Father Simeon Daly, OSB - Finding Grace in the Moment: Stories and other Musings of an Aged Monk


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A Musing for Nancy on the Divine Office and Priorities
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I would like to share with you a resolution I made many years ago, and reflect on it a bit. In a recent exchange, we spoke of setting priorities in our daily scheduling. I have resolved that I will pray the morning prayers of Matins and Lauds sometime before I get up in the morning on those occasions when I cannot celebrate them with the community. That means that sometime during the night, depending on when I awake, I will pray the Office of Readings and Lauds. I try, by so doing, to make a statement to God and to myself that I value this time of prayer, and thereby avoid the risk of neglecting saying those prayers in a meaningful time of the day.

The daily official prayers that monks and priests obligate themselves to are known, generically, as the Divine Office, or sometimes as the Opus Dei (Work of God), or the Liturgy of the Hours.. The prayers are a formalized collection of psalms, hymns and canticles interspersed with Scripture passages and prayers. The division of the prayers ranges through: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. A more current distribution is: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Noon Prayer, Vespers and Compline. In the monastery, these prayers are recited or sung together by members of the community in choir, and distributed throughout the day according to local custom. Our custom at Saint Meinrad currently is: 5:30 a.m., Office of Readings and Morning Prayer (c. 40-50 minutes); 12:00 p.m., Noon Prayer; 5:00 p.m., Vespers Compline privately before bedtime. The Divine Office offers praise and thanksgiving to God throughout the day. This is done on our own behalf, but also on behalf of the whole Christian world and beyond. In a way, it is a prayer of humanity and, indeed, of all creation acknowledging God as Creator and provident sustainer of all creation.

In the Rule of St. Benedict, there is an expression: Operi Dei nihil praeponatur (Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God). So when one is at the Abbey, the priorities are already set. The hours of the Divine Office are set and there is seldom an excuse not to participate at the appointed time.

These times of prayer become a skeletal framework around which all other activities take place. When one is away from the monastery, though, it becomes much more difficult to establish a meaningful schedule. Individuals, depending on their own ingenuity, discipline, and/or zeal, will find time to pray the Hours.

I believe now there is much more sensitivity about trying to distribute the hours over the day. I remember a time when it was customary to say all the prayers in one sitting. It is of obligation, so not infrequently, men found themselves in the late hours of the evening scrambling to “get it in.” I remember one parish priest who had a regular schedule of praying the whole thing every other night. About 11:15, he would pray today’s prayers, then at midnight, he would pray those for the next day. This was regular routine for him. It fulfilled the law, but I was not edified.

I remember one time I chided a diocesan priest, who had somewhat reformed his religious practices, for saying Compline (night prayer) at 8 a.m. He brushed me off saying: “Look, kid, you should be damn good and glad that I am saying it at all.” Actually, he had a heart of gold, but he accepted the obligation to pray the Divine Office as a burden. I believe that was the case of a lot of priests in the old days. I do not think that is the case today. Since the prayers are all in English, most priests enter into their prayer with more understanding and thoughtfulness.

I remember from my own personal experience, when I was visiting home as a young priest, that I had a hard time finding the time for Office. One evening I protested to my father that I had to get away to recite Matins, etc. It was close to 10 o’clock at night. He asked why I had not done that before. I said I had been too busy. He just shook his head in disbelief. He could not imagine himself saying morning prayers at 10 o’clock at night. It was after a few incidents like that that I determined that I would always pray my morning prayers in the morning. I have done that faithfully now for many years. On my recent sabbatical while I was away for six months, I never missed praying the morning prayer sometime in the middle of the night, 3, 4 or 5 a.m., whether I was at my brother’s home, at a motel, or in the home of a friend. I also tried to pray the other hours throughout the day so that, even when I was away from the abbey, the Divine Office was a part of the structure of my day.

I believe this little essay started out as an example of how one sets priorities in one’s life. I do not mean to brag. What I have done is no more than what I should be doing, but it does please me that I have found a living solution to a daily challenge to be faithful in my prayer, on my own behalf and of that of the whole world.



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