Our first should be to make acts of the presence of God who abides in our heart if we are in a state of grace. There is nothing that empties the heart more of creatures than the thought that the ever adorable Trinity is really and truly present with us. If any man love Me. . . . We will come to him and make Our abode with him [John. xiv.23.] says Our Divine Master. And St. Paul presses home this truth: Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost Who is in you [I cor. vi. 19] We need not go outside of ourselves to find the Divine Presence. He is within us : The kingdom of God is within you [Luke. xviii. 21]. The thought of this Presence brings a hush over our soul. God alone becomes our one object. He and our soul are the two realities which stand out clear and distinct. This act of faith in the Presence of God within us cannot be made without reminding us of our utter un-worthiness in His sight. It begets in our soul, therefore, acts of sorrow for our sins. Purified by these we adore Him with our whole soul and put ourselves at the disposal of Jesus our Lord to pay that adoration, thanksgiving, atonement, and prayer with which He worships the Divine Majesty. Such acts as these before beginning our Office are the best form of mental prayer. To these may well be joined such vocal prayers as appeal to our own devotion. The shorter the better. The Aperi Domine is excellent; but at times, others may, with advantage, be substituted for it. The hymn to the Holy Ghost, the Veni Creator, was often used by St. Francis Xavier before his Office. The prayer said by the deacon at high Mass before singing the Gospel, the Munda Cor meum; or else the prayer before the Orate Fratres, the Suscipe Sancta Trinitas; or the Collect, Deus cui omne cor patet; or the Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Any of these may be used as our devotion prompts.
We may make up a little list of such vocal prayers for our own use together with short invocations of our Lady, our Guardian Angel, and patrons ; and vary the prayers according to the day of the week, or the feast day. By such pious means we shall avoid that sense of routine which is one of the great difficulties we have to contend against.
We may sometimes add to our mental prayer before the Office considerations upon the excellence of our ministry; such as that we are the instruments by which Jesus the God-Man worships His Father ; that we are representatives of Holy Church ; that we are placed between the living and the dead to supplicate for all the graces mankind stands in need of; that we are taking a part in the heavenly worship which goes on for ever before the great Throne, and are lending our voices to all creation to praise Him Who sits thereon. With such thoughts as these we shall enter upon our Office with a heart attuned to the work we have to do and we shall get from it the profit that our Lord intends.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907