The Office (set of daily prayers) said by a Third Order Tertiary is a powerful prayer and benefits the entire Church. The article below explains the difference between public and private prayer, and how the Office plays an important part in the life of the Church.
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A I D S – A TREATISE ON THE TERTIARY OFFICE OF THE PATERS FROM THE FRANCISCAN HERALD PRESS
Tertiaries have a choice of three Offices. They may recite the Breviary, the Little Office of Our Lady, or Twelve Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glorias. As most Tertiaries use the latter, we supply them herein with AIDS for its better recitation. Grateful acknowledgement is hereby expressed to the editor of the Franciscan Herald Press for permission to reprint these AIDS from the Tertiary Office of the Paters.
FRANCISCAN TERTIARY OFFICE
Tertiaries who are ecclesiastics, inasmuch as they read the Psalms daily, need do no more under this heading. Laymen who neither recite the canonical prayers nor the prayers in honour of Mary, commonly known as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, must say each day twelve “Our Fathers,” “Hail Marys” and “ Glorys” unless prevented from doing so by ill-health.
Nature of Office
We are very familiar with this word “office” in its ordinary sense. It means a duty or an obligation entrusted to some responsible person. In liturgical language, it means the duty or obligation imposed by the Church on certain of her children, to recite daily a set form of prayer prescribed by her. But the Office is not a merely ecclesiastical institution: it is divine. Of old, God imposed a type of Office on the Synagogue, certain prayers to be recited at regular intervals. This means that the Church, through the Office, is simply assuming an obligation imposed by God Himself. The Divine Office, as we know it, is a liturgical prayer which goes back through monastic and ecclesiastical institutions to the cradle of Christianity; and, through the mosaic institution, right back to God Himself.
The Church does not indiscriminately impose this obligation on all. We could speak of it as a favour granted by her to some privileged souls. Just as she endows some with divine power to celebrate Mass in her name and for the whole Mystical Body, so, too, she appoints certain of her children as official representatives to bear the praises of mankind to the throne of God in her name, and to return from that throne with graces and blessings for man.
Object of the Office
The principal object of the Office is to give praise to God. He has created everything and done all things for His own glory. We, His creatures, are bound to glorify Him. This was His object in creating us. The life of Christ was spent primarily in glorifying the Father. “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” Knowing the inconstancy of man and the irregularity with which many people pray, the Church steps in and makes sure that God will not be forgotten by the world, and that He will get from it the honour which is His due. This is why she commissions some of her members to offer up daily to God a hymn of praise through the Office. It is in practice the incense offered to God by the Church, being the counterpart on earth of that homage given to God by the heavenly multitudes, a homage almost terrifying in description as given by St. John in his Apocalypse: “After these things I heard, as it were, the voice of much people in heaven, saying: Alleluia, Salvation, and glory, and power is to our God. And again they said: Alleluia. And the four and twenty ancients, and the four living creatures fell down and adored God that sitteth upon the throne, saying: Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out from the throne saying: Give praise to our God, all ye his servants; and you that fear Him, little and great. And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunders, saying:
Alleluia, for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned.”
Although primarily a hymn of praise, a glorifying of God in the name of mankind, other objects of the Office are to render Him thanks for His continuous blessings, to ask His pardon for sin, and to secure for the world the graces which it needs. St. Bonaventure tells us that the purpose of the Office is to unite men with the angles in heaven in their praise and blessing of God; to testify to God an appreciation for all He has done and is doing for us; to conserve and renew devotion and the holy fear of God, which if not fed would be extinguished; to supply for those who cannot pray regularly, or who never pray.
Value of the Office
In the sight of God, all prayer is pleasing and valuable; but none can compare with that of the Office, as it is the official and public prayer of the Church.
