Seeking Franciscan Perfection
A Reflection on the Franciscan Life by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Part 8 - Liturgy, the Eucharist and our Prayer
We have come to the part about prayer, and specifically, how Our Lord joins us to His prayer: the Liturgy.
Jesus continues his saving work, today, through the "Body", the Church. We are the body of Christ - the Holy Father, the clergy and the faithful. To unite all these different groups, within the Church, to contribute to Him who is the pinnacle of Perfect Prayer, we, the Church gathers around Him. We pray together with Him in the Liturgy, specifically the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Divine Office.
"Every liturgical celebration (Eucharist, the other sacraments, the Divine Office, sacramentals) is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body, the Church. In Liturgy, full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus, by the Head and its members.¹"
Christ is always present in Church, but especially in Liturgical Celebrations. Catholics know that He is there, during the Sacrifice of the Mass, in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, a Gift of Himself to us. He is present when an infant (or older person) is baptized, receives the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and when we pray or sing in community. He said: "Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them." (Mt. 18:20)
So when Franciscans meet as a community or fraternity, Jesus is there amongst us! Your SFO fraternity by its Canonical Approbation is a part of the Church, and when we meet in community, we are on Holy Ground because Jesus is there with us. Jesus did not specify that "where two or three are gathered together" need to be in a church building, only that the meeting or gathering is for His sake. As Franciscans we certainly meet for the Glory and Honor of God.
"Vatican II reminded us that the liturgy is the outstanding means by which the faithful can express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the Church.¹"
The Eucharist is a "mystery" because we take much of this Liturgy on Faith. As we attend Holy Mass daily, we will eventually learn its depth of beauty and Grace. "O Holy Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, our spirit is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given us.¹" (from the Mass Liturgy)
The Divine Office, also part of Liturgical Prayer, is important to us as Franciscans. The religious orders are obliged to pray The Liturgy of the Hours; members of the SFO are privileged to join the religious in the daily praying of the Hours, in full if they so desire, but at least the Morning and Evening Hours. It was St. Francis' wish that his sisters and brothers pray the Divine Office. He told them: "Their aim should be to please God by purity of heart, not to soothe the ears of the congregation by their sweet singing." For many years, lay Franciscans were encouraged to say the Office of the Twelve Our Fathers, Hail Mary's and Glorys. And later, or more recently, it was recommended to us that we pray the Liturgy of the Hours as our friars do, or, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. And, there is also, as you know, a simplified Office one can use.
The Liturgy of the Hours is very important, as it is not a private prayer but the prayer of the Church. As we pray, somewhere, at the same minute, another priest, friar, sister, brother, lay person, will be praying the same prayer, whether in English or some other language, in all parts of the world, in and outside of the Franciscan family. So it becomes an unbroken chain of prayer for the glory and honor of God. Also, by praying or singing these prayers, we commit time to be in a more visible way with Jesus. Praying is being with Jesus as He is with us, honoring His Presence in our lives, praising Him all day long.
Prayer is also supplication, that is, praying for other people, specific people, even for ourselves, and these prayers are heard by Our Lord. "The Liturgy of the Hours spreads out over the many hours of the day the praise and thanksgiving of the Eucharist ... The Liturgy of the Hours is in itself a preparation for the Eucharist since it enkindles and nourishes those attitudes which are necessary for the beneficial Eucharistic celebration: a spirit of faith, hope, love, devotion and sacrifice.¹"
Many people (particularly, the laity) have problems with structured prayer. If this is the case, and sometimes I feel that way, I pray three Psalms of my own choosing and some other prayers, and I think that's fine too, but most of the time I stick to the prescribed prayers. I love to sing, and sing in three different Church choirs, the regular Adult Choir (8:45AM Sunday Mass, and Midnight Mass at Christmas), the Celebration Choir (special occasions), and the Resurrection Choir (2-3 funerals per week, time permitting). You all know that "He who sings prays twice" - I love singing, so even when I am alone, I may spontaneously break out in song. To me that's a way of thanking Our Lord for the talents He has given me. Many more people know me, then the other way around, what they know is my voice - and many times on the street someone will ring out a "Good Morning," or "Hi," and I have no idea who they are, but they know me. Praise God!
As beautiful and functional as shared prayer is, it should not make us appear overly pious or "with it," that's especially true in singing - we do not give a performance - our sole aim is praising God in song. Shared prayer is wonderful, but personal prayer, one-on-one with Jesus, with the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints - in that "inner room," is very, very important. A nurtured spiritual life with Our Lord brings us closer to His heart, and that spiritual bond will carry us with Him into Heaven, if we also strive not to sin. Striving for Perfection is not only recommended, but it seems to be what God wishes us to do.
As Franciscans, our Seraphic Father and founder, St. Francis, has given us a
very practical Rule which we strive to follow as best as we can. Read the Introduction, again, if you will, the "Prologue: Exhortation of St. Francis to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (circa
Concerning Those Who Do Penance" - where we read: "Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them and he will make his home and dwelling among them, and they are the sons of the heavenly Father, whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In the next part, I will write a little about Family Life / Fraternity Life. I have been writing these parts with the help of the Holy Spirit, about two parts a week. Speed is not of the essence but continuity is, and it is difficult for me to get back into a writing project after much time has elapsed. May the Lord bless you, and give you peace.
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #8, 11/01/2008, 2014
1. "The Third Order Vocation" Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM.1976 Published by St. John the Baptist Province of the OFM (my writing follows the subjects in this books, to guide me along a certain path in this writing).
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Officers as of 1/10/2016
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS*
Donna Haro, OFS
Councillors at Large:
* eff. 1/1/2018
Fred Schaeffer, OFS