The new rector knew he wanted to have a public daily office in the parish. As he came to understand the rhythms and geography of his parishioners he decided that the best time to do it was at noon Monday through Friday. That part was easy. No one was going to speak up against praying – “if some people feel a need for that.”
The hard part came when he insisted that the parish office close at noon for 25 minutes and that groups that had become accustom to meeting over lunch had to wait until after the Office to begin their work.
There was resistance. The priest persevered and in time the saying of the Daily Office at noon, without competition, settled into place.
Benedict understood that worship, especially the Daily Office, had priority in the community’s life.
When we allow mass or the Office to be cut across by other things we not only undermine the priority of worship, we also undermine the total health of the parish.
We allow the least faithful and proficient people in the parish to be placed in a position of power and to set the norm. We allow the pressure to produce to become more important than our reason for being. We suggest to the apostolic that they must conform to the ways of the world to avoid tension and conflict.
There are parishes that approach the tension by asking for mutual adjustment. People engaged in other activities are asked to keep the noise down. Those saying the Office or at the Eucharist are asked to tolerate a certain amount of motion and noise. The approach has some appeal. It’s easily understood by people and therefore unlikely to cause resentment. It is better than simply allowing the tension to continue and the resentment to build.
There is only one way of honoring Benedict’s wisdom – all other activities give way to the saying of the Divine Office. The parish office stops its work. Meetings end before or don’t start until after the Office is said. If we are in the middle of an activity that is set aside so we may join in the work of the saints.
I believe that parishes in which liturgy has priority are likely to be healthier communities. It helps create a climate. It helps members see what has priority in all of life. It tilts the system toward apostolic faith and practice. It empowers those that understand and live “the business we are in.”