LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Keeping one's mind on what one's doing

Talking about saying one's Office (in whatever form), one particular point springs into the minds of those who have said it regularly for any length of time : the danger of it becoming mechanical, and repetitious, so that devotion – and thus (at least spiritual) benefit – is more or less lost.

S. Francis de Sales commented that ‘Haste is the destroyer of devotion. If we allow ourselves to get into this habit, the interior spirit, which is the source of all merit, becomes dried up, and instead of the highest use of our intellect there is only a lip-worship, and holy thoughts and noble feelings are replaced by a blind and mechanical repetition. Once a slave to this habit, it is vain to multiply our words of prayer . . . The words that rise to our lips mean nothing to our hearts, and leave no impression on our souls. They are nothing but a useless set of words, like those for which Our Lord blamed the heathen : “In your prayers, do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard”.

M. l’Abbe Bacquez, however, noted in his book ‘The Divine Office Considered from a Devotional Point of View’ (1885) that many of the greatest – and often the busiest – saints had made a deliberate practice of protecting against this to at least some extent by never saying any part of the Office by heart, but rather deliberately reading every single word of it from the book : for in this way the words, striking the eye and ear at the same time, have less chance of going unnoticed; and the care we take to ensure that we give proper notice to every word we speak is yet another safeguard against the likelihood of it becoming mere routine.

Thus such saints as Ss. Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, and Vincent de Paul apparently treated the saying of their Office; and my own experience suggests that it is a most valuable custom to follow. I admit I say the Paternoster from memory; but that is all, and I do find that it does help ensure that one’s mind stays on the content of one’s Office – and thus focuses its attention upon it – the more fully.

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