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.

The Board of Fame

My desk is a regular menagerie of small knickknacks that my children have made or given me over the years. I have a little jar of gold my daughter bought me while on vacation, clay sculptures, fimo bears and an assortment of “best papa ever” statues and plaques. I just have a hard time getting rid of them, and so they have slowly taken over my desk to the point where dusting is a full day event.

I’m just that perfect bad combination of pack rat and sentimentalist.

This is most obvious when you look at the bulletin board I keep above my desk. Here you will find a dizzying collage of graduation announcements, thank you cards, posters, first communion invitations, baby pictures and wedding invitations.

If you send me a note, it must go to the Board of Fame.

I just love looking up and remembering all the relationships that mean so much to me.

So I decided to share a little of it with you. The first thing that pops out to me is a song my daughter wrote for me:

The Song of Nature
As I walk through the breeze,
It get’s everywhere except my knees.
And while the petals fall like fairies,
It makes me so merry.
And like I see the swallows fly over cliffs and meadows,
I see the sky turn red, pink and different shades of yellow. 
And as God plans everything,
One day we must go on His wing.
To: My dearest Papa
From: His loving daughter Aurora

Could you throw it away? I certainly can’t. It’s hung right above the Star Trek figurines that my wife got me for my birthday last year, right next to the picture my other daughter drew of our dream boat, named “Loft Oin”.

There is the graduation announcement from one of my youth group kids from years back, and no, it’s not a high school announcement, it’s for college. When did I get so old that my first youth group kids are married and having children? Well look there, there are some of their baby pictures.

No, it’s not all that formal. I don’t have them framed, and you can date them by measuring the dust. Like my memory, much of the past has been covered up by the new, but I know with a little work, I can pull back the layers and look into the past of those who changed my life, by letting me into theirs.

One quote on my wall grabs my attention:

“You create your own universe as you go along.”
-Winston Churchill

Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar?

There has been a lot of buzz over this topic over the past few years. I think it is an interesting question. The way I see it, there are three major thoughts that need to be worked out, and in a specific order.

1) Can a deacon wear the collar?
2) Is the deacon allowed to wear the collar?
3) Why does the deacon want to wear the collar?

Can a deacon wear the collar?

This one is a bit tricky. The code of Canon Law is pretty clear on the issue.

“Can. 284 Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.

Can. 288 The prescripts of cann. 284, …….do not bind permanent deacons unless particular law establishes otherwise.” (abbreviated)

So we are called to wear “clerical garb”, but are not obligated to do so. Hmm. What is “”clerical garb”? Is that the collar? Wearing the collar would certainly be the local custom I think, after all, transitional deacons,(that is men ordained as deacons before they become priests) are required to wear the collar. That would satisfy as local custom, right? So the way I see this, permanent deacons are encouraged, but not bound to wear the collar. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not set any mandate out of desire to let the local bishop decide what is best.

Is the deacon allowed to wear the collar?

This for me is the first really important question. It’s easy to start spouting laws and rights, but if we don’t try to get to the spirit of things first, we are seriously missing the point.

A deacon is called to obedience. A deacon, first and foremost, should be his “bishop’s man”. It is our primary call, as it is him that we are called to serve.

So to me the question is not just does your bishop allow you to wear the collar, but does he want you to wear the collar? Does he only want you wearing the collar when you are acting as minister, or would he prefer you to wear it all the time as a testament to your clerical state?

I think we get so caught up in laws, we can miss the point.

Ask, and Obey!

Why does the deacon want to wear the collar?

If a deacon wants to wear the collar because he thinks he looks dashing in one, or because he wants to be deffered to, then he’s missing the point. I’m not going to pretend that doesn’t happen, but that is hardly the norm by any stretch, so I’m not going to go into it at any length.

Let’s be honest here. In any parish, almost everyone knows who the deacons are. Heck, we know who the deacons of all the neighboring parishes are. Yes, you may have the odd guest, or the parishioner who still calls the deacon Father, but for the most part, within their parishes, they are easily identified. But then, so is the priest. If the priest put on a red hat and a pink tutu, everyone would still know who he was.

So it’s not about identification by the parishioner. Then it must be about the identification by the non-parishioner.

An ordained man was not ordained for his own benefit. He was given gifts by God to share with other people. A priest should be marked, so that if those gifts are required, he can be found easily. I am going out on a limb here, but I feel the same way about deacons. Imagine you are in the library, and someone is really interested in knowing more about the Church. Any priest knows this happens all the time, because those people feel safe coming up to ask questions, his collar has marked him as a cleric. Would we really want our deacons to keep the gifts given at their ordination to themselves? Do we not want to be open to help those who need the consolation that only the Church can give? A deacon’s cross is simply not effective for this kind of outreach, only clerical dress can do that.

I am often frustrated by nuns and monks for the same thing. I feel that without distinctive dress to let people know that they are dedicated to the service of their fellow man that they cannot live out their vocations fully. They are to be holy, set aside. I would think deacons should be the same way by virtue of the Holy Orders they have received in trust for us.

