For some time I have been reading the works of Blessed Columba Marmion, a Benedictine abbot who lived from 1858 until 1923. Marmion has become well known both for his letters of spiritual direction and theological works. While Marmion has written beautifully on so many topics (e.g. suffering, spiritual adoption, abandonment to the will of God, etc), his writings on the Divine Office are second to none. I have yet to find such a thorough treatment of the meaning and significance of the liturgical prayer of the Church. There are three works that have whole chapters devoted to the Divine Office: Christ the Life of the Soul, Christ the Ideal of the Priest, and Christ the Ideal of the Monk.
Of these titles, it is the latter that I have been pouring over recently. There is one thing in particular that I want to share from this work (Christ the Ideal of the Monk) and that is what Marmion refers to as “the ultimate basis for the excellence of the Divine Office.” Marmion wrote elsewhere that he is “firmly convinced that the more one advances in life, the more one has relations with God, the better one understands the grandeur of the divine praise in the Office… [and] there is no other work which approaches even remotely this praise.” How could he say something like that, you might ask. What is the basis for making the claim that no other work could even remotely approach the praise of the Divine Office?
To answer this question, Marmion begins with what we know of the eternal Word of God, namely that he is “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory,” as stated in the book of Hebrews (1:3). Marmion then unpacks the meaning of these words, saying,
“The Word, the Son, is essentially the glory of His Father. From all eternity, this Son… expresses the Father’s perfection, and this is the essential glory that the Father receives. The Eternal Word is a Divine canticle singing the Father’s praise… This is the infinite hymn that ever resounds in sinu Patris (in the bosom of the Father) and ever ravishes the Father. The Word is the Canticle that God inwardly sings to Himself, the Canticle that rises up from the depths of the Divinity, the Living Canticle wherein God eternally delights, because it is the infinite expression of His perfection.”
This, Marmion says, “bears in itself the fundamental reason and value of the Divine Office.” Why? Because when this same Word was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man, the eternal canticle of praise was given human expression. From the moment of His incarnation, “when Christ prayed, when He recited the Psalms, when, as the Gospel says, He spent the night in prayer… the canticle of the Word was multiplied, detailed, upon the lips of His manhood. Thus this same canticle… was prolonged and sung upon earth when the Word became incarnate.”
But the Sacred Humanity of Christ did not only give human expression to the Divine canticle of praise. He would associate His Mystical Body, the Church, with His praise. “Before ascending into Heaven, He bequeathed His riches and mission to His Church. Christ, in uniting Himself to the Church, gave her His power of adoring and praising the Father; this is the liturgy… it is the praise of Christ, the Incarnate Word, passing through the lips of the Church.”
This is the ultimate basis for the excellence of the Divine Office – as the opus Christi (the work of Christ), the Divine Office is the means by which we share in the praise of Christ and give perfect glory to the Father. Let us remember that every time we join our hearts and voices together to offer the Divine praises contained in the liturgical prayer of the Church. Together with the sacrifice of the Mass, this is the pearl of great price!
In Marmion’s words, “there is no other work which approaches even remotely this praise.”