The Office of Readings is my favorite “hour” of the Divine Office. According to the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, “The purpose of the Office of Readings is to present to the people of God…a more extensive meditation on sacred scripture and on the best writings of spiritual authors. “ And that’s exactly what it does.
Like all hours, the Office of Readings begins an antiphon begging God’s assistance in prayer and a word of praise in with the doxology (“Glory be…”). This is important, for it helps us attune ourselves to the task of worship and enter into the presence of God. We then sing or recite an opening hymn of praise in which we raise our hearts to God in joy.
Three psalms (or one or two psalms divided into parts) follow, each of which begins and ends with an antiphon drawn from the psalm itself. These are wonderful little gems for meditation, either during the Office if there is time and/or throughout the day. One of today’s antiphons, for instance, is “Seek the Lord, and you will live.” Who wouldn’t benefit from remembering that frequently!?! Each psalm ends with a doxology and a psalm-prayer, which helps us to apply the psalm to our daily lives and turn it into an intimate, personal prayer to our Father.
Next, we are invited to peruse two substantial readings. The first is taken from either the Old or New Testament, although never from the Gospels. We might think of these daily Scriptural passages as love letters from God straight to our hearts, for as Vatican II’s Dei Verbum says, “…in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.” If we have time, we might ask ourselves the three simple questions provided in a previous post. In any case, we should let God’s Word sink deeply into our hearts and minds as we read.
The second reading is usually taken from the writings of the saints, the works of the Church Fathers, or the documents of Vatican II. These readings help us to understand our faith more clearly and deeply. Today’s reading, for example, is drawn from an instruction by Saint Vincent of Lerins on the development of doctrine. Saint Vincent compares the growth of the Church’s doctrine to the maturing of the human body, explaining that as the body changes over time yet remains the same in its essential nature and form, so the Church’s doctrine must grow in strength and definition while remaining genuine and free from error.
Each of the readings is following by a short responsory, which drives home its meaning with a verse and response drawn from Scripture. These, too, can be gateways for meditation throughout the day.
Finally, the Office of Reading ends with a prayer either from the previous Sunday or the current feast or solemnity. On Sundays, feasts, and solemnities we recite the beautiful hymn of praise, Te Deum, just before the closing prayer, once more lifting our minds and voices to God in joyful adoration. The acclamation “Let us praise the Lord and give Him thanks” concludes the Office of Readings and invites us to gratitude for the great gift God has given His Church in the Divine Office.
The daily Office of Readings, and the rest of the Divine Office, is available online at www.universalis.com.