A little background. Off and on for about 25 years I have participated to one degree or another in the official liturgical prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, more traditionally known as the Divine Office (from Latin officium “service,” “ceremony,” or “duty”). Honestly, through the years, I've usually been a lot better about the Morning Office – the Invitatory and Morning Prayer. But not always. There have been long periods when I would lapse, usually out of pure laziness. I am not, nor have I ever been, a morning person! Anyway, one such period has been the past few months.
On an seemingly unrelated subject, I have also of late been quite negligent about my daily walking routine for exercise.
I think I've found a way to kill two birds with one stone. I was commenting yesterday to a friend that I really needed to get back to walking every day. I also mentioned that my walking was always in the evening because … well, see above: “I am not, nor have I ever been, a morning person!” He replied, whether rightly or wrongly I do not know, that twenty minutes walking in the morning, before breaking fast, is equivalent to walking for an hour in the evening when your body has been more recently fed and is thus less likely to draw on stored fat-cells for energy. Hey, I don't know if that's true or not – but I'm going to assume it's the case. But I know myself – am I really going to get up a half-hour or 45 minutes earlier just to go out walking? I thought, what if I can combine that with my neglected liturgical prayer life?
The Divine Office is meant ideally to be observed in a community. It originated, after all, in the early monasteries near on 2000 years ago and was only later mandated for individual non-monastic clergy as well as suggested for the laity, where it is more typically prayed in silence, more as a reading. I believe that if it is read actively and attentively, such prescribed liturgical prayer is a real participation in the Church's communal prayer life. Of course, like anything, if it is just skimmed and rushed through, it can become an empty exercise. The mind and the heart must be engaged. But, ideally, the Divine Office is an oral service, to be spoken, chanted, or sung and heard. In a monastic community, it can be a beautiful thing. Often guests making retreats at monasteries or convents are invited to join the members of the community in the chapel at the prescribed hours as I have done from time to time over the years – always coming away with a renewed determination to preserve the feeling of holiness and connectedness with the universal Church in my individual participation. Which usually lasts for a few weeks or months, then my natural lassitude would reassert itself.
Yesterday, it occurred to me that there may be a way to participate in the oral/aural Divine Office virtually, by means of a podcast. I usually listen to podcasts while I walk, so as not to feel like I'm wasting the time. So I went to the iTunes store and did a search for “divine office” and hit as the top result Divine Office – Liturgy of the Hours of the Roman Catho... (I was searching on my iPhone). It has the various liturgical hours as individual podcasts, posted (it appears) at least a day in advance. Ah-ha!, I thought, and promptly downloaded “Jun 11, About Today...,” “Jun 11, Invitatory for...,” “Jun 11, Office of Rea...,” and “Jun 11, Morning Pray....” (As of this morning, I see the hours for tomorrow, 12 June, also posted, with post dates of yesterday, obviously sometime after I was connected – that's the reason I wrote, “at least a day in advance.” It looks like late in the day maybe you can get up through the day after next.) And this morning, I got up bright and early (well, not quite so early – it's the summer, after all, and the University is on break! – but early enough to be before the day's heat really sets in – this is Louisiana, after all) and went walking, listening to the Morning Offices. It was a very uplifting experience.
Of course, it's not a perfect participation – that would require me to have regular access to a monastery or convent, which I do not. Hearing the songs and recitations is, however, I believe, as good as reading them. The key again is to keep the mind engaged and active, which can be done as well (or poorly) when listening as when reading, to make the participation truly a prayer. There are indeed considerable parts of the Morning Office that I can, after more than two decades of off-and-on individual participation by reading, I can recite from memory (mainly the most common Invitatory Psalm, 95, and the Canticle of Zechariah or Benedictus which is prescribed for Morning Prayer every day [Luke 1:68-79], as well as the Our Father and the Glory Be), so I can subvocally pray along with the recording. No matter what format or setting one uses, it is a matter of intention that makes it a prayer.
This morning, I found the actual website for DivineOffice.org, which I have linked to up at top right in place of what had been a link to Universalis.com. DivineOffice.org gives the text of the psalms, songs, and readings for the day, just as Universalis.com does. The crucial difference is that DivineOffice.org uses the official translation of the texts while Universalis.com uses their own translation, with the official translation available only for a fee. Universalis' is not a bad translation, but it is not the one used liturgically through most of the English-speaking world.
It is my hope that the need, for the benefit of my physical health, to get back into a regular walking regimen, plus the need, for benefit of my spiritual health, to get back into a regular participation in the Divine Office, will be enough for me to overcome my normal tendency to just roll over and hit snooze again on the alarm! We'll see.