(About a year ago, on a Church rack, I discovered a little pamphlet of prayers for the “Little Office of The Immaculate Conception.” I do not say it all the time, but at certain times, I find it very soothing and helpful with my focus. As we go forward, some little groups may find this useful in many ways. For each of us, it can settle our resolve. In the clans that we hope to ignite in times of trial, those who can’t participate in normal security may help enhance the spiritual security of the community by committing to the League of the Divine Office, as our friend and commenter, James McAuley, explains below-CJ)
By James I McAuley, Esq.
Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
We have all heard this scripture throughout our lives. This scripture is the basis behind prayer groups, faith based groups, and Christian fellowships. But how do we effectuate, bring into being such groups?
The League Of The Divine Office
One tried and true approach to the creation of such groups is to have a group of Christians together recite the Divine Office, also known as the Breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours. Of the layman’s right to recite the Divine Office there is no doubt. The practice was ardently advocated by the primitive Christian Church. With the revival of interest shown in both clerical and lay circles for a reintroduction of the laity to the recitation of the community prayer in faith groups, the League of the Divine Office is being promoted.
WHAT IS IT?
It is entirely a voluntary organization of lay men and women who agree to recite some part of the Divine Office every day. There is no high-powered form of organization, nor any centralized authority for the League. The responsibility for fulfilling the obligations of membership, which are not binding in conscience, rests only with the individual members and groups.
WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?
The purpose of the League of the Divine Office is to encourage the layfolk to pray with the Church. The Divine Office consists of eight parts: Matins, a prayer for the night or early morning, and seven Day Hours called Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. These Hour Prayers of the Church developed gradually, in the first centuries of Christianity, and they contain the best holy thoughts and aspirations of Christian tradition. They express the mind of Christ as the Church officially expresses this mind in their daily prayer. They derive their inspiration from the Sacrifice of the Mass and carry on, through the whole day, that sacrifice of praise which we as the adopted sons of God by reason of our supernatural destiny are to offer to our heavenly Father. In this way, we are already in a very real sense, living the life of the angels and saints in heaven whose sublime office it is to contemplate, worship and praise without intermission the glory of the eternal God. Hence, the member of Christ who prays daily with the Church is constantly steeping his own mind more and more in the mind of Christ.
WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF MEMBERS?
It is recommended that members band together in groups of seven which are known as “Chapters.” Because we all have obligations in our lives, it is not practical that we say the entire daily office. Therefore, it is recommended that the members of a Chapter be assigned different Hours of the office for recitation during the week. After the lapse of a week, the Hours are shifted in such a way that in the course of seven weeks each member of a Chapter will have recited all the Day Hours in succession. In that way, a Chapter, as a whole, is reciting all the Day Hours every day.
Where such an arrangement with others is impossible, it is sufficient for membership to recite any Day Hour of one’s own choice.
All members of the League are free, and are encouraged, to say more than their daily allotment of the Hour Prayers. Especially should those who can, also take up the recitation of Matins. And those conversant with Latin may recite the Hours in Latin if they prefer to do so.
FOR WHAT INTENTION?
The members of the League should recite the Hours first of all “in union with that divine intention with which Christ sang the praises of God here on earth.” In other words, the first intention should be the intention of the Church in her official recitation of the Divine Office or Breviary. In general, the sentire cum Ecclesia (being of one mind with the Church, the Bride of Christ) should be basic.
The members should also pray with the special intention of sharing their own personal merits that are derived from this prayer with all the other members of the League (and sharing in the merits of all the others). Thus, they will give living expression in this regard to the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, the spiritual solidarity of membership in the Mystical Body of Christ.
They should moreover make the special intention of the Liturgical Apostolate their own; “that the true Christian spirit may again flourish among the faithful in every way”—”that Christ may be formed in all”—”that all may be brought under the headship of Christ.”
HOW CAN ONE JOIN?
All that is necessary for joining the League of the Divine Office is to accept the above purpose and intention. Those who wish to form a Chapter should organize among themselves as the Liturgical Press is not undertaking the forming of Chapters and the Chapter should manage the rotation of the Day Hour assignments themselves.
It is understood that membership in the League ceases automatically when a person neglects to pray his assigned Hour every day. Any omission that is due to forgetfulness should be atoned for; regular neglect, say to the extent of once a week, should be corrected or else membership should discontinue. Any Chapter member who discontinues should be, in honor, bound to inform the fellow-members of his Chapter at once.
WHAT AIDS ARE AVAILABLE?
Various options are available with the primary ones being the simple one volume Little Office of Our Lady from Baronius Press or Christian Prayer from Catholic Book Publishing Company, the Monastic Diurnal from Clear Creek Abbey or A Short Breviary from Liturgical Press.
The cheapest, simplest and most practical, as well as the shortest is the Little Office of Our Lady. Like the full Breviary, it faithfully mirrors the liturgical year—temporal and sanctoral cycles and the option of the commemoration of saints. It emphasizes the liturgy of the seasons in accord with the mind of St. Pope Pius X. All the canonical Hours for each day are included though the number of nocturns, readings and psalms, has been reduced.
The Little Office of Our Lady is more ecumenical in matters dealing with the Orthodox. It was commonly recited by Catholic families from the 13th century through the Reformation. It was recited by guilds and faith groups, privately and publicly. The family picture of St. Thomas More with his father, wife and children, by Hans Hoblein, reveals that the family members in the painting all have the same book – The little Office of Our Lady. Its recitation was a trademark of recusant families during the persecution in England.
The Little Office also is not subject to any change, as is Christian Prayer which is due to have its psalter and collects changed. Being ancient and traditional, the Little Office does not have made up collects like the Short Breviary. Unlike the Monastic Diurnal, it is simple and easy to learn.
Whatever aid to community prayer for your faith based group you choose, we must remember that praying together is important, because, as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, “[w]here two or three are gathered in my name, there I am present with them,” Matthew 18:20.
Local branches of the League are called “Chapters.”
Each Chapter should choose a patron saint or saints. It never hurts to have more than one. It is suggested that the Chapter or its members obtain relics, icon, banners, or statues of their patron saint/saints.
Seek your Bishop’s approval before creating your local Chapter.
Each Chapter should have a spiritual director/father.
Ask your Bishop’s advice on choosing a spiritual director.
Have regular meetings of your Chapter. At the minimum, once a month. Optimally, once a week.
Each Chapter must remain in communion with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.
Each Chapter must remain faithful to the magisterium of the Church.
A Chapter may choose to engage in spiritual and/or corporal works of mercy, but a Chapter is not a social justice concern.
A Chapter is encouraged to have it members come together at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass/the Holy and Life Giving Divine Liturgy at least once a month.
Should a Chapter choose to adopt a rule, for example, that of St, Benedict, it must do so under the guidance and oversight of its spiritual director/father.