Friday, March 28, 2014

Lauds: First Step In Our Daily Journey



     In my latest discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours I’ll take a look at Morning Prayer, traditionally known as Lauds.  While one may pray the Office  Readings first, Lauds is specifically designed to start us on our daily journey.
     First, a few words on the structure of this office.   If it’s the first office of the day start with the Invitatory; otherwise, as in the other offices, we start with “Lord open my lips/and my mouth will proclaim your praise” followed by a “Glory be . . . “.   This is followed by the psalmody where, unlike the Office of Readings, we find two psalms with an Old Testament canticle of comparable length in between.  All three are followed the “Glory Be”, and are bracketed by antiphons.  The particular reading and antiphons follow a four-week cycle, and there may also be other antiphons for particular times, such as Holy Week or Easter.
Invitatory
     Next comes a brief scripture reading, normally only a couple of verses.  These vary more widely by the season (there are different readings for Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter) and, often by particular Holy Days.  This is followed by a three-part responsory, which also varies according to the liturgical calendar.  Today, for example, Friday of the Third Week of Lent, the responsory is:

            God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
                        - God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
            From those who would trap me with lying words.
                        -And from the hunter’s snare.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                        - God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.

     The Canticle of Zechariah, or the Benedictus, always follows the responsory.  This Gospel Canticle is the song of praise proclaimed by Zechariah after his voice has been returned to him at the naming of his son, John the Baptist. It is also preceded and followed by antiphons determined by the liturgical calendar.
     The office ends with a series of intercessions and a closing prayer which, yet again, accord with the season or Holy Day.
     I have always appreciated the way in which this office “orients” me at the beginning of the day.  Any morning prayer or offering can be expected to direct our attention to our relationship with our creator, and Lauds certainly does that.  Moreover, the canticles are passages that we might not ordinarily see: the Canticle of Hannah, for instance,(1 Samuel 2:1-10), a precursor to Mary’s Magnificat; a canticle from the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 3, that includes the evocative line “decay invades my bones”; or the triumphant song chanted by the Hebrews after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1):

            I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant,
            Horse and chariot he has cast into the sea . . . .

This last is reputed to be one of the oldest (at least in its present form) passages in the Bible.
     But the office of Morning Prayer does more than that.  It does not just orient us as individuals to God: It orients us to the whole scope of Salvation history.  For instance, every Friday the penitential Psalm 51 opens the office:

            Have mercy on me God, in your kindness.
            In your compassion blot out my offense.
            O wash me more and more from my guilt
            And cleanse me from my sin.

This prayer and others in the Office remind us of the fact that on Friday we focus in a special way on Christ’s suffering for our salvation.  
     We also start our day with a specific celebration of the liturgical season, or a particular solemnity or saint’s day, which has a much greater impact than if we should happen to remember it (or not) at some point during the course of the day.  The overall effect is that it brings us out of ourselves and unites us in prayer to the entire Church, which is saying the same prayer throughout the world, and which lives the same faith throughout time.  What better way to greet the new day?