Little Office of the
Blessed Virgin

Introduction to the Little Office

This introduction to the 1915 Benziger Brothers edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been reproduced here in full for your education and edification.

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin is one of the liturgical prayers of the Church, and she imposes it on many of her children. Although the Little Office of Our Lady is considerably shorter than the ever-varying Office which the Clergy and Religious in solemn vows have to say, yet, coming as it does from the same authority, it is as much a liturgical prayer as the Divine Office, and has the same claims to be considered a part of the official worship which the mystical Spouse of Christ, the Church, daily offers to her Divine Head.

Prayer is the great duty of man here below: Oportet semper or are et non deficere — “We ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke xviii. i).

We appear before God under three different aspects: as individuals, as members of congregations or societies, and as members of a Divine Society. Hence there are three kinds of prayer: (1) private prayer, (2) prayer in common, and (3) the prayer of the Church, or liturgical prayer.

Of the first kind, private prayer, Our Lord spoke when He said: “But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee,” (Matt. vi. 6).

The second kind, prayer in common, is that which we offer as members of congregations or societies. The prayers said by the members of a family, such as morning and night prayers, the prayers said together by the members of a congregation or a community, are better than individual prayers. Our Lord praised this kind of prayer when He said: “If two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by My Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Matt, xviii. 19, 20).

The third kind, liturgical prayer, is much more pleasing to God; it excels both private prayer and prayer in common. It is the prayer we offer as members of a Divine Society, the Holy Church.

The public prayer of the Church may be looked upon as the public act of the whole body of the Church. Those who by their Rule, approved by the Church, are charged with saying the Office, whether it be the Divine Office or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, say it as public officers of the Church, who officially stand before the throne of God and make intercession for the whole body of Christ’s Church. When performing this duty, even when alone, they cease to be private individuals; they are invested with the public character of ambassadors to the heavenly Court. But an ambassador’s personal merit is of very secondary concern. What does matter is the dignity and power of him who sent the ambassador, and whom he represents. Those who take part in this public Office do not stand before God in their own name, nor yet in the name of the faithful assembled, but in the name of the Holy Church appointed by God. Her service and prayer do not partake of the worth and devotion of the angels, but of the worth of the mystical body of Christ.

This prayer of the Church is the most excellent of prayers. Private prayer and prayer in common are doubtless very good, and highly pleasing to God; but they are human prayers, necessarily defective, made and said by men who are sinners, and not always altogether pleasing to God. Not so the prayers of the Church. These are always graciously heard and pleasing :

1. Because they are offered by the Spouse of Christ, and always exceedingly pleasing to Him because she is exceedingly loved by Him. During all eternity God rejoices in this prayer, in these canticles of praise, and in these hymns of love of the Spouse of Christ.

2. This prayer is most excellent, if we consider the sentiment and the words used. When we pray privately or in common, we express human feelings modified and colored by their natural source. But the prayers of the Church are almost wholly from Sacred Scripture; they express feelings inspired by the Holy Ghost Himself. When we use the inspired language of the Holy Spirit these words of the prayer of the Church are worthy of God, because they are His own words. This prayer is divine, therefore, both in the feelings it expresses and even in the words used.

This, then, is our position when, in the name of the Church, we take up our Office book and say our Hours — as the Apostle says: we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” We are taking part in the heavenly worship which goes on forever before the great Throne, and are lending our voices to all creation to praise Him Who sits thereon. With such thoughts as these we shall enter upon our Office with a heart attuned to the work we have to do and we shall get from it the profit that Our Lord intends.

Liturgical prayer, such as we have it in the Office and as is laid upon us by the Church, is no private devotion; it is the prayer which the Word Incarnate is ever pouring forth in behalf of the mystical body of which He is the head. Those who say it are the willing instruments placed at His disposal by His Spouse, the Church. We abide in Him and He in us. The words we speak, we speak not of ourselves, but in His person. In liturgical prayer we have the most perfect means of adoring and thanking God, and of making supplication and atonement, that the Eternal Wisdom could provide. By Jesus Christ, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name. From this point of view there is nothing to be added to make us esteem and love our Office. No one who knows what it is can hesitate in putting it far above any private devotion; for nothing can compare with it, save and except the Mass, with which it is so closely connected. The Office and the Mass form but one whole, and one can understand the Office only when it is studied in the light of the Altar; for it is the setting of rich gold which surrounds and sets forth the priceless jewel of the Mass.

Under all circumstances, when saying the Office of Our Lady, we must place our hand in hers, and together with her approach the Throne of Grace.

St. Augustine says:

Let it not be objected that the words of the Office are not our own, that the Psalms were not composed for us, that they suppose thoughts, circumstances, and dispositions that are not ours. For the Office has been compiled for us. The Psalms (we repeat it again) have Jesus, the Incarnate God, not David, as their first and principal object. What they express is not the mind of any one man in particular, but the mind of all Christians considered in Him Who is their divine head. The feelings contained in the Psalms are those which were wrought first in the soul of Our Lord by the Holy Ghost, and then through Him in all those who are members of His mystical body. Therefore they are ours as well as David’s, or any of the saints. So it was for us the Psalms were written. The Holy Ghost had us in view when He inspired them. He speaks of our perils, of our warfare; He mourns over our sins; and in true and touching words He speaks of our repentance, our hope, our zeal, our gratitude, and our love. For, according to St. Paul: ‘All things are yours; but ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.’




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Other Little Offices

Little Office of the Sacred Heart Little Office of Divine Wrath

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