The daily celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours makes the praying community a source of communion, and specifically, ecclesial or Church, unity. As the celebration of the Divine Office is intimately connected to the mystery of salvation in Christ and in praying the Office we are daily reminded of God’s saving deeds in sending his Son into the world (1 Jn 4:9), we are naturally drawn in our Opus Dei to seek unity among believers and even between Churches. Our praying the Divine Office, then, is an important means of promoting Church unity.
Praying of the Divine Office in common or in solitude makes us part of the “praying Church,” ecclesia orans, spread throughout the world. Just as the Apostles and the Blessed Mary were constant in their common prayers after our Lord’s Ascension (Acts 4:32), now we also, praying together and firm in the faith, carry on the apostolic tradition that has been handed down over the centuries, until the Lord comes again in glory.
At the root of the communal praying of the Office, but also praying the Office in private, we are mindful of the value of the praying Church, which is a koinonia, that is, a holy community, which belongs to Christ and has Christ as its head. Two texts from the bishop-martyr, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who died in 107 A.D., sum up well the “spirituality of communion” of the early Church, and a model for us today.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote:
“In the symphony of your concord and love, the praises of Jesus Christ are sung. [You should] form a choir, so that, joining the symphony by your concord, and by your unity taking your key note from God, you may with one voice through Jesus Christ sing a song to the Father. Thus he will both listen to you and by reason of your good life recognize in you the melodies of his Son. It profits you, therefore, to continue in your flawless unity, that you may at all times have a share in God” (Ad Eph. IV).
And in another place:
“In common let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love, in joy, that is without blame, which is Jesus Christ–for there is nothing better than he. Gather yourselves together, all of you, as unto one shrine, even God, as unto one altar, even One Jesus Christ, who proceeds from One Father, and is in One and returned to One” (Ad Magn. VII).
Along the same lines, the 20th century document, “Directory for the Celebration of the Work of God and Directive Norms for the Celebration of the Monastic Liturgy of the Hours,” prepared by Benedictines, speaks of the threefold dimension of the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. In Number 21 (page 40, “Triple Dimension of Celebration”) we find these words:
“To be authentic, the celebration of the Work of God (Opus Dei) requires that three dimensions should always be found in the liturgical assembly, namely an ecclesial dimension (a community bounded by time and space in which the mystery of the Church is actualized); a community dimension (all are one body yet each has his or her own place and function); a personal dimension (encounter with God does not happen to a nameless crowd, but to beloved and fully conscious human persons).
There is no doubt that the personal dimension is fundamental and a condition for the existence of the others; if this is absent, then the other two disappear.
The celebration of the Work of God is effectively personal:
1. In the underlying conditions for its existence, the presence of each member of the praying community ought to signify their mutual acceptance in intimate unity of mind and heart (Matt 18:19; Acts 1:14; 2:46). The only prayer that truly glorifies God is that which expresses unity of soul through unity of voices (Rom 15:1-7).
2. In its real nature, in so far as each person freely joins himself to the common prayer, taking an active and conscious part in it, so that “our minds may be in harmony with our voices” (Rule of Saint Benedict, chapter 19:7, ‘The Discipline of Psalmody’).