Thursday, December 12, 2013

CHAPTER 17: The Arrangement of the Other Hours


Now that we have established the order of the psalms for the night and the morning office; we should arrange for the other Hours. At the first Hour let three psalms be said separately, and not under one Gloria. Let the hymn for the same Hour be said after the verse, “God, come to my assistance,” but before the psalms are begun. Then, after the completion of three psalms, let one lesson be said, a verse, the Kyrie, and the collects….

    Each hour of the Divine Office begins with the phrase “God, come to my assistance.”  It is particularly beautiful in Latin: Deus in adiutorium meum intede, and if you say it enough times in a row, it begins to take on a certain meditative rhythm that melds with your breathing, your footsteps, your heartbeat…I like to say it while I’m exercising, and I’ve known monks who built their entire spirituality around that single phrase.  Part of what makes it so powerful is that, in no more than five words, it incorporates all four traditional classifications of prayer—contrition, petition, adoration, and thanksgiving.  This is how the Church Fathers explained it:

    Contrition (Atonement):  God come to my assistance, bring me relief from temptation and forgiveness of my sins.
    Petition: God come to my assistance, strengthen my faith and give me the strength to help others.
    Adoration: God come to my assistance, for you are God and nothing exists apart from you. 
    Thanksgiving: God, come to my assistance.  The courage to ask is itself your gift, and I know your answer before I’ve completed my request: “Ask and you shall receive.” (Matthew 7:7)


    Saint John Cassian told his monks that they should say this prayer as often as they possibly could.
“Every monk who wants to be aware of God should be in the habit of meditating on this phrase ceaselessly in his heart, because it embodies every possible human emotion and adjusts itself to every condition and attack. It contains a prayer to God in the face of any crisis, the humility of a devout confession, the watchfulness of constant concern and of constant awe—a consciousness of one’s frailty, the assurance of being heard, and confidence in a protection that is always present and at hand…if I want to eat too much…if I have a terrible headache...if anger or depression or jealousy overwhelm me...If I can’t seem to focus on my work...if I have insomnia or nightmares...In every one of these cases, I should cry out with all my strength, “God, come to my assistance, Lord, make haste to help me.” (Adapted from John Cassian: The Conferences, translated by Boniface Ramsey, OP)