From 6th to 8th May 2015, the Pontifical Liturgical Institute will hold at St. Anselm, its 10th International Congress on Liturgy, entitled: “Carmina Laudis: responding to the eternal in time”.
The Congress will address the theme of the Liturgy of the Hours from a theological, ecclesial and liturgical perspective, in order to draw from the Tradition of the Church the riches of the «public and common prayer of the people of God» (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours [GILH] 1). At the same time, the Conference will look to the future, intent on offering new celebrative forms capable of involving the whole Ekklesìa united with Christ in the one praise to the Eternal One.
To prepare for such an important event which will bring together various theologians of international renown, our journal wishes to single out the latest and outstanding academic and scientific work in the field of the Liturgy of the Hours published this year. The book, entitled “In omni tempore. La Liturgie des Heures et le temps: louange quotidienne et ouverture vers l’éternité”, is written by the Vice Director of this journal, Prof. Olivier-Marie Sarr, OSB, and published in the series Studia Anselmiana 161 – Analecta Liturgica 32.
The aforementioned study is pertinent and key to the study of the Liturgy of the Hours, thanks to the author’s ability to articulate a theological discourse, weaving together biblical, patristic and liturgical sources, bringing these ideas to bear on an anthropological context different from that within which the biblical, patristic and liturgical insights emerged. Thus, the Benedictine theologian develops a reflection and new perspectives regarding the interplay between prayer and time. As we prepare for the 2015 Congress of the Liturgical Institute, I would like to present Prof. Sarr’s book as a “pacesetter”, drawing inspiration from the cover of the book (reproduced on the last page of this issue) chosen as a “casing” “encapsulating” the author’s profound research and reflection. In fact, the cover, sketched with few strokes, is a succinct summary of the ideas which the book seeks to articulate in many pages.
The image is a reproduction of a 3rd- 4th century mosaic originating from the Villa of Lucilia Pactumeia, whose remains are conserved in the basement of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselmo. It represents the Myth of Orpheus. This image was already widely known in the Hebrew culture, as can be established from the discoveries of mosaics in the synagogues of Jerusalem and Gaza. The latter contains a Hebrew inscription which compares the Thracian musician to David, harpist and composer of psalms rightly designated Tehillim by the Hebrews, that is “canticles of praise”, while the Greeks call them psalmoi – “canticles to be accompanied by the psalter”. Later, the figure of Orpheus became widespread in Christian art as well, as evident from the paintings in the catacombs, such as those of Ss. Callisto and Domitilla.
The choice of the cover image, far from random, points to the con- tent of the book, which content can be summed up thus: La liturgie des Heures est louange quotidienne et ouverture vers l’éternité… à travers le temps (The Liturgy of the Hours is daily praise and opening up to eternity… through time). In fact, the figure of Orpheus, a mythical Thracian bard, who with the sweetness of his music could charm wild beasts, is used by various Christian authors and Fathers of the Church, such as Clement of Alexandria, as a “symbol” of Christ, who, with the charm of his divine Word, attracts people to himself and leads them to the truth (Protr. 1, 1-10). This symbolism accounts for the presence of Orpheus in the Christian art of the early centuries, on the one hand, and on the cover of Prof. Sarr’s book, on the other. The figure of Orpheus was almost always depicted in the likeness of the Good Shepherd, a clear reference to Christ the Great Shepherd who with his Word enchants and lures the most resistant hearts, thus reconciling the whole creation to himself.
The father of Western monasticism would appear to allude to the proskynesis of the shrubs of the Orphic myth, when, in the Prologue to his Rule, he exhorts: «Listen, O my child, to the teachings of the Master, and incline the ear of your heart». Here, the only Master is Christ himself, to whom the disciple is invited to incline “the ear of his heart” and to listen to his Word (cf. Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue).
The Liturgy of the Hours, being a hymn punctuated by the melody of time, becomes a “musical instrument” which awakens us from the torpor of the monotony of daily life and opens our minds and hearts to a “new day”. The Liturgy of the Hours is the “divine lyre” whose strings is the Word of God; through the incarnation, Christ, the divine music, plucks the strings of the “divine lyre” and transforms its notes into sounds of the Spirit that charm and attract all creation and humanity, from all the corners of the earth, to praise and bless God (cf. Dn 3, 57.74.79-82).
