What's a Divine Office -- where God goes to work?
The divine office is along with the mass the public worship of the church. Oh man, hey, just give me Jesus, we're free aren't we, why bother with all this set stuff? One hears that a lot about liturgy these days. Well, here's why and how all this set stuff is part of giving you Jesus, or rather, part of Jesus giving himself to you.
Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. That came at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. As part of that restoration, Ezra and the 120 Men established set times for prayer in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue, which was adapted and continued by the church.
Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).
This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have a series of daily Christian synagogue services whose main ones are:
1. Matins, a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew, and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham;
2. Vespers, a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles, and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac;
3. Compline, a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew, and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.
Where can you find this stuff? There's been all kinds of versions over time in both the Eastern and Western church. The history of this development is beyond our scope here. What is important here is three main points: 1) community gathering for prayer, preaching and Scripture reading throughout the day continued in the church from the synagogue from Apostolic times, for example Acts chapter 20; 2) amid the great variation in details over time and place a consistent pattern is clear; 3) the three major times of prayer came to feature canticles, hymns setting parts of Scpripture, usually known from their first words in Latin, the Te Deum for Matins, the Magnificat for Vespers, and the Nunc dimittis for Compline.
The Te Deum is the only canticle that is not directly from Scripture. Traditionally it is said to have been spontaneously composed as St Ambrose baptised St Augustine in 387. It proclaims the Creed in the context of a heavenly liturgy and concludes with verses from the Psalms. You want some praise music -- this is it!
The Magnificat quotes Mary's words to Elizabeth at the Visitation, Luke 1:46-55, which in turn reflects and fulfills the Song of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, considered in Judaism the example of how to pray and as such the haftorah for Rosh Hoshannah or New Years, not to mention Mary's mother's name was Ana, or Anne, a variant of, guess what, Hannah! Want some more praise music -- this is it!
The Nunc dimittis quotes Simeon's words to Mary when Jesus was presented in the Temple to fulfill the Law, Luke 2:29-32. Our Common Service -- would that it were our common service -- also uses it as a thanksgiving after Communion. Want still more praise music -- this it it!
Also worth mentioning is the Benedictus, which quotes the words of Zacharias, a Temple priest and husband of Elizabeth and father of St John the Baptist, said in praise of the coming Messiah, Luke 1:68-79, which with the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are the three evangelical, because they come from Luke, canticles said every day. The Benedictus is associated with the office Lauds, meaning praise, which fits here because originally Lauds was Matins, but as the night vigil came to be said right before Lauds, the name Matins passed to the Vigil (hence the oddity of a morning name for a night service) and the original Matins became Lauds. In the Eastern Church Lauds is still at the end of Matins, which they call Orthros.
More praise. Looks like we don't have to go hunting for praise stuff, the church has had it all along in the Divine Office! And you hardly have to undertake some sort of monastic regimen. All this stuff started with parishes, not monasteries! Any of the hymnals in use by our beloved synod contains material for use, sometimes combining Vespers and Compline into one. Or, given that the Divine Office like the Divine Service is public communal prayer, you can just follow what is set out for personal or home Morning and Evening Prayer in the Little Catechism! That's what I do, with the "whatever your devotion may suggest" part being the daily reading from Walther in God Grant It from Concordia Publishing House.
Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't an "If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it" crowd. Our Confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.
And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the unfolding through all its points so far of the coming of salvation and leading on to that great and final Coming of the Omega drawing all Creation to its convergence in God in Jesus his Christ!!
Textual Note: This discussion of the Divine Office joins this year my "Blogoral Calendar", a series of posts aligned with the Church Year. My original post on the Office was part of something for the O Antiphons of Advent, then posted separately, and later more fully treated re the Office itself. It will be henceforward be published on the traditional feast day of the man who more than anyone else allowed this continuous song of praise of the church to survive the fall of the Roman Empire and its wake of destruction and pass to us. That is the holy father in faith St Benedict of Nursia, whose feast is celebrated, as is the custom with feasts, on 21 March, the date of his death, or rather birth unto eternity, regardless that it was moved to 11 July by the ecclesiatical vandals in their 1960s Sack of Rome called Vatican II that left its own wake of destruction. Abolished the term Matins too btw! For them. Luckily, the catholic church ain't the Catholic Church.
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