S. Philip Neri, apparently, never said any part of his Office by heart, but read every word of it, line by line.
Why ? Well, I think that sentence has actually highlighted it : we talk about ‘knowing something by heart’ – but all too often, that’s exactly what we don’t do – it’s hidden in our subconscious somewhere, but we don’t think about it when it comes out . . . in other words, the one bit of us that doesn’t ‘hear’ it is the heart.
I mention this because Holy Week is the one week of the year when – from Vespers of Palm Sunday onwards – almost nothing changes, and the little that does is just a different version of the same thing : and as a result it’s all-too-easy to ‘know it by heart’ . . . I know that I could repeat huge chunks of this week’s Liturgy without even thinking about it, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in that.
The danger, it seems to me, is that it’s far too easy to pass over the deep significance of this week’s liturgy, simply because we know it so well.
Please don’t misunderstand me. As I’ve mentioned before, for about thirty years I went to a Triduum which – apart from the homilies – basically never changed from one year to the next : not even the music, because so much effort had gone in to making it all as perfect as possible that there was little or nothing that could be done, in anyone’s opinion, to improve it; and I know that it touched many hearts every year, and moved many souls to a greater love of God. If your Triduum is like that, then I say ‘Thank God’, and would urge you to change nothing, but pray God to bless all those who participate, through it, in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of His Son.
What I’m actually getting at is the idea that we must, though, this week of all weeks, take very great care to focus our minds on what we are hearing, and saying, especially if we’re very familiar with it. Let us read it through in advance, perhaps; or, if we are able to do so comfortably, read it in Latin (or some other language) before or after the Liturgy so that we have to think about it; and above all let us pray each and every part of it carefully . . . don’t let it just ‘wash over you’; actively try to make it your prayer .
At the same time, as with lectio divina, if your soul is caught up by some text, something you read, or something you hear – perhaps even some piece of music – then go with it, for as long as your spirit moves you to do so, and pick the main thread up again when that particular inspiration has gone.
Of course you know what is going to happen next; but precisely because of that familiarity it seems to me that (providing you’re in the congregation : Celebrants should not try this out !) trying to get the maximum out of a few parts of the Office and the Liturgy of this week is the best course of action; and will also have the benefit of making next year’s Holy Week a fresh experience, because a different set of ideas, and intentions, will enter your mind.
I shall be posting various things this week which I hope may get your thoughts going, and I'm sure there'll be plenty more around to choose from : but I pray that, however you follow Our Lord’s story this week, you will have a very blessed and holy time, and come to the joy of Easter Day with a full heart, secure in the knowledge of God’s infinite love.