Category Archives: Divine Office

Christ’s Decent Into Hell

I wanted to share one of my favorite readings from Holy Week in the Divine Office today. What is truly special about this homily is it’s antiquity, as it comes from the very early days of the Church. I am reposting it in full, I’m sure the author won’t mind the copyright infringement, as he’s been dead for 1800 years or so. I almost wanted to cry after reading this Saturday morning.

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

Praying the Divine Office

I love old movies, you know, the ones that don’t have scantly clad women in every other scene blasting out profanities while firing an AK47 into unsuspecting public.

I especially love old Catholic movies. What a different time in our nation when a producer could put together a  movie like “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, or “The Song of Bernadette” and actually expect an audience to want to see it. I’m too young to remember such a time, but in my minds eye I can imagine the shops all closed on Sundays, and Friday fish specials at every grocery store. I don’t actually know if it was ever like that, but in my “Leave it to Beaver” dreams, that’s how it is.

One thing you will often see in these old movies is that moment when you catch the priest unawares. If you were to catch a priest off guard in a modern movie, I am saddened to say that it is probably something you really don’t want to see, and you should probably go to another movie immediately. In the good old black and white days though, catching a priest off guard always meant the same thing.

He was reading out of the black book.

What was this ominous black book? Why was he always walking in the garden with that same darn book? Was it the Bible? Butler’s “Lives of the Saints”? Nope, it was the Divine Office.

Just in case you are wondering, all clergy is expected to read the Divine Office, and most religious orders have it in one form or another written into their Rule as well. It’s just one of those things that the religious are supposed to do.

“Priests and deacons aspiring to the presbyterate are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours daily according to the proper and approved liturgical books; permanent deacons, however, are to carry out the same to the extent defined by the conference of bishops”  -Code of Canon Law 276-3

So yes, priests are supposed to pray the whole darn thing every day, and according to the the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, deacons are required to pray at least morning and evening prayer. It’s just one of those things that are supposed to be done.

At first, I must say, this was a daunting task. These books are rather confusing to the novice, let me tell you. It is broken into a bunch of different sections and you are constantly flipping from one side of the book to the other to find whatever reading or prayer is next. If it a holy day not celebrated on a Sunday, it might be in the back of the “Propers”. What? It’s a saint’s feast day? Is it local or not? Okay let me search the “Proper of Saints” real quick. Should I pull out my addendum? I mean this thing is so complicated that every year, they print out a guide just with the various page numbers you should be on every day.

You should see all of us deacon candidates when we get together and try to figure this out. It’s hilarious, not unlike watching a circus. We are all shouting out page numbers, books are flying through the air, a moments smile when you get to the right page only to arrive a moment too late and have fumble while the rest of the group is on to the next section. We are like a wheelbarrow full of monkeys.

Phew, It’s like holy juggling.

All joking aside, the rich liturgical feeling of this most ancient prayer truly is divine. You cannot help but feel yourself moving through the liturgical calendar, chanting away with all the men and women before us. The prominent position of the psalms in this prayer help your mind and heart go back even further to our Jewish roots. It is truly timeless.

Unless you are short on time, in which case it feels like a race. “I must do this, I am commanded!” you think to yourself. I hope the Lord can see through my selfishness, and if He cannot reward my lack of focus, perhaps he will be kind to me for my persistence.