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who says : Triplex est attentio, quce orationi vocali potest adhiberi : una quidem, qua attenditur ad verba, ne aliquis in eis erret : secunda, qua attenditur ad sensum verborum : tertia qua attenditur ad finem orationis, scilicet ad Deum, et ad rem pro qua oratur. 2. 2. q. 83. art. 3.
The first kind of attention is to the words, by which a person is careful in pronouncing them entirely and distinctly. The second is to the sense, by attending to the signification of the words, in order that the heart may accompany them with appropriate affections. The third and the best, is to God, by directing the mind to him during prayer, by adoring him, by thanking or loving him, or by imploring his graces. The first kind of attention, whenever there has been from the commencement an intention of praying, is sufficient to satisfy the obligation, the Church requiring no more, as St. Thomas teaches in another place: Prima est attentio ad verba, quibus petimus : deinde ad petitionem ipsam: et quocumque earum attentionum adsit, non est reputanda inattenta oratio. In 4, dist. 15, qu. 1, Salut. 5. But he who says the Office with this kind of attention only, without either of the other two, will never say it with devotion, nor without many defects, nor with much fruit. And what benefit can a Priest expect to derive from his Office, if he says it
merely with his lips, endeavouring all the time to dispatch it as quickly as possible, in order to free himself of a burden pressing heavily upon his shoulders? or as though he were swallowing a nauseous medicine? What benefit can he expect, if, worse than this, while he is reciting his Office, he allows his mind to be dissipated, now looking about him at distracting objects, and now, sometimes even intermixing with what he is repeating irrelevant words and phrases? St. Bonaventure ( Spec. Disc. part. 1, c. 16.) relates, that, in Paris a good Priest being asked a question by a certain Prelate on some affair while he was saying his Office, replied: that he was speaking with a person of higher dignity, and that therefore he could not attend to the question, and bowing his head continued his Office. On the other hand, the same saint relates of another ecclesiastic, that he was condemned to very severe punishments in purgatory on account of the many interruptions which he had allowed of in his Office.
It is not, however, meant that we should disquiet or afflict ourselves on account of the involuntary distractions which molest us in our Office. So long as they are not voluntary, they are not sinful. Our Lord has compassion on our infirmity, through which
distracting thougats come into our minds without our seeking them, and hence will not hinder the fruit of the prayers which we recite. In spiritu et in veritate orat, says St. Thomas, qui ex instinctu Spiritus ad orandum accedit, etiamsi ex infirmitate aliqua mens postmodum evagetur. 2, 2, q. 83, a. 4, ad l. And he adds, that it happens even to souls who are raised to the exercise of contemplation, that they cannot remain long in the exercise of this high gift, without being pressed down by the weight of human misery interrupting them with involuntary distraction: Mens humana diu stare in alto non potest ; pondere enim infirmitatis humance deprimitur ad inferiora. Et ideo contigit, quod cum mens orantis ascendit in Deum per contemplationem, subito evagetur. Loco cit. ad. 2.
On the other hand the holy doctor says, that he who is voluntarily and purposely distracted in prayer, cannot derive any benefit from it, nor be excused from sin : Si quis ex proposito in oratione mente evagatur, hoc peccatum est, et impedit orationis fructum. Ibid. ad 3. By purposely is meant, as the learned in general say, when a person perceiving his distractions wilfully entertains them. Against such St. Cyprian exclaims, that it is an insupportable irreverence in the eyes of God, for a person while he is praying to him
to think of other things as though of more importance than his speaking with God in order to implore his divine graces: Quoe segnitia est alienari, cum Domninum precaris, quasi sit aliud quod debeas magis cogitare, quam cum Deo loquaris ? 8. Cypr. de Orat. Dom. Hence St. Bernard says: Voluntas neglecta facit cogitationes indignas Deo; pia efficaces ad fructum spiritus. As our will renders. our thoughts efficacious in obtaining the fruits of the spirit, so our will, if neglected, renders them unworthy of God, and thus deserving chastisements instead of favours.
St. Bernard had a celebrated vision on this subject, which is related in the chronicles of the Cistercians. As he was one night chanting the Office in choir with his monks, he saw an angel writing at the side of each of them. Some of the angels were writing with gold, others with silver, others with ink, others with water, and others stood with their pens in their hands without writing any thing. Our Lord made known to the saint that the gold signified the fervour of charity with which their prayers were recited; the silver, devotion, but less fer. vour ; the ink, diligence in pronouncing all the words, but without devotion ; the water, negligence, and but little attention to what was said; and that the angels who wrote
nothing signified, that those who were voluntarily distracted were guilty of great irreverence to God. On the contrary, St. Robert, Abbot, being also in choir, had a different vision. He saw the devil going round, and finding one drowsy, laughed at him; and another distracted, was greatly delighted, and showed that he was very much pleased with him.
When then, 0 Priest of God, you take in hand your Breviary, figure to yourself an angel on one side noting down your merits in the book of life, if you say the Office with devotion; and on the other side the devil writing down your faults in the book of death, if you say it with wilful distractions. By such thoughts endeavour to excite yourself to recite it with all the devotion in your power. For this end not only begin the Office with attention, but renew your attention at the commencement of every psalm, that you may be able to accompany in heart all the sentiments which you utter. Cum oratis Deum, writes Cassian, hoc versetur in corde, quod profertur in ore. Collat. 25. cap 7. Hence St. Augustin says: Si Psalmus orat, orate : si gemit, gemite: si sperat, sperate. in Ps. 30. St. Thomas observes that words pronounced devoutly with the lips excite devotion in the mind : Verba significan