Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Prayer of the Church

The breviary is above all the prayer of the Church, the prayer said in the name of the Church. It is helpful to understand the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. In private prayer I pray, mostly, for myself and my own affairs. It is the isolated person who stands in the centre of the action, and the prayer is more or less individualized. But in liturgical prayer, and therefore in the breviary, it is not primarily I who am praying, but the Church, the bride of Christ. The object of her prayer is broader, too: all the needs of God's kingdom here on earth. In liturgical prayer, I feel more like a member of a great community, like a little leaf on the great living tree of the Church. I share her life and her problems. The Church is praying through my mouth, I offer her my tongue to pray with her for all the great objectives of redemption, and for God's honour and glory.

We weep, too, or rather the Church weeps through our tears, together with those who weep, rejoices through our joys together with those who rejoice, does penance with the repentant. All the sentiments of Holy Mother Church find their echo in our heart. This gives a deeper content to our prayer; we spread out far beyond our own selves.

This basic element of our prayer with the Church gives the key to understanding and appreciating many of the psalms. For there is not room enough within the narrower confines of our own personal experience to sound all the rich variety of sentiments and moods and affections that these hymn-prayers contain. It is through the breviary that we participate in the official ministry and care of souls. The objectives of the Church, the objectives of Christ's redemption, become our own personal interests and objectives. We have become pastors in our own living room, from early morning until late at night.

So important, so essential, is this basic understanding of liturgical prayer that we should write it on the opening pages of our breviary and read it over at the beginning of each liturgical Hour: Now the Church is praising God through my mouth; now the Church is struggling after souls with my hands! Proper liturgical prayer is a most efficient tool in the ministry and salvation of souls.

-from "A Commentary on the Breviary"

(Photo: Canonization of Saint Maria Goretti)