To be read: February 25, June 27, October 28
If when we wish to seek any favor from men of influence we presume not to do so except with humility and reverence, 2how much more must supplication be made with all humility and purity of devotion to the Lord God of all? 3And let us bear in mind that it is not in our many words that we are heard by God, but in purity of heart and tears of penitence. 4And so our prayer should be pure and short, unless perhaps it be prolonged as a result of inspiration of divine grace. 5In any case, however, prayer in community should always be brief, and at the signal from the superior all should rise as one.
With this chapter we come to the end of the instructions for the Daily Office. Chapter 20 speaks to the attitude we are to have toward prayer. Our prayers should be directed toward God “with humility and reverence”. And Benedict says that our prayers “should be pure and short”.
If we are faithfully doing the Divine Office and praying the eight hours of the day with an eye to “constant prayer”, there is certainly no need for lengthy, wordy prayers at any of the hours. The goal is to practice the presence of God. Our conversations with Him should be pure and intimate, and our petitions, in corporate services of worship, short and simple. We do not need to be long-winded and wordy in order for God to know our concerns and desires. For God knows what is in our hearts and our minds. As the Psalmist said, “For he knows the secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44:21). And St. Paul reminds us that “He who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:27). And yet, He delights to hear us raise our voices in prayer and praise to Him. He is “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3). But in corporate times of worship, Benedict is right to counsel “pure and short” prayers. Long rambling prayers made publicly are often more distracting than edifying. An individual making such lengthy petitions tends to draw attention to himself or herself, thereby taking the focus away from the Body’s worship of God. When we are gathered for corporate worship, we need to make our prayers “with humility reverence”, keeping them “pure and short”.
But there are times, when we are blessed by God and we can spend some extended quality time with Him in lengthy prayer. These are usually private times with God, though on occasion we can have corporate experiences of extended quiet meditation and prayer. In these events, everyone must be in agreement with the dynamics of the prayer session for it to be wholesome and edifying for the Body. Those quiet times with the Almighty, whether alone or with the congregation, are all too rare, but exquisitely precious. They are blessed opportunities for extended prayer. But we must always remember that prayer is two-way conversation. We are not to use this time to broadcast to God our wants and desires, our needs and intercessions, a laundry list of petitions, and not fine tune our hearing to focus on the still small voice of God. The most productive use of those extended quiet times is to settle ourselves, by His grace, into a receptive mode, a spirit of alertness to His Presence and His loving voice. As God the Father said on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).