Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours
Here at St. Scholastica Monastery, we gather daily to pray Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer together. Praying these hours communally is a source of great joy and strength. Although I have been praying the Hours (mostly individually) for many years, I find that chanting and reciting these prayers as a group has been a source of increased blessings for me. I am invited to learn and grow not only in my knowledge and understanding of God’s movements, but as well, in my personal relationship with the God-head as I variously experience more deeply each of the ‘Persons’ of the Trinity. It is truly a wondrous experience, this liturgy – this joining my Sisters, and the worldwide Body of Christ, in this prayer of the Church.
As the primary symbol of liturgy, the assembly gathers as one group – we all have the same Baptism, eat the same Bread of Life, drink of the same cup of salvation, and as Benedictine Sisters, share the same profession of vows. And although we typically do not address each other directly during these prayers, the ‘interaction’ might be thought of as simply being in one another’s presence, as we all assemble in the presence of God in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel. Also, singing together is a form of interaction, for we are joining our voices in unison (or harmony, as the case may be) to glorify God – an act of our minds, hearts, and will. And praying aloud is an act of community as we interact by listening to one another so that no one speaks faster or louder than others. So in one sense, although we generally do not formally, externally interact, it seems to me that we are interacting ‘in spirit,’ as we consciously re-connect with one another in prayer and song, reaffirming our oneness with each other in God.
In Morning Prayer, I experience Christ in the cycle of the Psalms, in the prayers, as well as in the readings and reflections.[i] As we chant or recite the psalms on a four-week cycle, and as I become more familiar with them, they begin to penetrate my mind and heart; they have a way of seeping into my bones. A word, a phrase, or sometimes even the silence we keep between the psalms, can become a powerful meeting with Christ – a time when Jesus seems to be addressing me, personally. Indeed, the pauses we keep between the psalms allow the Word of God, rich as it is, to we hope find a dwelling place within. And this Word often stays with me long after the final Amen. For example, this morning, the first psalm was Psalm 63 “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting.” It is a comforting, consoling psalm, for this prayer that the psalmist uttered all those years ago echoes what I myself have been feeling. We continue, “My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast” and I know that Christ is present here with me – right here, right now.[ii]
Another example comes from a reflection taken from a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church. It is a wonderful commentary on the angels and how we ought rightly offer our respect, devotion, and confidence for the gift they are to us:
He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways. These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence; respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf. They are here to protect you and to serve you. But even if it is God who has given them this charge, we must nonetheless be grateful to them for the great love with which they obey and come to help us in our great need. So let us be devoted and grateful to such great protectors; let us return their love and honour them as much as we can and should. Yet all our love and honor must go to him, for it is from him that they receive all that makes them worthy of our love and respect.
We should then, my brothers, show our affection for the angels, for one day they will be our co-heirs just as here below they are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees and for the present little better than slaves.
Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous way to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are loyal, prudent, powerful. Why then are we afraid? We have only to follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell under the protection of God’s heaven (12).
As Sister read this passage, I was filled with a realization of God’s all-encompassing love and reflected on this throughout the day. That He would send us such creatures as these to help us on our way is yet another sign of His abiding care and concern. Christ is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, for He (as God) has sent us His angels to watch over us, to guide us, to accompany us on this sometimes perilous journey we call life. What a comfort and source of strength!
As I enter into Morning Prayer, I am reminded of the great power of these prayers to teach me again (for the first time!), the extravagant love God holds for each one of us. I experienced this when we celebrated the memorial of the Guardian Angels. Now, I have been a Roman Catholic all my life, attended Catholic grade school from Kindergarten through Grade 8, and was very active in my parish. So of course I learned about the angels, particularly the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, and my very own guardian angel. In fact over the years, I have jokingly commented to friends and family that “my poor guardian angel sometimes has to work overtime,” the implication being that I am surely quite a challenge for the angel assigned to watch over me.
But it struck me this morning as I was listening to Sister read the selection from St. Bernard, that in addition to protecting us, the angels are also to serve us: “They are here to protect you and to serve you” (St. Bernard Clairvaux). I guess I had never really thought of asking them for help beyond ‘protection.’ In addition, as St. Bernard says, “one day they will be our co-heirs.” Of course this makes sense, but I had never really thought about it in such terms. Thinking of the angels in these new (for me) ways, causes me to have a different perspective toward them, one in which I view them not only with a very great deal of respect, but as welcome companions on the journey.
A great ‘discovery’ to be sure!
As I continue to pray the office with my Sisters, I learn not only ‘about’ Jesus, but as well, of the workings of the Holy Spirit within and among us. There is so much wisdom in this place – really within the Sisters, themselves. I am increasingly convinced that the growing happens in prayer, although I generally only become aware of it later, when at meal or in conversation.
We’re all praying the same words, asking for the same thing, praising God the same. And yet, on another level, today, our inner intentions may differ. My petition might be for a Sister who has asked for prayers as she undergoes medical tests. Someone else is likely praying for another Sister who is near the end of her earthly journey. And it is heartening beyond words to know that my Sisters are praying for me (as they pray for all women in initial formation).
In addition, amid the myriad emotions and experiences of life, I am heartened to know that on days when I am feeling a bit low or especially discouraged, I know that someone else, perhaps right beside me, is joyfully praising God for His wonderful gifts. This brings me strength, because even though I don’t necessarily ‘feel’ joyful at this particular moment, I am content that someone is feeling this way, and am confident that I, too, shall feel this way again.
This is a remarkable mystery, one for which I am so very grateful, as I know it brings us all closer together as we support each other in spoken and unspoken ways. God, indeed, is making us a family, and the heart of our monastic family life is liturgy! This praying of the hours, day in and day out, brings us closer together and causes me to appreciate the great gift God has given me in allowing me to serve Him in this way.
It is no wonder, then, that Sacrosanctum Concilium considers liturgy to be simultaneously “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and “…the fountain from which all her power flows.”
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[i] Irene Nowell has called the psalms the Prayer Book of Jesus, for Scripture provides evidence that he prayed them often (5-6).
[ii] In an audience with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI said of the psalms “These inspired songs teach us
how to speak to God, expressing ourselves and the whole range of our human experience with words that God himself has
given us” (as quoted in Kerr).
Clairvaux, St. Bernard. Sermon 12: “Loving and Loyal Protectors.” Printed in Give Us This Day. Collegeville, MN:
Liturgical Press, October 2012. Print.
Kerr, David. The Psalms Teach Us To Pray, Pope Says. Catholic News Agency, June 22, 2011. Web. 25 May 2013.
Nowell, Irene. “The Prayer Book of Jesus.” Give Us This Day. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, October 2012.
Sacrosanctum Concilium: Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Promulgated by Pope Paul VI
on December 4, 1963. Web. 25 May 2013.
Sister Kathleen Del Monte
Kathleen Del Monte is a novice at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from New York, she worked as a policy analyst for a state legislature before getting that all important ‘call’ from God (God can, indeed, be persistent!). So in August, 2011, she knocked and the Sisters opened the door to her becoming an affiliate. On July 15, 2012, she became a postulant. On August 22, 2013, the Sisters ceremonially accepted her into the Community as a Novice and she is now Sister Kathleen.