Saturday, July 10, 2010

Corbon on the Divine Office

Meanwhile, however, there is one final sign that reveals to us the meaning of time made new: the prayer of the Hours.

Through this prayer the mystery of the liturgy that is celebrated on the Sunday permeates and transfigures the time of daily life.  But whereas everything is given to us in the liturgy of the Lord’s Day, here we give everything back.  There everything is grace; here everything becomes praise of the glory of his grace [Eph 1:6,12,14].  The “office”, the service, of the Bride, is then “divine”: her sole occupation is loving.  In this office our entire being takes part in praising the Father through his Son in his Holy Spirit.  Our “person”—body, soul, spirit, and heart—becomes in its every fiber a prayer, but so does our being “in relation to God”, since it is the community that prays, and, finally, our being “in time”, since this ongoing mortal time of ours is transformed into an offering by the dew of the Spirit [cf. Eucharistic Prayer II, modern Roman Rite].  The office is our incarnate participation in the prayer of Jesus himself.  The prayer that the Word makes to the Father expands and, in the form of praise, takes flesh in us who are in synergy with the Holy Spirit.  The office is a prism allowing the pure light of the Son’s own praise to be channeled through the adopted sons of God.

Understandably, then, the prayer of the Hours consists chiefly of the prayer that Jesus himself used in his mortal condition: the psalms.  In this single book of the Old Testament the entire economy of salvation became prayer, and now this love-inspired plan has been fulfilled in Jesus.  When the Church prays, the liturgy that “fulfills” this love-inspired plan is expressed through these same psalms.  In them the Spirit repeats with the Bride the wonderful deeds of her Lord.  The texts that we call the “hymns” of the prayer of the Hours are the blossoming of the psalms as prayed by Christ; they are, as it were, the psalms of the New Covenant.  In its litanic prayers the Church voices for “today” the intercession that first found expression in the psalms.

[By “hymns” and “litanic prayers”, Corbon, a priest of the Greek-Catholic eparchy of Beirut, may be referring to the poetic compositions and to the litanies used in the Byzantine Office.]

The biblical readings that are at the heart of the office complete the promise of the psalms.  We no longer go to meet the Word solely through the prayer of expectation; rather, when we hear the word of God, we encounter the Word in the silence of pure faith: there is nothing to say; we can only receive him in a spirit of utter poverty.  At this point, the encounter is not mediated by the prayer of those who were our fathers in the faith; our faith clings directly to him who is its source and goal.  When the wind reaches us, it has crossed mountains and valleys, seas and cities; so too the Breath of the Spirit reaches us laden with the redemptive drama of generations past.  But when it finally touches us, it causes us to be born directly into the life of the Son and to “see the kingdom of God”.

[I think that Corbon is speaking of the readings in the Hours and treating them as lectio divina.]

For the office is indeed divine: it is the divine occupation par excellence, the occupation of those who dwell in the kingdom of love.  It is relaxation in the spirit, as contrasted with the tensions and “preoccupations” of the world.  It transfigures us because it makes “this world as we know it… pass away” (1 Cor 7:31) and reveal its true nature as a gift.  It truly re-creates us by reminding us of the life to which we are called and making us live that life here and now: “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3).

Even though the prayer of the heart, which is absolutely indispensable, opens to us all the dimensions of love in human history, the office goes further in one direction: it transcends individuals, taking them out of themselves and making them one in the community.  It is then that the Church prays as the Church, the Bride of the Lord of history, moved by the Spirit and surrendered to the Father: “Look, I and the children whom God has given me” (Heb 2:13).  The office is the office of a people who are priests in the one Priest, the “compassionate and trustworthy high priest” (Heb 2:17).  “He… made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father: to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever.  Amen” (Rev 1:6).

—Jean Corbon, O.P. (1924-2001) The Wellspring of Worship (trans. Matthew J. O’Connell; 2nd ed., San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005) 186-188.  [Original title: Liturgie de Source, Paris: Les Editions Du Cerf, 1980.]

1 comment:

John said...

Wow, wonderful quote. This helped me. Thank you.