Souls on Fire

by a Silver City Benedictine Monk

A log burning on a fire is the mirror image of the religious praying his breviary. Fire penetrates the wood and, with an upward-moving flame, transforms it into light, heat and ashes. While the religious chants the office, he uses the inspired word of God to speak to his Creator and at the same time he listens to God speak to his soul. The presence of God penetrates the soul like fire, lifting it up through hope in order to contemplate the beauty of God by the light of faith and moving it, in the warm flame of charity, to the love of God and neighbor. The logical consequence is letting self-love fall away like ashes. The soul faithfully praying the breviary is transformed into a child of God by a continual act of faith, hope and charity.

But why is the log on the fire in the first place? Because the house needs heat and light. The entire Church profits by the sanctification of the soul chanting God’s praises. The breviary is the official prayer of the Church interceding for the remission of sins. The prayer of the Mystical Body of Christ lifts the entire world towards God. It is the inspired prayer of Jesus Christ Himself offered as praise to the Father, but through the human soul. In other words, Jesus loves His Father with our hearts, and we offer to the Father the love of His Son through the breviary.

The breviary is inseparable from the Mass. Just as the sacrifice of Calvary is substantially applied to man by the celebration of the daily Mass, the breviary spiritually applies the same sacrifice to our souls seven times a day and once at night. God places Himself in contact with the soul by the sacrifice of the Mass and He prolongs His presence in the soul by the breviary. The Divine Office is like the consoling companion of the religious soul traveling through this valley of tears.

The Divine Office is structured around the liturgical year, which is essentially the life of Our Lord explained to His children. Our Holy Mother the Church, through the liturgy of the breviary, makes us live yearly the mysteries of the life of Christ. In a certain way it is cyclic, not as a simple circle, but rather as an upward moving and ever expanding spiral. The cycle always starts at the same liturgical mystery but, like all children, we have grown with the passing of a year. This road leads us always upward and opens our soul to grasp a broader understanding of the life of Christ. The antiphons, hymns and lessons at Matins become like friends we meet daily and open to our minds untold depths of Christ’s mysteries.

Upon this same road we meet and we feast with the dear friends of Christ, known to us as the saints. On their feast days they accompany us with the words and melodies of their antiphons and hymns. For example, St. Agatha, unjustly covered with wounds because she loved God, was thrown in a prison cell to die. In the midst of her agony, she stands up, lifts her hands to God and prays: “O Lord Jesus Christ, good Master, I give Thee thanks…” She died at the age of fifteen in the year 251, yet through the breviary we still chant the beautiful melody of her victory today.

Another one of those friends is St. Benedict. He had a vision shortly before his death in 547, which St. Gregory the Great in his Dialogues recorded for us:

“Long before the night office began, the man of God was standing at his window, where he watched and prayed while the rest were still asleep. In the dead of the night, he suddenly beheld a flood of light shining down from above, more brilliant than the sun, and with it every trace of darkness cleared away. Another remarkable sight followed. According to his own description, the whole world was gathered up before his eyes in what appeared to be a single ray of light.

“Keep this well in mind. All creation is bound to appear small to a soul that sees the Creator. Once it beholds a little of His light, it finds all creatures small indeed. The light of holy contemplation enlarges and expands the mind in God until it stands above the world. In fact, the soul that sees Him rises even above itself, and as it is drawn upward in His light, all its inner powers unfold. Then, when it looks down from above, it sees how small everything is that was beyond its grasp before.”

As St. Benedict’s Rule explains, this is how God transforms the soul so as to chant the Divine Office with the voice and mind in perfect harmony.