The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our natural need for human interaction beyond what we get through pixelated screens and headphones. And this need is probably clearest in our churches.
When the world found itself in a similar period of upheaval and change, the Saints of our past look inward and oversaw the construction of massive structures that housed men and women of prayer who toiled in the name of Christ for the good of the church and their fellow humans on earth. A return to the monastery is probably not the best option for our church today, but the model of circling the wagons, supporting one another and our community directly around us and being united in prayer and common work is certainly within the realm of possible. And I would wager, needed more than ever in our post-COVID church.
The Mass will always be the chief prayer of the church– the sacrifice of Christ reenacted and shared again and again for the faithful who gather in His name. But when it comes to supporting the church in prayer, supporting one another in prayer and supporting our communities in prayer we also have the wonderful gift of the Divine Office. “Hours” of prayer set aside that sanctify the day that forms part of an unceasing hymn of praise that rises before God. A prayer that is done not just by the faithful on earth, but by the Saints and angels in Heaven, we enjoin our voice to them– just as at Mass– in our psalms of praise and devotion to God our Father.
This sort of structure prayer should not be done alone. Just like the Mass, the prayer is meant for the congregation of the church and should be celebrated whenever possible in a group setting. But the hours themselves are also said at set periods throughout the day, which means that even when the prayers are said alone, you are not alone in praying them. Especially if you have a group of people who have all agreed to work to pray together– to hold one another account and pray for a common purpose. We are told by Christ that when two or more agree and ask that the Father shall ensure they receive, and this prayer is a vehicle for that liturgical act with God.
We have something to learn from the so-called Benedictine model that can and should be applied to the post-COVID church. The importance of Christian fellowship, especially in this time of social isolation and fear, cannot be understated. A church is already a beacon for people who are isolated, alone and afraid because as a congregation we form a single body that together can and will overcome any challenge before us– this is the power of the church. When we are forced to break up, as we are now, it is even more important we lean on established prayers like the Divine Office to stay connect and inflame our Christian spirit.
O Lord, open thou my mouth that I may bless thy Holy Name. Cleanse my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding kindle my affections, that I may pray to, and praise thee with attention and devotion; and may worthily be heard before the presence of thy Divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.