The Divine Office Our Duty

''Windows into the soul'' is how Augustine described them. In them you find the litany of human sentiments: raw ones, like rage, self-pity, bitterness, jealousy, conceit, arrogance; and noble emotions such as love, tenderness, honesty, humility, faith, and hope. They all speak to one person, the Lord, and they address Him again with a smorgasbord of feelings: reverent ones such as father, king, warrior, best friend, protector, shepherd, mother; and disrespectful ones such as cheater, unfair, demander of the impossible, liar, betrayer, callous.

I refer to the Psalms, of course -- 150 of the most moving, venerable, probing, revealing, provocative, heartfelt prayers known to the children of Abraham.

And we priests have the sacred duty, our office, to pray them daily in the Liturgy of the Hours. I contend that the renewal in the priesthood for which we all long will not occur until we return to a fidelity to the promise we made as deacons to pray daily with and for the Church in the Divine Office.

As all of Israel was really present whenever the faithful Jew chanted the psalms, so is all the Church, the New Israel with him when the priest, her groom, prays the psalms of the breviary.

In these troubled days in the life of the Church, I find balm in the psalms of the Office. As David described Israel, I see the Church: broken, bloodied, in the dirt, pillaged, betrayed, sinful, forgotten, ridiculed, mocked, ravaged. As the harpist begs for the Lord to listen and rescue Israel, I plead that the Lord will save His New Israel, His Church, once again, and lavish upon her His mercy, solace, grace, healing, and revived faith in the God who never abandons us.

And we will not let up. In the Liturgy of the Hours we assume the posture of the persistent widow of the parables and pester the Lord morning, noon, evening, and night. We play catch-up with our daily office only for a few hours, because then it's time again to beseech the Lord with and on behalf of His bride, the New Israel, His Church.

It embodies all the traits Jesus suggested for prayer: it is patient, persistent, persevering, heartfelt, simple. It works. It is our office.

Two of our seminarians were accompanying me to an evening ceremony. They arrived early at my house, breviaries in hand. ''Archbishop, you want to pray vespers with us before we take off?'' Alleluia! I whispered. The renewal is upon us.

On vacation last summer, my priest-friend and I prayed morning and evening office together. It was one of those complicated feast days, and I lazily suggested that we pray the regular office of the weekday. ''Nope,'' he replied, ''because then we wouldn't be praying what the rest of the Church is praying today.''

We're never alone with the Liturgy of the Hours. We're praying with David, with generations before us, with the angels and the saints, with brother priests around the world, with our Holy Father and the bishops, with the New Israel, the Church; we're praying with, in, and through Jesus.

Advent is a season of longing and yearning, and I have found no better vocabulary to articulate those sentiments than the Psalms. With the ancient psalmist we wonder, when? When, Lord, will this all end? When will ultimate victory come? When will the gates of hell stop their relentless onslaught?

As the psalmist waited for that day of vindication for Israel, so do we ''temple priests'' today send up that Advent chant, conscious that as Jesus answered the hopes of ancient Israel in His first coming at Bethlehem, so will He fulfill our longing for the New Israel, His Church, in His comings in mystery and majesty. And we express trust in that promise daily in the liturgy of the hours. We are the patient, vigilant sentinels of today. TP