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"An incentive to prayer" by Cardinal Spellman

Friday, July 23, 2004
                         AN INCENTIVE TO PRAYER                      by Francis Cardinal Spellman  IT IS TRULY meet and just, indeed it seems providential, that the  Holy Year of 1950 should be marked from its outset by the publication  in English of the Roman Breviary.  The appearance at any time of a  new rendition of the Breviary may properly be regarded as an  important event in the life of the Church. When this event is  associated with the Year of Jubilee, and takes place in America,  great significance rightly attaches to it. Perhaps one could say that  this new translation, successfully undertaken in the United States,  is America's way of answering Our Holy Father's call to penance and  prayer in this Year of Reconciliation.  For the truth is, the Breviary is fast becoming the prayer-book of  the nun in the convent, even as it has long been the daily book of  prayer for the priest. It is more than likely to become the Vade  Mecum of the man in the street. This hope is justified, for the world  has urgent need of the spirit, both of penance and prayer, which the  Breviary, when properly used, abundantly supplies. Any earnest soul  who looks about for helps in his life of prayer and in his practice  of penance, need look no further. The Breviary, which is the official  prayer-book of the Church, brings great graces: such as the grace to  know the mind of the Church, the grace to live the life of the  Church, the grace to share in the mission of the Church. In a word,  more than any other book, the Breviary reveals the inner spirit of  the Church and, what is just as important, it attracts the soul to  intimate union with Her. All is said when it is stated that the  Breviary helps the soul through and beyond such union into unity with  the Church, possessing with Her "cor unum et anima una."   It is worth recalling in this regard that the closer the soul is to  the Church, the closer it is to Christ. For, as Saint Paul teaches in  so many places, the Church is "the body" of Christ (Eph. 5:30).  Though this truth is shrouded in mystery, it emits bursts of light,  as precious as they are dazzling. It helps the seeking soul to  realize that the Son of God actually lives in His Church and works  through Her, continuing in Her and through Her the mission He  initiated in and through the Body Which His Virgin Mother gave to  Him. It is an incentive to the soul to pray the prayer of the Church  when the soul knows that Christ is now praying through the Church  after the manner of His praying through His mortal Body. It gives  courage to the soul to suffer with the Church when the soul is  convinced that Christ is now suffering through His "body" which is  the Church.   I point to this shining truth for the value it gives to the use of  the Breviary. In this venerable book the Church has deposited the  heritage of the ages, the inspirations which the Holy Spirit of God  breathed into the minds and hearts of the faithful down the  centuries. Actually, the thoughts dwelling therein are Christ's own;  He conceived them through the mind of the Church. The feelings to be  found here, too, are His own; He experienced them through His life in  the Church. The prayers, with which the Breviary is replete, reveal  the way Christ prays in His Church. Any one essaying to pray with  Christ can pray with Him, through the open mouth of His Church, by  using this prayer-book of the Church. Such a soul can be sure that in  praying thus he is echoing the prayer which the Holy Spirit played on  the heart-strings of the saints, evoking purest melody before the  Lord.  In fine, the Breviary can best be described as the daily prayer of  the Church, beginning with morning prayers, called Matins, and ending  with night prayers, Compline. From dawn till dusk, and into the black  watches of the night, the Church prays by the Spirit of Christ;  Christ, too, prays through "his body", the Church. The Breviary is,  thus, in very truth "the prayer of God" (Luke 6:12).   As a prayer-book, the Breviary is a library in itself, and a vast  one, matchless for its variety, beauty and power. For instance, there  are psalms of praise and petition, running the gamut of the emotions.  These range from the woeful cry of misery in Psalm 29: "Out of the  depths" to the hymn of exultation in Psalm 88: "The graces of the  Lord I will sing forever"-the psalm, which Saint Teresa of Avila  loved. There is history too.  The Breviary contains selected readings  from the lives of the patriarchs and prophets, as well as the history  of Christ on earth and during the first years of His life in the  Church. There is even prophetic history, wherein, as in the  Apocalypse, the plan of God may be traced until its progress ends in  triumph and glory for the striving God and regenerated humanity. All  these are, of course, drawn from the Bible; in the Breviary, however,  there is this advantage: they are read against a special background,  proper to the various seasons and feasts of the calendar year.   A most appealing feature of the Breviary is this aspect of the spirit  of the Church, expressing itself prayerfully through seasons and  feasts. The praying soul who accompanies the Church through Advent is  caught by Her radiant joy as She prepares, all expectant, for the  journey to Bethlehem, with its Christ Child, the Angels' Song and the  nearing Star. The Office for this period is charged with a calm  jubilation such as we cannot hope to enjoy in its fullness until we  reach the Vision of Heaven. Then, there is the season of Lent. At its  coming, the Church lays aside her festive robes and puts on sackcloth  and ashes for the penances She needs must undergo if Christ is to  have in Her, His Agony in the Garden and His Death on the Cross. All  this is but a prelude to Her cry of triumph as She stands before the  Empty Tomb, adoring Her Risen Lord, Who is within a few days to send  down upon Her the Divine Spirit of Love.  To us who wander the way of life in cold and darkness, the use of the  Breviary affords much comfort through the short lives of the Saints  as recorded in their feasts. These show how the Holy Spirit of Love  worked the wonders of His grace in willing souls, thus giving to us  both hope and strength against temptation. To the seekers after  truth, the Breviary unlocks immense stores of wisdom through the  explanation of Biblical texts by the great Doctors of the Church,  such as Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom. The  lovers of sublime songs will here find the noble hymns composed by  saintly singers and sung by the faithful, from the remote past up to  the present day. I refer to the "Pange Lingua" of Saint Thomas  Aquinas and the "Te Deum" of Saint Ambrose.   For a long time the Breviary was a closed book to the layman, largely  because it was written in Latin. Yet its charm cast a potent spell  wherever the priest prayed or the monk chanted his Breviary. In  consequence, the demand for wider use of it has been growing more  insistent. Moreover, this demand has been calling for better  renditions, such as embody the newest translations of the Psalter and  of the New Testament. Now that this present edition includes these  features, it is to be hoped that the greater use of it will stimulate  ever greater love for the Breviary. Certainly, such use of it will  help to satisfy the inner hunger of those souls who yearn to pray  through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, unto the praise of the  glory of his glory, in which he hath graced us in his Son (Eph. 1:6).  In these fearful days of crises and crosses, the pattern of life in  the world is tangled and oddly out of focus. Minds are confused at  it, and hearts restless. If the human mind is to have calmness in  crises, if the human heart is to have courage amid crosses, recourse  must be had to the power that prayer gives and to the patience that  penance brings.  Prayer and penance, and they alone, can compose the  problems now trying the souls of men. For this reason The Sovereign  Pontiff's proclamation of the Holy Year is, to this generation, like  to the voice of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea; it is a  call to penance and prayer, a promise of progress towards peace and  plenty where now there are war and want. It is my earnest hope and  belief that this new edition of the Roman Breviary in English may be  fruitful in many souls, fruitful of prayer, fruitful of penance and  fruitful of unity with Christ through His Church.
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    7/23/2004 10:21:00 PM :: ::
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