Worship with Attention

Worship with Attention

“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked. But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office. We must always remember, therefore, what the Prophet says: Serve the Lord with fear (Ps 2:11), and again, Sing praise wisely (Ps 46[47]:8); and, In the presence of the angels I will sing to you (Ps 137[138]:1). Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”  --Rule of St. Benedict, Chap. 19

The Rule of Benedict, Chapter 19, calls the monk to be attentive in Choir during the Divine Office. The Divine Office is the most important source of prayer for him outside the Mass. It is also called the ‘Opus Dei’, a Latin term meaning ‘the Work of God’. This Chapter calls him to do so in two ways: The first way, is an awareness of God and His angels being present. The second way, is to sing what is being sung with attention. These two ways lead the monk toward interior harmony and union with Jesus.

Experience teaches that these two ways are demanding seven times a days, seven days a week. To be aware of God in Office means trying to crowd out all the stray thoughts whizzing by regarding, for example, the daily work, or something that was read or heard. And this is nothing in comparison with the memories that are evoked by a word of phrase in the Psalms themselves, a memory that do not lead the monk particular closer to God, but sometimes miles away from him.

The same is true for experiencing not “wise” singing, but rather mouthing words that seem to be “just there” and not much else. To sing wisely, or in another translation, “sagely”, (RB 19:4) means to really allow oneself to be formed by the words and leave Office feeling like, “Hmm, that’s something to think about” and put that insight into one’s work, the interactions with the brothers and so forth.

In all this, the Divine Office reminds me that there is that “great beyond” this world and this life; that I experience God’s loving presence now and this is eternal. This moves me to strive to have that attention to the psalms I sing every day, and let them have a relationship with me: to form me, challenge me, humor me all the time, or at least most of the time. In that way, I will hopefully do come to that harmony of mind and voice (RB 19:7) with what I am singing.

Fr. Placid Morris, OCSO