During prayers one day, a sudden impulse came upon me as I heard the voices of my Carmelite Sisters chanting the Liturgy of the Hours – an idea welling up within me to share with you about our chanting of the Divine Office in our local Carmel of the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, California.
I love it here, and I especially love our monastic choir adjacent to the sanctuary of our beautiful chapel.
Our choir is a rectangular room, located adjacent to the chapel sanctuary and lined on both sides with two rows of monastic, wooden choir stalls. For many centuries, monks and nuns have literally spent hours in choirs such as ours singing God’s praises. Every syllable, every breath, gesture, and movement is prayerful. In our community, we chant the Liturgy of the Hours three times daily. This is also known praying the Breviary or the Divine Office.
It is said that the angels are very close when one prays the Divine Office.
We have a four-volume set of office books, one book for each of the four liturgical seasons: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and two books for what is known as Ordinary Time. Sometimes we stand; sometimes we bow; sometimes we sit. At certain intervals, we keep a prayerful silence; at other times, we intercede for our world. There are specified roles for the different sisters during the chanting and each week a sign is posted on the bulletin board outside the choir, listing the role we take that week.
Each hour has more or less the same structure. There is an opening invitatory, a hymn and then a series of psalms (usually 3) and each psalm is preceded and followed by an antiphon. I was enthralled and amazed when I first entered our community as I just soaked in the ebb and flow of the movement of the chanting. At first, it seemed I would never get it – when to stand, when to bow, how far down to bow, when to chant recto tono (on one note only) or sung as it is on festive days.
It’s hard to put this in words, but I’ll try. Gradually, the theme, the spirit, the ebb and flow of our chanting began to permeate my entire day as a kind of background music to my teaching, or typing, or whatever I was currently assigned to do. Then I began to notice that each season had a special flavor, a special touch, if you will, to the soul. It is really quite spiritual and equally hard to describe.
Now I am able to say that my days are marked by the Liturgy of the Hours. Like my other sisters, I can flow in and out of them, as the tide ebbs and flows at the seashore.
I’d like to share something that happened the other day. I was speaking with some young adults and we were talking about the Liturgy of the Hours and I was totally taken aback. Surprised. Almost shocked. Because they knew all about it.
So, they showed me their mobile devices and I saw right then and there the divine office appear, not only in printed form – hour by hour – by it was also audio. You could not only see, you could also hear, the entire hour.
I gazed around in wonderment. I felt and saw hope for our world because there I was in a suburb of Los Angeles, and today’s generation was showing me, a Carmelite Sister, how to use an app to pray. And not just any prayer. No, the divine office, the prayer par excellence, the universal prayer of the Catholic Church, prayed worldwide every day by many, many people. That’s what they told me. They went on to inform me that Divineoffice.org was voted the BEST CATHOLIC WEBSITE last year and is on the list of the top five today as voting continues on About.com.
As my young friends say, “That’s cool.”