And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise—the privilege of chanting the Divine Office
Every morning about thirty-five minutes after the rising bell the hebdomidarian for the week, that is the Sister assigned to lead the Office, sings out the Invitatory, “O Lord, open my lips.” With voices not quite “oiled” for singing we reply “And my mouth will declare your praise.” Thus begins another day of praise, joining our voices, our hearts and minds and our very being with the eternal liturgy of heaven. It’s not just Sr. Mary Martin, or little Sr. Mary Peter, or Sr. Mary Elizabeth or Sr. Angela praising God but all of heaven and earth raises its voice in praise as the hebdomidarian petitions God for the grace to praise Him worthly. One sister said, “When the organist gives the note for me to begin Office I realize that just for a moment I keep the angels waiting”!
Our Constitutions say that we are “appointed for the work of divine praise,” and the monastic schedule (the horarium) is arranged around the celebration of Holy Mass and the Divine Office so that the whole day is sanctified. Everything else, work, recreation even meals are secondary. When a Sister, because of illness can’t come to Choir for the Office she really misses it. Our eldest sisters are a source of edification to our newest members as they make what is sometimes a heroic effort to be at all the Offices, especially Lauds in the early morning. Often it means for them to get up even earlier than the rest of the community in order to be in Choir on time.
While all in the Church are encouraged to pray the Divine Office (and more and more people are), She deputes the cloistered nuns to be the official “pray-ers” for God’s people. “They intercede with the Father of mercies for the universal Church as well as for the needs and salvation of the whole world” (Constitutions). This is a great gift and responsibility. While it brings great joy it’s not always easy and only by the grace of God are we able to be faithful. Sometimes we are tired or couldn’t get back to sleep after our hour of Adoration that night or are dealing with allergies and can’t seem to croak a single note! And sometimes it just seems that we are all singing badly and are flat and it calls for great patience from all of us. But it is worth it for the Liturgy is what feeds and nourishes our daily life. “My soul give praise to the Lord; I will praise the Lord all my days, make music to my God while I live”! (Psalm 146)