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The Divine Office



*This is my final paper for Monks, Martyrs, & Mystics.


December 10, 2023


A spiritual discipline involves adopting a daily spiritual practice with a goal of drawing nearer to God. Committing to a spiritual practice has multiple benefits, most notably a greater intimacy with the Divine, which is an inevitable result of consistently creating space and time for God to enter our existence in a greater way.


In The Contemplative Heart, James Finley says:


Remaining faithful to our contemplative practices calls for the integrity of remaining faithful to a commitment that nobody sees; it consists of giving ourselves over with all our heart to simple acts which, on the surface, seem to be but the incidental passage of time. But if we are faithful to this unassuming path of fidelity to our daily contemplative practices, the subtle awareness of the depths to which they grant access begins to permeate the very texture of our daily experience of living. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, fidelity to our contemplative practices evolves into an habitual awareness that does not miss the surprise appearance of God showing up in something as immediate and simple as the sunlight that suddenly fills a room on a cloudy day.[1]

History of the Divine Office


The spiritual practice of the Divine Office began around the end of the first century, when church leaders adopted the practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, although those times were not specified. Over the next few centuries, the practice expanded to include additional times and praying other scriptures, namely the Psalms. There was much discussion amongst church leadership regarding the times, length, and content of prayers with little agreement. As time went on, although different communities in different geographical regions developed their own traditions, the practice of the Divine Office became common throughout Christianity.[2]


It was during the twentieth century that the Divine Office was more widely adopted as a feature of communal worship.[3] The Sacrosanctum Concilium, adopted during Vatican II in 1963, devoted an entire chapter to the practice. Guidelines were explicitly defined and adopted by the Catholic Church.[4]


Chapter IV of the Sacrosanctum Concilium, item 90 states:


The divine office, because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer. And therefore priests and all others who take part in the divine office are earnestly exhorted in the Lord to attune their minds to their voices when praying it. The better to achieve this, let them take steps to improve their understanding of the liturgy and of the bible, especially the psalms.[5]

The “Dangers” of Spiritual Practices


Having been raised primarily Reformed Baptist, I had little exposure to any spiritual practice. Regular scripture reading was encouraged, albeit limited to authorized versions and Biblical commentaries were to be avoided. Biblical interpretation was to come solely from the pastor. Anything that was part of the Catholic Tradition would put eternal salvation at risk. Rote recitation of prayers, even the Lord’s Prayer, simply wasn’t done. Contemplative prayer was on a level with meditation and was seen as inviting Satan in, which carried with it the strong possibility of demon possession. I’ve long since abandoned that thinking but hadn’t taken up any spiritual practice primarily because I wasn’t familiar with many, and so I welcomed the opportunity to do so.


Why I Chose the Divine Office


I went through the list of spiritual practices you provided and had to research most because it was the first time I’d come across them. I chose the Divine Office because the idea of praying at regular intervals throughout the day seemed inviting for three reasons. First, it was an opportunity to deliberately set aside time for spiritual practice, and I wanted to embrace the self-discipline that required. Second, I believed it would bring me in closer communion with God, which is something I have continually sought throughout my lifetime. In fact, my primary reason for attending seminary is to learn more of God and to experience more of God. And third, the idea that there were untold numbers of people all over the world praying the same prayers as me, reading the same scriptures as me, gave me a tremendous sense of hopefulness that it might indeed be possible to move the collective consciousness towards a closer alignment with the teachings of Jesus.


My Experience With the Divine Office


Of course initially I was very consistent, but soon the competing factors of everyday life encroached upon my resolve. There were few days I was successful at completing four readings, many days I got in two readings, some days I got in one reading, and more days than I’d like to admit I didn’t engage in the practice at all. I sought each day to achieve more consistency but didn’t try to catch up on what I’d missed. I realized that you can’t cram a spiritual practice like you can cram for a test. Furthermore, no one was grading me, least of all God. If there was any self-condemnation it was from within, and I learned long ago self-condemnation compounds those aspects of my character which I seek to reform. I looked at each day as an opportunity to start anew.


I attained great benefit from the practice. The discipline itself was very beneficial, as is the adherence to any practice aimed at quieting the mind and heart. Spiritual practices soothe the inner self and are proven to reduce anxiety and contribute positively to overall mental health. I felt better because I was consciously and deliberately slowing myself down. And I felt closer to God because I was moving towards God. I always sense her nearness, but sometimes I’m too busy to pay attention. The Divine Hours allowed me opportunity to make time and space to experience God more fully, and each day was an opportunity to draw near to her again.


I persevere in my efforts to deconstruct a lifetime of performance orientation, and the embedded theology that my relationship with God is transactional. I now reject the lie I will only be blessed (or punished) because I’m working hard enough (or not hard enough) to follow God’s law. I now fully embrace the truth — that I don’t have to force communion with the Divine. Seeking God is not something that requires me striving — in fact striving can block the flow between us. The times I have had embodied experiences of God have largely been times when I wasn’t looking for them, and the delight of our connection was entirely serendipitous. Still, I do believe setting aside time to connect with God only serves to increase opportunities for those embodied experiences.


Quite soon, saying the Lord’s Prayer multiple times a day did spark annoyance in me, particularly since I’d memorized the King James version, which has always seemed too formal, too stilted. Plus, I’m not convinced rote recitation of any prayer over and over during a short period really accomplishes anything. It becomes a thoughtless act, it loses its meaning, it loses its importance. So, I rewrote it; I personalized it. After that, it became a treasured part of my practice.


Our Mother in heaven. Holy be your name. Establish your kingdom in my heart, guide me by your will. Help me to be an encouragement and a support and a light to others.Partner with me to ensure my daily provision. Forgive my sins and help me forgive those who have sinned against me. Help me to not allow adversity to overcome me and cause me to fall into despair. Help me to avoid misguided choices and unhealthy behaviors. Help me to develop greater patience and grow in compassion for others. Help me to root out the hate that burns inside me. Help me to always hold front and center who I am in you. Help me to manage my depression. If it is your will to heal me, heal me. Walk with me and affirm and encourage me as I move and grow into the future. Help me to leave a legacy of light and good. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

I purchased all three volumes of The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle[6] at the beginning of the semester with the firm intent of continuing the practice into the future. As a result of my experience this semester, my resolve to continue the Divine Office has only strengthened. I will move ahead confidently considering each day a chance to begin anew.


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[1] Finley, James. 2000. The Contemplative Heart. 1st ed. Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books.

[3] Shanahan, Daniel. “History and Reception of the Divine Office in ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ among the Laity in the United States.” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 43, no. 2 (2008): 161–175. Accessed December 1, 2023. https://web-p-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.tcu.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=229f953a-af1f-47ae-bb1a-9bf787696bbc%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWNvb2tpZSxpcCx1aWQmc2l0ZT1laG9zdC1saXZl#AN=CPLI0000466143&db=lsdar.

[4] Pope Paul IV. “SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM.” Vatican Archive. Roman Catholic Church, December 4, 1963. Accessed December 1, 2023. https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html.

[5] Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter IV:90.

[6] Tickle, Phyllis. 2000. The Divine Hours, Volumes 1, 2, & 3. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday.

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