Friday, April 8, 2011

T'he School of Jesus

Lent is a journey, it means accompanying Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem, the place of the fulfilment of his mystery of Passion, death and Resurrection; it reminds us that Christian life is a “way” to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome, to follow.  Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday Address
In his Ash Wednesday address, Pope Benedict goes on to explain the importance of Liturgy as a means to make present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  He calls the liturgy "the School of Jesus," where "Christ makes himself present through the power of the Holy Spirit and these saving events become real."

This same power and presence is the foundation of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours.  At Vigils, we keep watch for the Messiah in all His comings - Past - Present - Future.  The psalms we recite recall the longings of ancient Israel.  In prayer and meditation, we commune with His presence in our hearts.  And we stay awake so that we may be ready for His return.

With the dawn (Lauds), we greet the rising of the sun and celebrate the arrival of the Savior by singing the Canticle of Zachary (Benedictus):which describes the loving kindness of the heart of God as "a dawn from on high."  During the prayer at noon (Sext or Midday) we chant the psalms of ascent.  These are ancient psalms that have been sung by Jewish pilgrims as they go up to Jerusalem to celebrate festivals. At evening prayer (Vespers), we sing with Mary, the Mother of God, her Magnificat and recount God's mercy and plan of salvation.

At Compline, the day is complete.  We end the prayer with a blessing from the Abbess and remember the words of Simeon, " Now Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, for with my own eyes, I have seen your salvation."

This is the rhythm of the Divine Office which forms us into monks and nuns.  During a liturgical season, such as Lent, prayers, hymns, readings, and antiphons become even more centered on Jesus and draw us deeper into His life.  A good example of this is a common Cistercian hymn often sung at noon prayer.  "The hour it is when Christ did thirst, for Justice thirsted on a tree.  His lips were slaked by no relief - except a poor man's psalm of grief."  The hymn works in us because it is noon, the time of day that tradition commemorates the beginning of Christ's passion.  It is Lent, we have been fasting and we are hungry and maybe a little thirsty. The liturgy invites us to unite our own experience, which has been structured by our monastic schedule, with the experience of Christ.  At the same time we are the monastic choir, singing psalms - so we also take on the role of the "poor man", the one who agonized with Christ at His hour of suffering.

As we come nearer to Holy Week, may we make time to experience this school of Jesus, attending liturgies not only in church but also in the prayer of the heart.  May the living Jesus touch us all very specially this Lent.