I’ll be honest, I don’t expect this to be settled in my lifetime, but I look forward to the day when there is a standard dress marking a deacon as a deacon. I’m liking how some dioceses are asking their deacon to wear grey clerical only, I think that’s right on. I certainly would rather not be confused with a priest.


Edit: I have written further commentary on this topic at:

“Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar”

My Own Personal Sponsor

Everyone desires the support of their friends and family. It is my prayer that everyone gets that support, I certainly do, and it feels very nice. I’ll have to post about them one of these days.

There is another support that for me has been monumental. It is the belief and trust from someone you don’t really know all that well.

There is a woman in our parish that has always held a high opinion of me. We have become friends over the years, at least as much as our age differences can allow. Her children are older then me, so to her I am sure I am just a rather nice boy. She is a strong Catholic, and seeing me grow in my faith has been of great value to her personally for some reason unknown to me. I think it’s just because she is so much holier that me, that I can’t possibly understand.

St Catherine, my patron’s patron

She is the type of person who is willing to put herself on the line if she thinks someone can really be helped. I remember a few years ago getting a rather strange call from her. She had found a young homeless woman who was pregnant, and had taken her into her home in hopes of helping her keep the baby instead of aborting. This young woman did not really want to raise the child, and she was calling to ask if we would consider adopting the baby.

What? You are calling me to see if I might want a baby? I wasn’t sure if she was for real at first, but as soon as I woke up from the shock, I of course said heck yes! (My wife and I cannot have more children, so this was really an exciting prospect for us.) We got to know the young woman, and sadly, things did not work out, as the young woman disappeared one day, but I will never forget that she thought of us first for such a holy task.

Over the years we have grown much closer. When I started my first business as a window cleaner, she was one of my first customers. She heard I was starting something new, and dangit if she didn’t want to help me out. She is just like that all the time. Whenever I have offered services for auction at a fundraising dinner, she inevitably wins the bid, every time.

I remember once we were on a retreat together, and I grew rather fond of a statue at the retreat center. When it was sold, guess what ended up at my door. My wife and both daughters each have subscriptions to our favorite devotional, the Magnificat, all with her name on them.

She is truly a Godsend.

So I just knew that she would have no problem loaning me a few books. One of the mandates of the formation program is that we begin to pray the Divine Office. Yes, I have an old beat up copy of Christian Prayer, but I really wanted to try the four volume set for a little while to see if I liked it.

So I casually asked if she had it and if I could borrow it, and she of course said sure. I really planned on giving it back to her next month when I can afford the set, after all, that dang thing is $200, and I have a family that just made it through Christmas.

Low and behold, here she comes one day to Mass with a brand new set of them for me. Not only that, but they are of far better quality than her own, black leather with gold edging, I mean these things are really nice.

I tried to let her know that she could have just asked for them back if she really wanted her books so badly, to which she just laughed and said,

“I knew you wanted them, and I know you’ll use them. Just pray for me once and a while.”

No. I pray for her every day. I also pray that I can learn to be so generous.

Lawns are Stupid

It’s not so much that I hate grass, I am rather indifferent to grass in general. It is very pleasant for a green, living carpet if that’s your kind of thing.

What I truly dislike is yard work.

I know what you are thinking. “Nobody likes yard work Dance, it’s just what has to be done to make your house look nice.”

No. It does not “have to be done.” Lawns are stupid.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I know people who actually like this sort of thing. Their idea of a great day is getting out there, planting flowers and shrubberies and messing around in the dirt with their fancy flower laced gloves. I respect that. I am also fully aware that there are plenty of people who actually enjoy the labor of cleaning up their land, felling trees and running tractors like farmer John. That’s fine, whatever floats your boat is fine by me.

Why does that need to imply that I must have my yard look tidy? So you care enough about your curb appeal to work on it, so what? I don’t. I’d rather go for a walk, or a hike or pick my nose or any other myriad of things. I don’t want to mow my lawn and trim my hedges. It’s not fun at all.

Here’s what is even more frustrating. I like my grass long. Very long. Waist high. When I was a kid, I used to love running through the open countryside through the tall grass. I love the smell of it, the critters scurrying underfoot, the way the wind plays across the field. I think it’s far prettier than your silly green carpets.

I like dandelions too. (Gasp!)

In fact, I don’t just think lawns are silly. I think they are stupid. They feel so industrial, all cut the exact same height. It’s like a desert of mutilated grass stalks. I bet they cry. Do you feel like butcher with green grass blood all over your shoes?

I know that this is silly to most of the people out there reading this, but I really honestly don’t want to mow my lawn. I actually, truly like it just the way it is. If I don’t mow it though, everyone else sees it as unkempt, and that saddens me. I don’t want to feel like a slob.

So here is my request for the day. You hard working, lawn loving fanatics out there, can we just shake hands and be friends? I’ll ooOOoo and Ahhhh over how nice your shrubberies are cut and how fresh and green your lawn is, and all you have to reply is, “Geeze Dance, I love that natural touch your yard has.” That’s it. Then we can be friends.

And while you are at it, pay no attention to the fact that my Christmas tree still hasn’t been taken to the dump.

The Ramblings, Teachings and Archive of a Catholic High School Theology Teacher, and Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.