It is good to give praise to the Lord

Bonum est confiteri Domino: et
psallere nomini tuo, Altissime

Ad annuntiandum mane
misericordiam tuam: et veritatem tuam per noctem (Ps 91: 2-3)

It is good to give
praise to the Lord: and to sing to Thy name, O most High

To shew forth Thy mercy
in the morning, and Thy truth in the night
One of the first
things that strike a stay-in visitor or a newly-arrived postulant at our
convent is the amount of time dedicated to the recitation of the Divine
As teaching
sisters who have to devote a considerable portion of our time to our apostolate
of educating youth; it would appear, at first sight, fairly incongruous to give
up to two-and-a-half hours each day in choir to an exercise that seems to be
the one distinguishing characteristic of the monastic orders. On a practical
level, wouldn’t planning lessons and the never-ending chase after late homework
require all of our time?

Indeed, much
emphasis in terms of time and attention is given to the recitation of the
Breviary in our community. We begin before the crack of dawn appears, and our
praise does not cease till after the sun has set, ushering in the night. Our
recollection is further enhanced by the bell being rung five minutes before
each Office in order to prepare ourselves in choir. But above all, why is it
our immense privilege and happiness to be able to do so eight times each day?

Firstly, one
might perhaps point out that our joy in assisting at these prayers comes from
the sublime beauty of the psalms, canticles, hymns, not forgetting the lessons
taken from the Gospels and Church Fathers. The entire range of all possible
human sentiment in our worship of God is expressed vividly through the psalms
alone; petition, adoration, thanksgiving, desire and contrition in every season
of joy, sorrow or desperate need find an adequate medium through the psalter.  
Two brief
examples illustrate this clearly. The exuberant joy in the Ouam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum: concupiscit et deficit
anima mea in atria Domini
(How lovely are thy tabernacles O Lord of hosts:
My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord) of Psalm 83 speaks of
our delight in appearing before the throne of Our Lord in the Blessed
Sacrament. The same God who is our delight is however also a Man of Sorrows, as
seen in Psalm 54 which gives a description of His desolations. The qui simul mecum dulces capiebas cibos: in
domo Dei ambulavimus cum consensu
(Who didst take sweet meats together with
me: in the house of God we walked with consent) of this Psalm poignantly
portrays the heart-rending pain of Our Lord when he was betrayed and denied by his
friends during His Passion. It is aptly chosen by the Church for Terce on
Wednesday, the day when He was sold by Judas.

Furthermore, the
various antiphons, hymns and short lessons in the Breviary which change according
to the liturgical season also keeps us united to the liturgical life of the
Church. Through the Divine Office, further expression is given to the
sentiments which animate the Church as the entire life of Our Saviour unfolds
each year. These mysteries which include the expectation of His coming during
Advent, the sorrow at His approaching death during Passiontide and the
triumphant joy at His Resurrection during the Paschal season are then brought
closer to our souls. We are thus united more intimately to Jesus who continues
to live thus in His Church, and as we progress in the spiritual life, we would
also identify more and more with the sentiments of the Church as one of her members.
Does this not especially pertain to us religious who have the privilege to be completely
consecrated to the love and service of God and His Church?

Yet, the most significant
aspect of the Divine Office is its quality as the Church’s official prayer.  Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange O.P notes that it is simply
a continuation and extension of the Holy Mass, which is the great prayer of
Christ who renews His Sacrifice at Calvary daily until the consummation of the
world. Similarly the Church, who is the spouse of Christ, does not cease day
and night her own prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition
before God: Sempiterna sit beatae
Trinitati gloria, aequa Patri, Filioque; par decus Paraclito, unius Trinique
Nomen laudet universitas.
The professed
religious or cleric thus becomes the ambassador of the Church when praying the
Office; he or she does not pray as an individual but enters into the sentiments
of the Church as her mouthpiece.
 Its dignity further increases when we consider
that the words used are those of the Holy Ghost Himself; given directly through
the Sacred Scriptures or else indirectly through the authority of the Church,
for it was she who directed the arrangement of the breviary and the composition
of the various hymns and lessons.

Who can then doubt
the favourable reception given by God to those deputed by the Church to praise Him,
if they do so devoutly? St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi mentions that a single
petition of the Office, on account of it being the prayer of the entire Church,
is worth more than a hundred private prayers. Dom Chautard adds that Church
herself supplicates with and through us for her varied and pressing needs,
always having her prayers answered and heard in some way as the dearly beloved
Spouse of Our Lord.
The Office then
becomes a cherished tool in the hands of the Dominican for the accomplishment
of her vocation. This powerful weapon (for we are in a spiritual battle,
clearly!) draws down the graces which sustain our apostolic thirst for souls
and the desire that God be better known and loved, especially by those who are
entrusted to our care.
One of the most
outstanding features of the Office in the Dominican rite consists of the bodily
movements that accompany our prayer. As outlined in our ceremonial, these
include processions, the profound and medium inclinations of the body,
kneeling, standing in alternate choirs, full prostrations on the ground,
turning to the altar and back to a choral position. St. Dominic, who preached against
the Albigensian heresy which taught that matter and the body was evil, chose
rather to use the body in prayer as something good. These are significant aids to
maintaining the reverence due to God during both the public and interior
worship of so adorable a Being.

Above all, the
most beautiful of these must be the profound inclination or bow made at every Gloria Patri, especially at the end of
each psalm or portion thereof. It is truly a compact summary of what the Divine
Office is: the continuation of the adoration and praise offered by Our Lord to
His Father during His mortal life by the Church, and the beginning of the
praise and thanksgiving that will occupy her for all eternity before the Holy
Trinity, in saecula saeculorum.