The Prayer of the Church Year B: Advent and Christmas 2014-2015

The Prayer of the Church Year B: Advent and Christmas 2014-2015

The Office of Readings

By Canon Jim Foley

This brief introduction clearly falls far short of what is called for if we are to do justice to the Prayer of the Church during Advent and Christmastide. For the moment, our attention is directed to that part of the Prayer of the Church known previously as Matins and, in more recent times, as The Office of Readings. The Prophet Isaiah claims pride of place as our inspired guide during this time and he is followed each day by a rich variety of readings from the Fathers and theologians of the Church, with occasional readings from the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, including Vatican II.

For some, the daily recitation of the prayer of the church is an obligation accepted on the occasion of ordination or religious profession, on the understanding that it strengthens the bond that unites us to the entire Church at prayer throughout the world. For many others, it is simply a matter of personal choice and devotion. In either case, we are never alone during this prayer.

What follows is intended as a panorama of The Prayer of the Church as it has developed down the centuries, and is presently an essential, if hidden, part of the spiritual life of the Church. It used to be exclusively recited in Latin by monks in choir stalls, often in the dead of night or at the crack of dawn while the rest of the world is sound asleep. From time to time it has been radically reformed, sometimes lengthened, more often shortened; published in splendidly illustrated Books of Hours that now sell in auction houses for thousands of pounds. Popular editions have now surfaced on Kindle and mobile phones. It can only be a matter of time till copies are attached to a passing meteor on its way into outer space.

During this privileged season we listen to the Prophet Isaiah. Each day will carry its own message of God’s providence at work, not only in the solitude of our own minds and hearts, but also in the world of international affairs and commerce.   Some of the nations he addresses may belong to civilizations that have long since gone up in smoke, only to come back again to haunt us under an even more seductive guise. What now passes for civilized society can prove to be no more than a camouflage for something very different.

The voice of Isaiah is accompanied by a chorus of the most influential Christian thinkers, beginning with the early Fathers of the Church, then the great scholars of the Middle Ages and distinguished theologians of our day. Two major Solemnities enter into the season of Advent, our national patron saint, Andrew and the Immaculate Conception. In a very real way the latter solemnity is the embodiment of the entire season as Mary awaits the birth of her infant redeemer. As a result, Advent lays claim to be a time of joyful penance.

For an overview the Seasons of Advent and Christmastide click here.

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