We must consider for a moment the difference between public and private prayer. Some think that any prayer said by a group is public, and that all other prayer is private. By no means. Public prayer is the official prayer of the Church, prescribed and imposed by her on certain of her children. Thus, the priest or Tertiary reciting his Office in the privacy of his home, is reciting a public prayer. The Church prescribes both its form and contents, and commands them to offer it in her name.
On the other hand, take the Stations of the Cross, or the Rosary, even when performed by a congregation in church. These are but private prayers, as the Church has not commanded any group to offer them in her name. They are prayers of private devotion: even though they are approved of, and sanctioned by the Church.
Any public prayer of the Church surpasses al private prayer in value. Why is this? We must remember that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, of which He is the Head. He is the representative of the human race in its constant and obligatory duty of praising, thanking, making satisfaction and petition to God. As Head, He gives the Church His own power of adoring and praising God. The Church does this in her liturgy, and she tells us herself that, after the Mass, the Office is the greatest of all her liturgical and public prayers. It is her official voice of praise to God. We know that the Church is the Bride of Christ, and being Christ’s Bride will always be heard before the throne of God. The Office is, in reality, the praise of Christ Himself passing through the lips of the Church. After the Mass itself, it is the greatest prayer we have. Actually it is intimately connected with the Mass, drawing therefrom much of its grandeur, its value and its efficaciousness. It is a prolongation, a counterpart of the Mass, being a re-echo of the praise, thanksgiving, reparation and petition given by Christ to God in the Mass. The Mass is Christ’s perfect prayer. The Office is the official prayer of Christ’s Bride, Christ still praying through, and with, and in it, for the same purposes as He prays the Mass.
Because it is an Office sanctioned by the Church, there is a great difference between twelve Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glorys said as a Tertiary Office and said as private prayers. If two persons, one a Tertiary and the other not, recite these prayers with the same devotion, the results are not the same. The one who is not a Tertiary performs a private work of piety of his own choice and in his own name. The Tertiary recites an official prayer imposed on him by the Church and offered in her name. It is part of the prayer service the Church offers continually to God. It is a substitute for the Divine Office itself.
By deputing some to the recitation of an Office, the Church is really appointing them as her ambassadors, to offer to God the homage of the human race and represent it before His throne. We know the position an ambassador holds. He is the official representative of his country, carrying the weight and the authority of his country with him. One word from him before the throne to which he is accredited, carries more weight than the voices of many private individuals.
Similarly, while we recite the Office, God does not look upon us as souls coming before Him with their private interests, but as ambassadors of the Bride of His Son. While we pray thus, through and with Christ, our prayer is most pleasing to God and efficacious for ourselves and for others. This is why the Office surpasses in value and efficacy all private prayers. St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi says: “In comparison with the Divine Office, all other prayers amount to nothing.” St. Alphonsus says: “The smallest quantity of Office is of greater value than a hundred prayers of private devotion.”
The privilege of Tertiaries are many and great, but one of their greatest privileges lies in the fact that the Church, Christ’s Bride and Spouse, delegates them to recite an Office, thereby joining their prayers with her own and with that of Christ, appointing them personal ambassadors before the throne of God.
Alas! How many Tertiaries see in their Office of privilege, God’s Work, as St. Benedict calls it? Some of them consider it a burden, a monotonous repetition of the commonest of all prayers to be recited daily, omitting it for the slightest cause, and usually reciting it when, and only when, a multiplicity of private prayers have been attended to. I do not, even for a moment, insinuate that Tertiaries should neglect their private prayers. God forbid! But because of its dignity and excellence, and value, their Office should be the central prayer of their lives, and not merely a prayer added to their private devotions. Remembering that they are ambassadors of the Church, they should never omit it, because, by failing to recite their Office, even though they are not bound under pain of sin to do so, they are not merely omitting an exercise of personal piety, they are failing the Church in a duty. To attend to it only after daily private prayers, is to underestimate the spirit and power of the Church’s liturgy.
