The Liturgy of the Hours is essentially a prayer of praise, where Christ, the heart of our celebration, upholds and nourishes the praying community. We adore the One who is giving us life. Like Holy Mass, the Opus Dei should be a eucharistic (i.e., thanksgiving) activity. That is, a giving of thanks and a praise of the Lord for the all the wonders he has worked as we contemplate the mystery of redemption in Christ throughout the liturgical year. Church documents about the Office speak about the sacrifice of praise rendered by the faithful to the Lord in the Divine Office. This sacrifice of praise will continue in the Church until Christ comes in glory.
The Holy Eucharist is without doubt the central focus of all giving thanks in the Church by her members. But the praise characteristic of the Divine Office is also an essential part of the Church’s rendering praise to her Creator. As the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours states (#12): “To the different hours of the day the liturgy of the hours extends the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the eucharistic mystery, ‘the center and high point of the whole life of the Christian community.'”
The document goes on to say that the Opus Dei is “an excellent preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist itself, for it inspires and deepens in a fitting way the dispositions necessary for the fruitful celebration of the Eucharist: faith, hope, love, devotion, and the spirit of self-denial” (Ibid).
Thanksgiving is a fundamental attitude and action of all Christians, a synthesis we might say of our belief. Our faith, hope and love are put into practice whenever and wherever we render thanks to God.
Any spirituality of praise, deriving from the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, has to include the idea of “eternal praise” (laus perennis). At certain times in the history of the Church and of religious Orders, this meant having some people in church day and night singing God’s praises. It was a vocal “perpetual adoration,” but this practice has not endured in the tradition of the Church, whereas silent, “perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament” has remained.
The praise of the Church, which includes the Liturgy of the Hours, is an anticipation of the praise of God in eternity, beyond the confines of time and space. The eternal praise of God is the joyful occupation of the heavenly assembly, often called the celestial or heavenly choir, already present in God’s angels and saints, and at the end of time, for all who share God’s kingdom.
Since the Opus Dei we pray on earth is an anticipation of the eternal praises in heaven, we might call our praying of the Hours a “school,” wherein we are learning to praise God for all eternity. The ‘school of psalmody’ of the praying Church enlightens, instructs and sustains those who participate in choral office, singing on earth like the choirs in heaven, before the throne of God.
In the New Testament it is clear that true Christian worship, while having exterior forms, is fundamentally interior, and is made up of a life of self-sacrifice and love. Saint Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (cf Col 1:24). The one sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God is, of course, that of Jesus Christ, redeemer of the human race. But his offering also needs to be completed, as described by Saint Paul to the Colossians (1:24).
Christ’s sacrifice needs to be completed, not because the salvific work and offering of Christ are somehow “imperfect.” Rather, Christ’s oblation of himself, offered in the Holy Spirit, remains incomplete–in the sense of “in need of fulfillment”–until all people freely enter into the one offering of Christ, making their lives an acceptable offering to God. Our religion is not a quietistic one, where we simply wait until God acts in us and we do nothing until then. No, we are expected to be “up and doing,” that is, active participants in God’s life of grace in our souls.
Because Christ has formed us into his body, our offering is intimately united to his, transformed into something “pleasing and acceptable to God,” as described in the First Eucharistic Prayer, the “Roman Canon.” It is especially at the Eucharist that we offer to God a sacrifice of praise, where in the Holy Spirit, Christ renews his offering sacramentally at each Mass celebrated. But at the Divine Office too, as a “spiritual sacrifice” or a “sacrifice of praise,” we make an acceptable offering to God.
The Opus Dei is clearly structured to render praise to God. The Lord is not asking for the sacrifice of animals as at the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, but asks the sacrifice of lives that are broken for God, and made whole through the power of God at work in willing hearts.
God is looking for an interior conversion, a change of heart, as we sing of in Psalm 50: “Create a clean heart in me, O God.” This implies the observance of God’s commands, keeping one’s tongue from evil, pursuing justice for the needy and oppressed; in short, listening to and obeying God, which is “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mt 12:33), as a scribe echoed back Jesus’ words about the most important commandment of God. And to that Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Ibid., verse 34).
Over and again, the psalms–which are the heart of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours–affirm the need to praise God in common prayer, with such passages as these: “Let my prayer arise before you like incense, the raising of my hands like an evening oblation” (Psalm 140:2). “Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God and render him your votive offerings” (Psalm 49:14). “A sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me” (Psalm 49:23).
Christian liturgical prayer is a spiritual sacrifice and an unmistakable sign that expresses we belong entirely to God. To offer God this kind of sacrifice is saying to the world that we offer our selves to God, without the use of animals or other victims as in ancient times. Psalm 39 says it so well: “You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear. You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead, here am I” (Ps 39:7-8).
Our sacrifice of praise is always offered to God in and through Christ the Lord. The Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 13:15) says: “Through Christ, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”
The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (#15) echoes the inspired text of Hebrews this way: “In the liturgy of the hours the Church exercises the priestly office of the Head and offers to God ‘without ceasing’ (1 Thes 5:17) a sacrifice of praise, that is, a tribute of lips acknowledging his name.”
Sacrificial terminology is expressed in the same document, #39, speaking about the character of daily Vespers. At that office we “recall the redemption through the prayer we send up ‘like incense in the Lord’s sight,’ and which ‘the raising of our hands’ becomes ‘a evening sacrifice.'” These are clear references to Psalm 140:2, a traditional Vesper’s psalm.
The Benedictine Directory for the Celebration of the Work of God, The Monastic Hours, (#10, “A Memorial of the Mystery of Christ”) states: “Since the Work of God is in fact a ‘prayer-memorial’ of the history of salvation and shares this character with the Eucharist, it is justifiably called, like the Eucharist, a ‘spiritual sacrifice.'”
A spirituality of the Liturgy of the Hours is above all biblical in its foundation. Sacred Scripture makes up the bulk of the Divine Office. As daily participants in the Opus Dei we need to have a firm rooting in the Bible and come to know its content and message more and more as the years pass. The Word of God, that is the entire Bible, takes on the important role in our life of announcement, proclamation and pondering of the saving events recounted in the Bible, above all the gift of redemption in Jesus Christ. The biblical texts of the Divine Office, especially the psalms, are not only given as material for meditation and prayer, but are constant announcements of a God who saves and is operating in the Church, especially through the sacraments, and above all, the Eucharist.
A spirituality of the Opus Dei, because it is biblical, is both historical and prophetic. At the same time it is very much “of the present” and leading us into the future, specifically to eternal life.