“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The day I arrived at seminary, I was still quite naive about what it meant to be a priest. I pulled into the parking lot in my Mercury Sable packed to the roof in the back seat and towing an 8’ by 5’ U-Haul trailer with all of my accumulated belongings. The welcome committee was more than generous in helping me transfer everything to a third floor 10’ by 17’ room. I brought too much stuff. The next morning as we headed to pray morning prayer, someone asked me if I had a breviary. “A what?” I asked innocently. They found an extra one in the sacristy (2000+ pages long) and handed it to me saying, “It’s the book of psalms and prayers we use to pray morning, evening and night prayer.” They added, “You’ll have to pray these prayers every day for the rest of your life.” “I’ll have to do what?” I was in shock. “I’ll take you to the theology bookstore later and and you can get the single book to hold you over, but you’ll probably want to get the four volume set some day.” “There’s a four volume set?”
The Breviary is the book (or set of books, also now available as an iBreviary app) containing the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office, and in the simplest terms contains a four week cycle for praying the 150 Psalms along with various other hymns, readings, prayers, canticles from scripture, and intercessions. The major hours are the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. The minor hours are Mid-morning Prayer, Mid-day Prayer, Mid-afternoon Prayer, and Night Prayer. Even when said privately, it is a public act of prayer, which is sometimes referred to as “the prayer of the Church.” Priests, deacons, and members of religious communities have various obligations concerning the reciting of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a bit complicated. Priests promise to pray all of them and are obligated to do so, however, allowances are made because of pastoral obligations and ministry demands for priests to omit or replace the minor hours with other forms of prayer, such as, mental prayer or devotions like the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, or Stations of the Cross.
Night Prayer is my favorite. At the end of the day, it gives me the opportunity to settle, do an examination of conscience for the day, rest in God’s mercy, and entrust my life (and, with some emphasis, my death) to God. As the day comes to a close, I am grounded in God’s grace. Should I not wake again to the light of this world, I am at peace. Every night, I recite the Canticle of Simeon from today’s Gospel, although in a different translation:
“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Perhaps my single most favorite sentence, personally, in all of the Breviary is the antiphon that I pray every night before and after the canticle, “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.” Amen. Amen.