When reciting the Office, the Tertiary is not praying as an individual, or in his own name, but in the name of the Church. His is no longer a solitary individual prayer: it is a public prayer of the Church, even when recited privately. It renders the Tertiary a kind of priest, a pontifex — such is the Latin for priest, meaning bridge-builder, a connecting link between God and man, going up to God with praises of humanity, and returning from the throne of God loaded with gifts for man.
Through his Office, the Tertiary is closely associated with priests and religious who have consecrated their lives to the perpetual praise of God. It helps him to forget himself, to get out of himself with the very will of Christ, which is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. While reciting the Office, he can be sure that he is praying as God wishes him to prayer, because the Church has commissioned him to pray thus.
Again, whatever the Tertiary’s personal merits may be, his Office is vested with the holiness and the efficacy of the Church. He is saying it in the name of the Church, which means that its effects do not depend merely on his personal merit; the whole Church is behind him. He does not recite an Office alone, but with thousands of priests, clerics, religious and lay-people. It is no longer the thin voice of an individual, but the powerful voice of the Church itself. The Tertiary unites his voice with that of the universal Church, thus constituting a marvellous harmony which ascends from every part of the world. It is not the Tertiary who prays; it is the Church who prays through the mouth of the Tertiary. It is even more than this. The Tertiary forms part of that universal choir with Christ at the head. Christ will be his support, supplying for his many deficiencies. Joining his poor and unworthy voice with this great symphony of worship and petition, his feeble breath becomes a part of that which is mighty and divine. Thus, defects which may be found in an individual recitation are, so to speak, merged into the perfect prayer of Christ and of many saintly souls. This, of course, should not lead to a careless and mechanical recitation, but should serve as an inspiration, a help, and an antidote to individual weakness.
Because of the great privilege the Church grants them, by allowing them [to] recite an Office, Tertiaries should render themselves worthy of this honour by reciting it daily with the utmost attention and devotion. Since it is a prolongation of Christ’s own prayer, it should be offered in union with Him. All those reciting should unite themselves to the perfect worship given to God by the Incarnate Word, in order to give to God through Him, with Him, and in Him, and at the same time to intercede with Christ for the needs of humanity. So intent was that great Tertiary priest, St. John Vianney, on uniting his daily Office in union with Christ, that he invariably recited his breviary at the foot of the Altar, pausing frequently to gaze up at the tabernacle where Jesus was. In a prayer recited before the Office, we ask that we may say it in union with that divine intention with which Christ praised God on earth. In that same prayer, we ask God, too, that we may recite it worthily, attentively and devoutly. Yes, these are the dispositions with which it should be recited.
Worthily: When reciting the Office, we are, as it were ushered into the presence of the King of kings, and should act accordingly.
Attentively: During it, we should attend to God’s presence, remembering that we are ambassadors before His throne, uniting our voices with those of the very angels and of the whole heavenly court. St. John tells us that the angels and elect in heaven cast themselves down before the Infinite Majesty. “And they fell down before the throne upon their faces and adored God.” We, too, should have an inward reverence for the infinite majesty of God, in spirit prostrating ourselves in adoration before Him.
Devoutly: This means that we try to concentrate all the powers of our souls in this sacred work, trying to carry out as perfectly as possible that divine injunction: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with they whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with they whole strength.”
Beware lest that reproach made by God to those people who failed in their duty of honouring Him properly be applied to you: “This is the people that honoureth me with their lips; but their hearts are far from me.”
Divisions of Office
The Divine Office proper is divided into Hours, of which there are seven. It became divided thus from the traditional times at which portions of it were recited. The divisions are: Matins and Lauds, recited very early in the morning, with the privilege of anticipating them on the previous night; Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, which were recited at the first, third, sixth and ninth hours of the day; Vespers, and evening prayer, and Compline, a prayer before retiring to rest.