Further, by uniting the people of God to the Son’s prayer of intercession, the Liturgy of the Hours becomes an instrument for the reconciliation between God and his people: «When he came to give men and women a share in God’s life, the Word proceeding from the Father as the splendour of his glory, “Christ Jesus, the high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, took our human nature and introduced into the world of our exile that hymn of praise which is sung in the heavenly places throughout the ages”. From then on the praise of god wells up from the heart of Christ in human words of adoration, propitiation and intercession, presented to the Father by the head of the new humanity, the mediator between God and mankind, in the name of all and for the good of all» (GILH 3). The Divine Office is therefore a prayer that finds its origin and existence in the incarnation of the Word of God who breaks into “the time of humankind” and sanctifies it, transforming it into a space for the presence of God. As Prof. Sarr submits, such time «cannot be defined, it can only be revealed». Sarr goes beyond Lambiasi’s affirmation that «time is Christ’s» reported in his contribution entitled Tempo dell’uomo e tempo di Dio. Instead, Sarr argues succinctly and convincingly that «time is Christ himself», a statement that calls to mind the Easter night when the whole Church acclaims Christ as «the beginning and end, alpha and omega».
Another merit of the book In omni tempore consists in its capacity to establish a dialogue between theological, patristic and liturgical sources, on the one hand, and anthropology, on the other. This dialogue creates a harmony between prayer and human existence, making it clear that there is no liturgy (in this case the prayer of the Church) divorced from human existence. The author cross-breeds the various disciplines with a precision and dexterity redolent of, more than the Benedictine spirit, I would say the “Carthusian” rigour. The dialogue between liturgy and human sciences is grounded on the mystery of the incarnation, the event which constitutes the hallmark of the Christian faith. In fact, the conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, affirms in the very first paragraph, that at the centre of the liturgy is man insofar as he is the subject that “does liturgy” and for whom the liturgy “is intended”. As A. Guiver notes, «human action is an essential element in the liturgy and, therefore, of prayer in general; the bodily, physical and ritual dimension has in the recent past been underestimated, especially with respect to the Liturgy of the Hours; therefore, it is important to bring back the right balance» (G. Guiver, «“Non riesco a pregare”. La risposta della tradizione celebrativa della Liturgia delle Ore a un problema moderno», 188).
Sarr not only throws into relief the interplay between man and prayer, which unfolds in time, but also relates how, on the basis of Vatican Council II, different communities have created various forms and modalities for celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, for instance, Oficio Divino das Comunidades in Brazil, Taizé and S. Egidio. The author does not shy away from emerging phenomena such as “geoliturgiahorarum” and “cyber theology” (articulated by some scholars), exploring how the resources of information technology can allow contemporary men and women to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours in a more “convenient” manner. However, the use of these applications risks obscuring the very character of the Liturgy of the Hours as the «public and common prayer of the people of God» (GILH 1), which character is adequately underlined in the book.
Another important element highlighted in the book is the relationship between Hebraism and Christianity. The study, published almost fifty years after the promulgation of the conciliar decree Nostra aetate, is a timely reminder of the common pedigree of the two faith traditions, which common ancestry is visible in the expressions and forms of prayer. The forthcoming Congress will address the ecumenical question, through the testimony of representatives of other religions, with a view to elaborating the interplay between the Liturgy of the Hours and time from the viewpoints of the Hebrew tradition, Patristic reflection, liturgical and magisterial sources and today’s reality.
From Sarr’s study, it is clear that the Liturgy of the Hours cannot be divorced from time, because the latter is an element intrinsic to the Divine Office. In addition, the book underlines that the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer of the Church, not in an “abstract” sense but in a “strict” sense: it is the prayer of the universal Church incarnated in the local churches. The Liturgy of the Hours is a not a “given” prayer, in the sense of being created by “armchair liturgists”; rather, in its structure and content, this prayer has to be born from the womb of the local churches. Accordingly, the author offers a “methodology” for defining the structuration of the Liturgy of the Hours in the local churches.
On the basis of a wide range of sources, the book In omni tempore shows that there is no Liturgy of the Hours without a community which prays (ora); nor can there be a prayer of the Church without a community which labours (labora), in the sense of the urgia of the liturgical action, better still, a genuine commitment to the promotion of the liturgy. It is not enough to have a praying community; there is also need for a community capable of “creating” the form of its prayer so as to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours in its true spirit as the “action of the people”. With respect to nearly all the other rites and sacramental actions, the Liturgy of the Hours expresses in an eminent manner the relationship between man the reality in which he exists: time!
To conclude, we are confident that this work will offer important points for reflection as we prepare for the Congress scheduled for 2015, for, in addition to articulating the relation between the prayer of the people of God and time, the study breaks new ground in liturgical research and creates fertile spaces for further investigation in the quest for new forms of prayer capable of embodying the spirit and the letter of the Liturgy of the Hours. Such new forms will empower the people of God from all the churches of the globe to raise to heaven their praise in omni tempore until the day when, having received a share in the angelic voices, they will address to God their hymn in aeternum!
PIETRO ANGELO MURONI