It seems irrational that, priests should spend daily more than an hour reading words that they understand not at all, or very imperfectly; and that the beautiful and sublime thought and language of the book of psalms, which are admired by all educated men, should be, to those who read them every day for years, nothing but a tinkling cymbal, vox et praeterea nihil. This is often the case even with priests who practise piously and methodically mental prayer. And yet nowhere are such beautiful acts of faith and confidence in God’s power expressed as in the Psalms (e.g., 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 16, 19, 25, 27, 30, 34, 43, 54, 55, 56, etc.); no more sublime expressions of praise exist than in the Psalms 8, 9, 17, 18, 20, 21, etc. Time spent in studying the history of the Breviary, the structure and the growth of the contents of each Hour, the meanings of the prayers and hymns, is time well spent.
First. It is necessary to foresee from the reading of the Ordo what is to be said, and to mark all the psalms, lessons, responses, antiphons and prayers. By this practice, St. Bonaventure says, all is recited and recited in order. Libri et alia necessaria ad officium praeparantur et legenda studiose ante praevisa, quando et quomodo sint dicenda dicuntur (Intit. Novit, p. I., c. 4). Unless this matter be arranged before the prayer, Aperi is begun, a priest is certain to suffer from distractions, to run the risk of violating the rubrics and to lose some of the spiritual profit which arises from preparation. This point of preparation is attended to by all thoughtful priests and it was ever the practice of the great students and lovers of liturgy.
Second. It is necessary to recollect ourselves. This is simply to draw off from profane thoughts the mind and the heart, and to apply them to the sublime work of conversing with God, which we do in the Divine Office. This recollecting of our wandering thoughts before prayer is impressed on us by Holy Scripture, by the example of the saints, and by our own common sense. Holy Scripture warns us “Before prayer prepare thy soul and be not as a man that tempteth God” (Ecclus. 18. 23). And as typical of the preparation made by saintly priests, the example of St. Charles Borromeo may be mentioned. The saint always spent a quarter of an hour in preparatory prayer before beginning the Church’s official prayer. The Venerable John D’Avila made the same practice general amongst his disciples. This holy man narrates, how one day he met a priest of the Society of Jesus, who asked him to recite the Hours with him, and that before beginning their prayer the Jesuit fell on his knees, saying, “There are some who speak of saying the Office as if it were a trifle. Come, they say, let us say our Hours together, and so immediately begin. This is showing very little appreciation for so holy a duty, for it well merits a few moments at least of recollection” (Bacquez). Our own common sense tells us not to rush heedlessly to begin any important work. To converse with God is a work of sublime importance which needs preparation, so that it may be done attentively.