The Opus Dei is part of the larger Liturgy of the Catholic Church, which of course includes the Eucharist and the other sacraments of the Church as well as the sacramentals (the Way of the Cross, the Rosary, etc.), all of them are celebrated in what is called the Catholic Church’s “Liturgical Year.” The Liturgy of the Hours has a special role as the official prayer of the Church, and recommended to all the faithful, and to us an obligation and duty by virtue of our consecration in the religious state. To those who promise to pray it, the Divine Office is part and parcel of our life, and not an option or “up for discussion” as to whether or not to have it.
The Divine Office, in addition to rendering praise to God, has the function of leading Christians to a gradual and deeper participation in the saving mystery of Christ by means of prayer and dialogue with the Blessed Trinity. As a clearly Christian expression of prayer, the Opus Dei, though drawing from the Hebrew Scriptures, is centered on the Risen Christ. This is the mystery that animates our celebration of the Divine Office as well as the sacraments of the Church.
As a prayer that takes into account the entire day, week and year, with the intention of sanctifying all time, the Opus Dei is an expression of each one gathered to pray, but also of the entire Church at prayer, yearning be saved in Christ. The importance of the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of the Church is found in the fact that “public and common prayer by the people of God is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church” (GILOH #1).
Clearly the Liturgy of the Hours is in its essence prayer. Endorsed and designed by the Church and refined by our particular Order, the Divine Office asks for the conscious participation of each one taking part in it. We might even say that our praying the Divine Office is part of the very “breathing” of the Church. In our prayer offered up before the throne of the Divine Majesty, and in the fullness of grace poured out upon God’s faithful, we experience the “breathing of the Mystical Body of Christ.”
Normally humans breathe with two lungs, and the present Holy Father Pope John Paul II has emphasized that the two lungs of the Church are the Christian West and the Christian East. Among the local churches comprising the One Church of Christ, we are enriched by Catholics of the Eastern Rites, whose existence dates back just as far as our Latin church.
Our Lord was from what is now called the Middle East, a land rich in cultures and forms of worshiping God and from that eastern source there grew up the numerous Oriental churches, among them the Alexandrian, Armenian, Byzantine and Chaldean. Each of these, as well as our Latin-Roman tradition, has a rich heritage of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, with many similarities as well as differences.
For all of us, from East or West, young or old, the precept of Jesus Christ “to pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk 18:1) is our guiding principle. Saint Paul echoed the same notion with is words, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). This is the inspiration and the goal for which we strive as men consecrated to Christ and who have as a fundamental work the solemn carrying out of the Liturgy of the Hours. Our vocation is to “pray without ceasing,” and the Divine Office is meant to facilitate that end, even if sometimes or often we are mentally far from where we are physically in choir. That reality shouldn’t surprise or alarm us, who are called to persevere until the end in trying to pray, attentive and conscious of what we are doing.
The Liturgy of the Hours of the Church offers a rich source of material for prayer, which helps make Christ’s prayer our own. Our common or solitary praying of the Office becomes a time of realizing more our vocation to pray without ceasing, and to be a prophetic witness to the world that there are men and women wholly given over to a life of praise of God and intercession for the world before God’s throne.
In the words of Pope Paul VI:
“The hymn of praise that is sung through all the ages in the heavenly places and was brought by the High Priest, Christ Jesus, into this land of exile has been continued by the Church with constant fidelity over many centuries in a rich variety of forms”
(Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution, Laudis canticum of 1 November 1970, promulgating the revised book of the liturgy of the hour, in “Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979,”).
That sums up well the history and theology of the Opus Dei. God, who desires the fullness of life for his creatures, has given man the ability to pray. No other creature has been given this gift. To pray is a blessing from God. It is intended to be a lively communication with God, and ultimately a sharing in the glory of God for all eternity.
God’s glory is reflected in human beings. As Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr (+c.200) put it: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” When we pray we are reflecting the glory of God, who desires to communicate himself to man. Praying is being in harmony with the choirs of angels in heaven before God’s throne. Our liturgical prayer on earth is a reflection of and participation in the heavenly liturgy.
The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours is an activity of the Church united through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit. It is an act of glorifying God and sanctifying man at the same time. The moments of praying the Opus Dei in common or in solitude unite us to the saving events of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. These events happened millennia ago, but are ever new and alive in the life of believers.
“O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise” (Ps 50:17), we begin each new day of praying the Divine Office. These words express so well our daily desire to return to the Lord, from whom we’ve strayed in our thoughts, words and deeds. With that versicle of Psalm 50 we call to mind that it is God who awakes and who satisfies our desires. It is God who must open our lips to speak with him and to sing his praises. Prayer is a gift from God. We need to be worthy of such a gift and use it with responsibility. Of course we are never fully worthy or responsible, but only by God’s help do we even come near to being so!
Especially in the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, does the voice of each one partaking become the voice of the entire Church, the voice of Christ. Our service of praise gives glory to God, along with all humanity and with “everything that lives and that breathes” as Psalm 150 puts it. We do this by a conscious choice, as creatures possessing a free will. God’s others creatures and his creation praise him by their very existence.
The Liturgy of the Hours is an inexhaustible source of praise of God and sanctification of human beings. It takes on a dimension of eternity in that we pray the Office on earth united to the liturgy celebrated in heaven, and with the hope of full participation ourselves one day in the heavenly homeland. May our voices be in harmony with our intentions when we chant the Divine Office in the consecrated monastic life, whose principle work is “to render to the Divine Majesty a service at once simple and noble, within the monastic confines” (Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II “Decree on the Appropriate Renewel of the Religious Life,” #9).
Dignified celebration of the Holy Eucharist and Opus Dei should characterize our communities, along with a constant love of one another, the fruit of our prayer.
(largely based on material originally in Spanish, by Fr. Ruben Leikam, OSB,
translated and adapted by Fr. Christian Leisy, OSB
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
Abiquiu, New Mexico 87510)