The virtue of mechanical prayer

A problem that many people speak of when saying the Divine Office is that it is sometimes rather "mechanical". Owing to tiredness or anxiety or working hard, it can be difficult to achieve the serene and prayerful attitude to the Office that is desirable.

It is desirable , of course, and it is best when we can say the Office prayerfully, with full attention of mind and heart. But what about the times when it is impossible to do so?

Something that I say to penitents, especially priests, religious and lay people who are trying to live a devout life, is that the "mechanical" recitation of the Office can also be virtuous. On those days when we are tired, or have been busy and the Office has "piled up" so that we have to say several parts together, we should not despair of the exercise, still less omit it because we cannot say it perfectly.

At such times, we say the Office out of duty (officium), as a service to others in obedience to our Father. It is a classic teaching of the great spiritual writers that when we do not have any "nice feelings", our prayer may be even more efficacious because we are doing it simply out of the love of God. This love is not the "romantic" sort, but the sacrifical sort of love.

Just to make it clear: we should take all the proper means to excite devotion. Sometimes it will be our own fault that we have not organised our time properly, or we have become tired through useless activity. Nevertheless, fidelity to the Office even when it is least attractive, is fidelity to Christ.

An analogy can be found in the good family. The Mother is perhaps tired and harassed at dinner time. She does not on that account leave off cooking for her family. She may not enjoy it, but it is still an act of love - all the more so because it is difficult and burdensome. A man may be tired of his work but he does it conscientiously in order to bring home his wages for his family.

Similarly with a priest or religious, our Divine Office is the work of God. When we have forced ourselves to say it "mechanically" just because we have to, because we want to be faithful and obedient to Christ and the Church, who knows what graces God will bring to our people from that act of love?

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