After the Sacrifice of the altar the Divine Office is one of the most important functions of my ministry. In making me responsible for this office, the Church wishes that several times a day her minister be present before the throne of his God’s mercies to draw down heavenly blessings on her children, and turn away from above their heads the scourges that the multitude of sins committed on earth call out for all too strongly. She wishes that I perform in her name, and in the name of the Christian people, that I take part here below in what employs the blessed spirits in heaven: Divinum Officium, imitatio coelestis concentus (S. Bonav. De Sexalis Seraph. c.8)
, that I begin during this life that concert of praises that I shall not cease to repeat in the other, if, as I must hope, I have the happiness to get there.So I will direct all my attention to acquit myself worthily of this holy and consoling ministry, both as to the manner and as to the order in which I say it. As to the manner, I will direct all my attention to see that it is not an empty din of muddled words said out of obligation; I know well enough what reproaches the Jews merited for not having acquitted this duty of religion in any other way than this. This people honours me with their lips, says the Lord, and their heart is far from me. How many priests deserve this reproach, and as for myself too, do I not have some improvements to make on this score?
The indispensable conditions required for praying as one ought are found in this preparatory prayer that a laudable custom normally prefixes to the recitation of every part of the Divine Office: Aperi Domine os meum ut digne, attente, ac devote recitare valeam hoc officium, etc., namely, respectfully, attentively, devoutly.
Respectfully i.e., without haste, in a modest posture, in a suitable place.
Attentively for without attention there is no true prayer, prayer being a rational worship. To pray without attention is to act purely mechanically.
Devoutly for prayer is homage of the heart even more than it is of the mind, and the words of Our Lady prove that it is in the heart that lies the merit of prayer.
In the recitation of the Office, therefore, it will be very much to the point, indeed indispensable, always to prepare myself, even if only by fervently raising my heart to God.
I will take pains to repulse every distraction that comes up as soon as I notice it, and to avoid them persisting in spite of myself I will make an imperceptible pause at the end of each psalm while saying Gloria Patri, to renew my intention and refocus my attention if it has wandered for a moment. I will fix my mind to the best of my ability on the meaning of the Psalms that I am saying, in such a way as to follow the Psalmist in the various feelings that move him and that my heart may produce the same effect that animated him when he composed those wonderful canticles, Si orat Psalmus orate. Si gemit gemite,.si gratulatur gaudete, si timet timete (5. Aug. in Ps. 30), but when I do notice some involuntary distraction, I will try to accept not to go over it again as has sometimes happened, being satisfied in that case with humbling myself before the Lord, asking pardon of Him from the bottom of my heart, and starting again then with a new fervour to make reparation for past negligence.
So much for the manner in which I will acquit myself in a holy way of that important and consoling function. I will not add anything else save a desire that I might make this prayer on my knees, with uncovered head, as we read that the Venerable Cardinal Bellarmine and several other holy personages never failed to do.
As to the order, I will enter as much as I can into the spirit of the Church and its ancient practice by dividing up my saying of the office, and reciting it at the different times set out for it; if the Venerable Bellarmine, overburdened as he was with so many responsibilities, managed to conform with this edifying practice, it seems to me it should not be impossible for me, especially as I have always wanted to do it and have even made the attempt without difficulty while I was at the seminary.