The Divine Office, or the monk’s table.
What does one do during the Office? The normal answer is that the monks and nuns pray. Yes, we hope so. But who invited them to pray? This is what changes the deal a little, and it could teach us what it is to “pray”.
The one who invited them is the father of the family: “Our Father”. And one doesn’t go to it all alone: there are many, for the monks and nuns are surrounded by angels, you know, those who are permanently “in the presence” of God. That is what makes the task easier. For you might have some distractions or you can cut yourself off from a time of conversation. There is always an angel who watches over you and who wakes you up at the right moment. Unless the process of the prayer itself calls you back to order.
The order? What order? It is true that Saint Benedict called his rule of prayer “order”. In the Latin Church, the rule is like a choreography. You dance more or less well, you sing more or less well. Who ever saw that on a family feast only the great artists had the right to speak? No, very beautiful traditions are brought to life there. And a spirit. Oh, it was time to speak of that: What would our liturgy be without the Spirit of God at work in each one?! Maybe that’s why Tradition calls the Office “the work of God, opus Dei”. This is true in both senses: the work of God and for God, by human beings who are sons and daughters of God, invited by their Father.
And Mary, “mother of the living”, watches with us: “How did He give me so many children?” Through an entire history of creation and of re-creation that is celebrated in the Church’s liturgy: the daily Office of the Psalms, in the rhythm of creation, “at the gates of the morning and the evening”: Lauds and Vespers welcome the heritage of human sufferings and joys: a combat and a hope. The celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord Jesus Christ in the middle of the day welcomes the Bread and the Wine that sum up forever these combats, “bread” and “combat” (in Hebrew one single word), and the hope for a reconciled humanity in the Father’s House.
For the liturgy has a meaning: it remembers a history and gives you your place there! With many others, in a communion that is established in an event which gives light to the whole “liturgical year”: the Resurrection of the Lord.
From one Sunday to the next, the proclamation is short and carries the News, the Gospel, which unfolds around the Passover of Jesus Christ, which the Church follows from his baptism in the Jordan and his ministry in Galilee to his going up to Jerusalem – which is Lent in the strict sense – and whose Passover the Church celebrates in the hope of Pentecost, when it receives the Holy Spirit, the “gift of the Father”.
Prepared by the period of Advent for this awaiting of the Promise, the Church recognizes in the Child of Bethlehem the coming on the feast of Christmas of its “Savior”: the Savior of Israel and of all the Nations. Ornate with the many “mysteries” of the life of Christ and with those that the saints radiate, the Church thus proceeds through time and thereby accompanies and guides all its sons and daughters, “those who are near and those who are far off”, towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the one “in which each one is born” and to whom “each person says ‘Mother'”.
The Book of Gospels
In 1987, for the 25th anniversary of Father Abbot, Brother Jean-Baptiste’s monastic profession, the monks and oblate nuns of Abu Ghosh wanted to give him a book of the gospels that would show in pictures and illuminations the feasts of the Church which are their own path.
This book of the gospels was to be the work of the entire community. Since we couldn’t copy every Gospel, the team responsible for this project decided that we would limit ourselves to the big feasts of the liturgical year that in a particular way were the monastery’s own. Then the task was distributed: each person was responsible for a few pages of the text and illustrations. Each one was free to write as he and she wished, to illustrate as they wished (style, technique, materials), the only constraint being the margins and the height of the letters.
Thanks to the friendship and generosity of the Association of Friends of Abu Ghosh, the book of the gospels was magnificently bound by Master Goudji in a cover of silver and semi-precious stones, and it testifies to the Benedictine community’s prayer and to its incarnation in the Land of Israel and of Jesus.