Simon Iredale finds assistance in saying the Daily Office
I confess that, for a priest, I have never been great at saying the Office. I mean well and my library shelves are well-endowed with all sorts of books which purport to take me by the hand and lead me into the garden of mental prayer. I know it is my duty as a priest and that, guiltily, has often meant that I have preferred ‘silent’ prayer. There’s nothing at all wrong with silent prayer, but I get the impression that the Fathers would also expect me to be reading the psalms and following the ancient order of the Hours with silent prayer as a part, not the whole! Sometimes I have taken refuge in what the Desert Saint, Abba Macarius, said (The Desert Fathers, translated by Helen Waddell, Constable & Co., London (1987), p.157):
‘They asked Abba Macarius: “How ought we to pray?” and the old man said: “There is no need of much speaking in prayer, but often stretch out your hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy upon me.’ But if there is war in your soul, add, ‘Help me.’ And because He knows what we need, He shows us mercy.”’
This is wonderful, but is it a counsel for those who are already saints? I fear that my nature would lead me, in the end, to see this as an avoidance, or (God forbid) a shortcut.
I was fortunate enough one Easter (the Greek Pascha) to be at a Greek monastery in the mountains above Athens during their Holy Week. What impressed me hugely there was the continual recitation of the Psalms in one of the smaller chapels (yes, 24 hours a day). The monks came and went, taking up their place in the recitation as the monk who was reading slipped away to bed or to other duties. Visitors could also come and go, as is the way with any Eastern Orthodox liturgy, no matter how grand. The effect was not like, as it were, a ‘sudden shower’ of worship but a steady, soaking rain—permeating every part of one’s being. I imagined then that this was what it was like in any of our own monastic communities.
My memory being what it is, carrying the Divine Office around with me in (very chunky) book form would inevitably lead to me being in one place when the book was in another, when, for example, Sext was to be read. However, to my great surprise, an app on my phone has introduced me to quite a different way of doing things. I reasoned that since I look at the thing probably a hundred times a day (and use it to make up the deficiencies of my memory!) it seemed worth a try that an app might help. There exists such thing, I will not name it for fear of advertising and it is easy to find, but it is sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, which brings before the eye as many of the Offices as you wish to say, with the right saints’ days, the right psalms and readings set for the day and the Hour. It even includes the Psalm Prayers which, I understand, are not yet available in print. I have been attempting, with greater or lesser success, to follow all the Hours.
The spiritual effect on my life over the time I have been using it is interesting. Rather than having prayer and psalmody at either end of the day, the app summons me to prayer (with an audible cloister-like gong) whatever I am doing. Sometimes it is like being a hound pulled back from something that really interests it—back from mere busyness to the order and calm of the Hour. Sometimes, I know that an hour is approaching and will look for a park bench or a café seat to make the most of Terce or None. The blessed thing even beautifully sings to me the Salve Regina after Compline! The Office recalls me to itself; I do not go to it, it comes with me and, in a subtle way, imposes its own order on the day. It is also interesting, but not surprising, that whatever is going on—people to pray for, problems to sort out, the often tedious ‘nuts and bolts’ of parish life—they resonate with the psalms set and the opportunities for intercession offered. Monasticism on the go? Well, hardly. However, it is certainly having a good effect, so I shall stick with it!
Fr. Simon Iredale is Parish Priest of St Paul’s, Coven.