As we walk these grace-filled days, a constituent part of our monastic vocation days is the duty and privilege to sing the hours of the Divine Office in profound and unimpeded communion with the One True Church of Christ throughout the world. In some senses we have “chosen the better part” in spending these long hours with the Lord (cf. Lk 10:42) in these days—not, though, that we shall otherwise be idle: preparing to celebrate the offices of Holy Week in as worthy and solemn a manner as our modest resources permit shall save us from that danger.
Saint Benedict enjoins us: ut mens concordet voci (Rule, ch. 19), that our minds are in harmony with our voices as we sing. It is profitable to recall this injunction at the beginning of Holy Week, for all that we do externally, which we do first and foremost to worship Almighty God and to give Him glory, is also efficacious in our own spiritual upbuilding if our minds concord with our voices.
In his General Audience of 26 September 2012 Pope Benedict XVI observed that in this precept of Saint Benedict the external activity of singing has priority over our minds being in concord with our voices. It is an important point:
“The Saint teaches that in the prayers of the Psalms words must precede our thought. It does not usually happen like this because we have to think and then what we have thought is converted into words. Here, instead, in the liturgy, the opposite is true, words come first. God has given us the Word and the Sacred Liturgy offers us words; we must enter into the words, into their meaning and receive them within us, we must attune ourselves to these words; in this way we become children of God, we become like God... A fundamental, primary element of the dialogue with God in the liturgy is the agreement between what we say with our lips and what we carry in our hearts. By entering into the words of the great history of prayer, we ourselves are conformed to the spirit of these words and are enabled to speak to God.”
That the celebration the Sacred Liturgy disposes us to the penetration and integration of the realities it contains is part of its very sacramentality. If we wish our minds to be in harmony with our voices, our lives to be in concord with our words and other liturgical actions, we must plunge ourselves more deeply into the optimal celebration of the riches of the Church’s liturgical tradition.
To be sure, there is no shortage of opportunities for this in Holy Week!
But amidst all of these, I propose but one familiar liturgical text with which we might start: Psalm 50, the “Miserere,” which we sing every morning at Lauds, save in Paschaltide and on feasts. For Psalm 50 may be in some ways considered the leitmotif of the monastic vocation. The psalmist acknowledges before the Lord: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.” (v. 4) He consequently implores: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (v. 10) And finally, he willingly offers himself to the service of the praise of Almighty God with those words we sing every morning at the beginning matins as we begin our day’s work: “Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.” (v. 15)
The “Miserere” is something of a feature of Tenebrae in Holy Week attracting the attention even of great composers. We shall sing it, as ever, each morning at Lauds—and at Tenebrae to be sure. May it penetrate us in the week to come so that we may become that sacrifice for which it prays: the sacrifice of “a broken and contrite heart” (v. 17). May it’s gritty realism, its utter reliance on the grace of Almighty God permeate us. And may the joy of singing the unending praise of Almighty God ever be ours! +