If he so wishes, the Tertiary may divide his Office according to these Hours. It would be even well to do so. He would thus be in harmony with the spirit of the liturgy and would be interspersing his day’s work with an official prayer of the Church. Pope Leo XIII approved the practice of saying five Our Fathers, etc., for Matins, and one Our Father etc., for each of the Hours of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. The same Pope strongly recommended meditation on Our Lord’s Passion while reciting the Office.
The Office may be said alternately by a group of Tertiaries in the same manner as the Rosary is recited by a group of people, or the office recited by Religious in choir.
The Rule mentions three different Offices which the Tertiary may recite: the Divine Office, or the Breviary; the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, which is very similar to the Divine Office, and which is not to be confounded with the Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, as the latter would not suffice for the Tertiary Office; and the Office of the twelve Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glorys. Clerics who recite the Divine Office are not bound to recitation of the latter; and, in private, they may follow the Breviary of the First Order.
The usual Office recited by the Tertiaries is that of the twelve Our Fathers, etc. This is marvellously adapted to exigencies of modern life, which cannot endure long prayers. We see the wisdom of the Church in fitting the burden to the shoulder, giving an obligation in proportion to the strength of those expected to fulfill it. That is why the Office of Tertiaries is so small, but at the same time being an official prayer of the Church.
Because of its brevity and composition, there is a danger of misunderstanding the value of the Tertiary Office. The Tertiary should remember that, not only is he praising God in union with Christ’s intentions, but his is also using some of the grandest prayers in the whole liturgy of the Church. The Our Father was composed by Christ Himself. The Hail Mary consists, mainly, of God’s own salutation to Mary through the archangel Gabriel. At least, it fell immediately from Gabriel’s lips when he came straight from the throne of God, to announce our redemption. It is completed by the salutation of Elizabeth to Mary; and the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, added the rest. The Glory is a profession of faith in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the fundamental dogma of our religion. Through it, the Church gathers up the praises of all creation from the beginning to the end of time, and offers them as a hymn of adoration to the Blessed Trinity.
Hence, despite its brevity, because of its contents and object, the Tertiary Office is really sublime.
By means of their Office, Tertiaries become God’s minstrels, singers of God’s praises with Christ and the Church. Naturally, they should prove themselves worthy minstrels by a faithful daily recitation, never omitting that duty except when prevented by illness or some other just cause. The Rule caters for these exceptions, and, under these circumstances, dispenses Tertiaries from recitation of the Office.
Pope Leo XIII, although already reciting the Divine Office, recited his Tertiary Office daily and that before his morning Mass. In 1884 he wrote: “Indeed, every day, before we approach the Altar we recite the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory twelve times. Yes! Yes! The Pope himself recites every day the Seraphic Office of Tertiaries.”
Would that Tertiaries had a little of that devotion which St. Francis had when reciting his Office! Thomas of Celano tells us that, when Francis was saying his Office, not only did he seem to pray, but his very being became a prayer. What passed between God and himself in that converse and ecstasy of prayer, he never revealed to anybody.
When reciting the Office he would not lean on anything, but prayed in an upright position, devoting all his attention to the sublime work. “If the body,” he said, “which is the prey of worms, is allowed to enjoy its food in quiet, with how much more tranquillity and peace must the soul take its food, which is God Himself!” When he was nearing his end and was no longer able to read because of his poor health and almost total blindness, he had a cleric read the Office to him daily.
St. Bonaventure says that one may judge whether a religious is a good religious from the manner in which he recites his Office.
Of the Tertiary the same may be said. May he say it well, and cry out with David, the Psalmist: “Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed like incense in thy sight.”
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We would like to acknowledge that the preparation of the document that this was taken from was compiled by A. Hermit, St. Mary’s, Kansas, from a manuscript entitled The Tertiary Office of the Paters published in 1949 by the Franciscan Herald Press (now defunct), and a treatise on reciting the Tertiary Office entitled AIDS, from the same publisher. Some minor editing has been done for clarification and correction.
Sr Constance (TOSF)