Characteristics of a Spirituality of the Divine Office

An authentic “spirituality of the Opus Dei” needs to be Christocentric and Paschal. Christocentric, because the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of Christ; and Paschal, because it is the Risen Christ present in the praying assembly.

It is God’s word, the inspired scriptures, which we hear and proclaim in the Divine Office, drawn from the psalms, canticles and lessons, which form the core of the Office. Only the hymns, patristic readings and orations at the end of the Offices are non-biblical. But even those take their inspiration from biblical themes and passages. The “sacrifice of praise,” as the psalmist calls it (Psalm 115) we offer at the Office is a prolongation and in union with the eternal hymn of the Word, Christ, being offered to the Father.

The “Constitution on the Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of the Second Vatican Council puts it this way:

“In the earthly liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle (cf. Apoc 21:2; Col 3:1, Heb 8:2)” (SC #8).

We should always feel a yearning to be united with Christ in our sacred assemblies, either at Mass or the Opus Dei, so that the words of our mouth become prayer and action that is carried out with, in and for Christ, the Head of the Church. Our prayer and the prayer of the Risen Christ–who prays in us–are meant to be one breath directed to our heavenly Father, in the Holy Spirit.

In our Catholic liturgy–be it the Mass or the celebration of the Opus Dei–Christ is the great protagonist, that is, the principal performer or leading person of our celebrations. This is a consistent and traditional idea of liturgical theology and spirituality: it is centered in Christ, “sitting at the right hand of God” in the glory of heaven for all eternity. We can also say, with Sacrosantum Concilium of Vatican II that “every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others” (SC #7). The supreme end of all our liturgical assemblies is a meeting with Christ and the uniting of all that we are with our Redeemer.

As already said, the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of Christ, because Christ is present and praying in the assembly gathered in his name. Consequently the assembly is the Praying Church, even when just a few gather or when we pray in solitude. Christ and the Church are inseparable, as our head is firmly attached to our body. By our baptism we are members of the Body of Christ, traditionally called the Church Militant, and hence when we gather to pray, or when praying in solitude, we do it in the name of and for the larger community and Church, all of part of the ‘Church at prayer.’

Called to prayer by Christ and the tradition of the Church, the Catholic faithful, of whom we are part, show to the nations a Church celebrating the mystery of redemption in Christ. In the Church’s celebrations of sacraments and corporate worship, as in the Opus Dei, Christ exercises his eternal priesthood, the work of redeeming the human race. Christ also renders perfect adoration of the Father as the sufficient means needed for our reconciliation with God, and as the one by whom we give fitting worship to our heavenly Father (cf. SC #5).

The relation between a specific community praying and the universal Church is bound up in the priestly work of Christ. Each belongs to the other–the praying community and the universal Church–because Christ is present in both. By their prayer the specific community and the universal Church build up the Body of Christ. The praying community, and each member in particular, needs to adopt a sense of the wider Church at prayer and be committed to continual witness to Christ in our midst at all times, but especially when we pray.

There cannot be a praying Church, though, where no Church exists. In other words we need to be fully “in the Church” to be part of the praying Church. The ecclesial (Church) spirituality of the Liturgy of the Hours consists precisely in having constantly in prayer an ecclesial or Church focus. The Church is composed of “people at prayer,” of whom we are part, asking that God be present and answer the cry of his people.