I HAVE written this treatise especially for those who by their vows are called upon to share in the public prayer of the Church. To my knowledge no adequate treatise, such as 1 have aimed at, exists in any language. And when one considers the thousands of souls who are bound to pay their service to God through the Little Office of our Lady, it is strange that the want has not been hitherto supplied by hands more competent than mine. However, if the perusal of this book help to a better understanding of words so frequently on the lips of religious, if it make them value more and more the priceless privilege of joining in the public prayer of the Church, and if it cause them to realise some of the wider doctrines of the spiritual life, then, indeed, the labour of several years will have been well spent and my reward made exceeding great.
But although this book has been written primarily for the use of religious, I have borne in mind the wants of that ever- increasing number of the laity who prefer to find their devotion in the Church’s prayers, where all is staid and sober and short, rather than in the utterances of private individuals, which are often the reverse. In days gone by the Little Office in English was the favourite devotion of our Catholic forefathers. Happy for England when our prayers once more take such forms, and we build our spiritual life on the simple direct spirit of Holy Mother Church, instead of on those so-called devotions which the late saintly Cardinal Manning was wont to count as some of the greatest evils of the Church to-day.
As to the book itself. I have divided the treatise into three parts:
In the THEORETICAL part, I inquire into the nature and excellence of Liturgical Prayer ; and then discuss the materials which compose the Little Office ; lastly, I give an historical account of the growth and development of the Prayer as we have it to-day.
In the PRACTICAL part, I consider the best means of saying the Office with fruit and according to the mind of the Church, and I also make various suggestions to this end, and treat of some difficulties.
The EXEGETICAL part consists of a full and complete Commentary, drawn from the Fathers and great mystical writers, on every verse of the Psalms, together with a full explanation of the hymns, lessons, responsories, antiphons, versicles, and prayers. To this is added by way of Appendix a Ceremonial and the latest decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites upon the subject.
As to the use to be made of this book. It is not intended to be read through once and then laid aside, as a mere book of reference. But, as the Office is a daily work, so should this treatise be made a daily handbook for reading and studying now one part, and then another. I recommend that first of all the book be read through, in order to grasp the general subject. Then that portions of the Third Part be studied daily. On retreat days, the First and Second Parts may be read with advantage. Again, a verse of a Psalm with its commentary may be usefully taken as the subject of mental prayer, and the lights which are gained during the recitation will prove abundant food for this time. And for spiritual reading, slow and thoughtful, what can be better than a commentary on the Psalms ; for here we have the Holy Ghost speaking to us directly in the words of the Scripture ; and His saints explaining them to us. The main point I want to arrive at with those who use this book is the value of the Public Prayer above all private prayer, and the consequent necessity of making a deliberate study thereof.
As regard the materials of this book. I have drawn them from all manner of sources. Whatever is good I have made use of, according to my lights, irrespective of country and person. One work, largely quoted, is The Myroure of our Ladye, written by an unknown author in the old days for the Brigittine nuns of Sion Abbey at Isleworth. This venerable English community after three hundred years’ exile on the Continent have returned to England, and are settled at Sion Abbey, Chudleigh, Devon. As their form of Office is entirely different from the Roman use, I had to content myself with extracting from the Myroure such parts as would apply to the Little Office to-day. While preserving the pious author’s quaint phraseology I have modernised his spelling, and in a few very few instances changed, here and there, a word which would not be intelligible to most of my readers. I have invariably quoted from the edition of The Myroure of our Ladye published by the Early English Text Society. The Commentary on the Psalms is a cento made up from all sources. Like the late Archabbat Wolter of Beuron in his Psallite Sapienter, I have used largely that most beautiful and complete work, Dr. Neale’s Commentary on the Psalms (1860). There are few who have had so intimate a knowledge of the devotional spirit and aspect of the Middle Ages, or were so thoroughly imbued with their tone, as the lamented author. Joining to this an immense patristic and scriptural knowledge, he, with infinite patience, wrote before his death a commentary on the first fifty-eight Psalms, which is all gold. While borrowing largely and freely from this priceless work, I have not hesitated to alter, to abbreviate, and often to enlarge the matter wherever I thought proper. While the Commentary I give is solely devotional, I have pointed out, without being critical, the generally received opinion about the origin of the Psalm and the circumstances under which it was written.
I must express my heartfelt thanks to my valued and well-proved friend, Dom. J. G. Dolan, O.S.B., who in the midst of mission cares has found time to be of great service to me, not only by acting as Censor Deputatus for the ecclesiastical authorities, but also by making excellent and thoughtful suggestions, which I have gladly carried out.
It only remains to add my earnest prayer that those holy virgins who, forsaking all things, follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, and, by their good works, fill our land with the sweet odour of Christ, thus recalling the days when a Hilda, an Edith, an Ethelreda, a Mildred, a Werburgha, found union with God by doing for Him a woman’s work in the world, that they, when using this book, will remember me and mine, alive or dead, in their prayers before the Throne of Grace.
E. L. T.
November 5, 1902.