The Ribbons of the Books of Prayer
Four prayers that help place our relationship with God in the right context
It is amazing what a person will do for the prize of a ribbon. Countless Olympic athletes have poured everything into achieving the highest levels of excellence. The freshman walk-on is truly honored to wear the red shirt because he knows he will command the field his senior year. There is a desire within people to push themselves to the very limits of their ability to be considered the greatest. All for ribbons. While these may be noble and just causes, our reasons for kenosis must be for a higher purpose. We are told by St. Paul that we do not strive for the simple ribbon, but for the crown of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 9:25).
This striving is not to be done without purpose or aim, as Paul goes on to say. As members of the Church, we have become one body, and in this union we have a common goal of sanctity. To become a saint, we need to pray, and we should make every effort to pray without ceasing. The Church doesn’t just tell us to do these things and then not provide us with the tools. Like any good coach, Mother Church has laid out for us a particular way in which she wants us to pray. She has taken Scripture, packaged it with hymns and prayers and divided up the day into seven hours to provide her faithful with a comprehensive guide to holiness. This work of the people is essentially a helpful guide to salvation, and we should take notice if we wish to stand on the podium of victory.
There are thousands of examples of men and women who have given their life to Christ and won a prize of immeasurable wealth by meditating upon the Scriptures contained within the Liturgy of the Hours. The humble breviary with its insufficient number of ribbons and onion skin paper is like the treasured playbook of the great masters.
This little book should be the starting place for every deacon. Like the star basketball player who practices his free throws for hours every day so that it becomes natural, we need to become intimate with the Liturgy of the Hours. The prayers should be so automatic they come without conscious thought, but not so familiar that we do not take the time to hear them in a new light each day.
Following is a look at four parts of the hours that are prayed every day. The Invitatory, Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis are all confined to the ordinary of the breviary. They should be as familiar to the deacon as the Pater Noster and Ave Maria. These four parts help place our relationship with God in the right context. They reveal to us our identity in Christ as servants and focus our mission toward the common goal of salvation for the world.
“Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” — Invitatory of the Breviary
We start every day with the Invitatory. Psalm 95 is a call to worship. It is going to focus our attention on what matters most. The relational language is rich and extensive. Lord, his people, flock, shepherd, rock; approaching, bending, bowing, singing.
The overall tone is one of gratitude and joy, and this is how we should start our day. If we wake up and start the day with social media or the news, we can easily be discouraged by the hatred and violence on display. Instead, we should recognize that our creator and king holds everything in the palm of his hands. There is nothing so high or so deep that it is out of his purview.
We come before him every morning and proclaim that he is Lord of our lives and is the source of our joy. This is not done by sticking our heads in the sand and pretending evil doesn’t exist. In fact, the psalm takes time, in the end, to remind us that more often than not we are the very cause of that evil. We become testy and stubborn. We strain against the ways of God despite our knowledge that his ways are meant for freedom. Wake up each day and approach the good shepherd with thanksgiving and praise.
The Benedictus sets us on our mission for the day. We once again acknowledge that God’s covenant with us is not broken. The Lord has saved us and promised that our enemies will not conquer us. We do not need fear because we have been freed from the bonds of sin. Our mission comes to us in the first-person imperative.
You, my child … We are sent out to prepare the way of the Lord. We are told to share the knowledge of salvation. We must recognize our shared heritage in the people we encounter as sinners in need of mercy and turn to our Father. And what a tender and compassionate Father we have. How many times in our own lives can we look back on a situation and clearly see the hand of providence at work? Can we identify the countless graces we have received through the joys and sorrows of life that seem to crash upon us unexpectedly? Can we take those moments in the lives of those we minister to and shed the light of Christ on them?
As a deacon, the light of Christ shines through us in a unique way to a world that seems shrouded in death’s shadow. We are meant to lead the lost back to the altar. We are meant to point them back to right worship and the proper work of the People of God. We point them right back to the Invitatory and show them the way of the Lord. This is the path where they will find peace.
When our day is coming to a close, we take time to focus on our identity. This identity is grounded in the greatness of the Lord and our relationship with him. With the heart and voice of Mary in the Magnificat, we proclaim the magnificence of the Lord and our lowly service to him. Through our servitude, we become the instruments on earth by which God demonstrates his mercy from generation to generation. It is easy to see that the world in which we live is starving for genuine peace. Through our preaching of the Gospel, we can show the world the source of their hunger and point them to the bread of everlasting life. In this way, we fill the hungry with good things.
As a deacon, we bridge the gap between the sanctuary and the nave, between heaven and earth. We should be attentive to the People of God who are fearfully striving toward heaven. We need to reach down with the strong arm of God and lift up those humble souls so that they might recognize the many favors he has bestowed upon them. These favors are not incidental but come out of a promise of mercy. A promise made by the Lord to his servant Israel.
As the evening shadows fall, we come quietly before the Lord and pray the Nunc Dimittis. We recognize our role as servants and the work we have done throughout the day to bring to fulfillment the many promises God has made to his people. We bear witness to the light of Christ in our own lives and the glory his light can bring to all peoples.
While these four parts of the Liturgy of the Hours are truly extraordinary, this by no means is to say that the rest of the hours can be dismissed. The beauty of the psalms and canticles found within the bindings of this little book is that they are truly inexhaustible.
Anyone who has spent time with them knows that some days they seem to echo the very deepest feelings of the heart. Other days, they may feel more like a chore. Yet, we do not pray them for ourselves alone or for our own sanctification. This is the liturgy of the Church. It is prayed by millions of faithful laity and clergy around the world. Through our incorporation into the Body of Christ as deacon, we have an obligation to pray the hours for the Church. In our striving for greatness, for sanctity, let us take up the ribbons of the breviary with the knowledge the path before us has been well established. We must truly make the ordinary ordinary.
DEACON KEVIN PLANKINTON, husband and father of three children, was ordained in August 2020 in the Diocese of Joliet.
Enriching Our Relationship with God
At his general audience on Nov. 16, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI offered a catechesis on the psalms. He explained that the psalm invites us to “look to Christ to understand the meaning of true regality which is to be lived as service and the giving of self, following a path of obedience and love ‘to the end.’ Praying [Psalm 110], we, therefore, ask the Lord to enable us to proceed along this same journey, following Christ, the Messiah, willing to ascend with him on the hill of the cross to accompany him in glory, and to look to him seated at the right hand of the Father, the victorious king and merciful priest who gives forgiveness and salvation to all mankind.”
The pope renewed his call for “everyone to pray the psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, lauds, vespers and compline.” He added, “Our relationship with God can only be enriched by our journeying towards him day after day.”