The Spirit of the Monastic Office

The vocation of the monk is to be a living prayer, a perpetual “pray-er,” whose praise of God goes on inside and outside the church, and whose day is marked by continually returning to church or cell to pray to God. This breaking up of the day by returning at fixed hours to church and the choral office is meant to promote a continual communion with the living God. Sometimes this approach to prayer drives the newcomers to distraction, asking us, “Why are you wasting so much time going to and coming from choir?” Of course they are missing the point, and eventually they either get the picture of the process or move on to another way of life!

The monastic liturgy, comprised of both the Opus Dei and the Holy Eucharist, is fundamentally a contemplative praise of God, where monks recount in word and song the great and saving deeds of God for the human race in Jesus Christ. By this daily and repeated calling to mind, monks are striving to “glorify God in all things,” as Saint Benedict puts it in his Holy Rule. This glorification of God is possible only because we are sanctified, that is “made holy,” by God’s grace. We are able to glorify God because he has first reached us in our depths and called us by name.

Before we can do anything, God is acting on our behalf, in our lives. God calls us but leaves us free to respond or not. God’s action and our response are both essential for a living and dynamic life in Christ. The Opus Dei we celebrate each day is intended to be a vital part of our life as consecrated men in the Church. The Mass is the source and summit of spiritual riches for our vocation, but the Opus Dei is not to be neglected, especially by contemplatives. We form a vital praying community, and more than celebrating “in the name” of the Church, we pray as the “Church in action,” which clings to Christ’s words: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there is I in the midst of them.” The praying community, however large or small it may be, becomes a manifestation, an epiphany, of the mystery of the Risen Christ in our midst.

The Opus Dei is supposed to be the “source of spirituality and nourishment for personal prayer,” according to Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (90). When praying the Divine Office is linked to genuine personal prayer, then there is a clear relationship between the Opus Dei and the rest of one’s life of prayer, which is what our life is supposed to be all about. The entire life of a consecrated man or woman, every hour of every day, is capable of being a liturgy, by which is offered to God a sacrifice of love. The Opus Dei becomes an important part of this offering, especially since it occupies a sizeable part of our waking hours.

The Divine Office and all our acts of prayer are meant to be a dialogue with the Savior. God speaks to his people in Word and silence, in sacrament and signs, and we speak to God with words and silence, gestures and receptive hearts. In this we grow in the likeness of God in whose image we are created. God’s grace is extended to us, enabling us to grow in holiness or union with him, the goal of our life.

The Liturgy of the Hours is meant to be a daily encouragement for our Christian and monastic life. We may not always feel up to it or enthused about being present in choir–that should never surprise or alarm us–but gradually and deep down we should desire to persevere in our life of prayer, though not surprised at our weakness or laziness, and willing to strive for active participation in the Opus Dei, hence not seeking excuses to absent oneself from the common (or when necessary solitary) praying of the offices.

God’s plan of salvation for us as individuals and community, as Church at large, is revealed to us in the concrete circumstances of our life in Christ, which includes daily participation in the common or private praying of the Opus Dei and the community Holy Mass. We consecrate ourselves to this work by the vows we make. At prayer in common or in private we are invited to experience the real and active presence of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bestowing grace on us who are God’s creatures, loved into being. We are invited as well to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” as the psalmist puts it.

When we speak of a liturgical spirituality, the Mass and Opus Dei are vital of such a spirituality. Other devotions–the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, etc.–may also be prayed, but can never replace or supersede the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Our Catholic liturgical practices always immerse us in the Tradition of the Church, and thereby we remain in communion with the Catholic Church, the Holy Father, and the religious Order to which we belong. We cannot re-invent the religious life according to our fancy, but must submit to the time-honored practice of the Church and her charism of consecrated life.

Christ is the center of our prayer: calling it into being, present when we pray, as the mediator of the new covenant, and the goal of our efforts. We live in the mystery of Christ in our midst–Emmanuel–who is calling us to be open to divine mercy and grace.

The Liturgy of the Hours is meant to be a contemplative prayer. Carried out in the beauty of the oratory, surrounded by sacred images, candles, incense and bells, accompanied by sacred music, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we are transported from the earthly realm to a spiritual one, which as our Eastern Christian brethren call it “heaven on earth.” This is especially so of the Holy Eucharist, but also of the Opus Dei. We are called to open our eyes to God’s presence in the liturgy we celebrate, to contemplate and rejoice that our God is so near. The liturgy is meant to open our hearts gradually and fully to all that God has in store “for those who love him.”

The rituals and formulas we observe in our liturgical celebrations are much more than “following rubrics” or “fulfilling an obligation.” Rather, the private or communal worship of the Church, which includes the Opus Dei, is given to the Church by God as a powerful means of intimate communion with the God who made us, to contemplate the mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ and to speak to the invisible but ever-present Lord. This loving encounter with God is especially expressed by our praise and thanksgiving.

The object of such contemplation is the Holy Trinity, ever active in the Church and in her members, forming the Body of Christ on earth, the Church militant, united with the Church triumphant in heaven and the Church suffering in Purgatory.