My breviary was a farewell gift from my mother and my sister. They presented it to me the night before I left for seminary. I had been told that this was the essential kit that I had to have, not just for seminary but for the rest of my life. “This is from us. We love you,” my mother said. The air around us thickened with emotion. I lifted the breviary from its bag –three fat, cellophane wrapped volumes. With a fingernail, I skinned the books of their protective wrapping and weighed them in my hands. They felt substantial, challenging and dense. And that would prove to be the case in ways that I could not begin to conceive of that evening.
The pages were gossamer thin. They were so tightly pressed together that I had to prise them apart with forensic care for fear I might tear or damage them. Turning the pristine pages felt like a furtive act of desecration. They crackled with the static of newness.
This was a book unlike any other I had ever handled. The Penguin Modern Classics, poetry and university text books on my shelves had an ephemeral and incomplete quality. For all their human insights, they lacked an interior life. The contents of this breviary, on the other hand, felt fashioned in eternity. Here was an account in song and word of man’s unique encounter with the Triune God, the holy ground where we begin to live from our interior beings.
That night was the first occasion I had ever handled a sacred book. Some aboriginal reverence within me stirred. And yet, this breviary in my hand was not some religious artefact or museum piece to be handled with white gloves and stored in temperature controlled vaults. This breviary was designed to be used. It had been designed to be manhandled by me on a daily basis. Every day of my life I would go to this book and finger these pages, reading their Braille for the things of God. Familiarity would breed devotion. I didn’t realise it back then, but as the years went on, my breviary would measure the temperature of my life as I encountered the Triune God through its pages.
Thin coloured ribbons spilled from the spine of the breviary. I ran a finger through this attractive fringe. Their purpose was hidden to me at that moment. But they provoked practical questions: Why were they there? How would I know how to arrange them? What spiritual treasures would they lead me to? I had intuitively understood that these ribbons were more than decoration or religious bookmarks, but that they had a more profound meaning. These threads would help bind me to prayer. After all, this was what I was to be about. Mine was to be a life of prayer and one day, of offering that great Eucharistic Prayer as a priest. My breviary was not a thing to do, but a reality to become. I was to be a man of prayer and I would wear my breviary ribbons as a sign of that identity.
With the gift of my breviary came a black, leather case. It was shiny with a zip. Depending on which volume was in use, the case would fit snugly around the book like a leather coat and be zipped up to protect the breviary from the wear and tear of the months and years ahead.
I placed each volume in my suitcase and cushioned them with socks and jumpers. They were to become my spiritual guides for my earthly journey to God. Here was an image of how the all-powerful God who is beyond and distinct from our material lives, makes himself accessible to us. He empties himself of his power and glory in order to make himself fit to the limitations of our beings and lives. Our God is to be found among life’s unremarkable realities. He, the all Holy One, reveals himself to us, reaches out to us in ways that we are able to comprehend. He allows us to approach his unsearchable depths. In the Psalms we are given a sure approach route for that encounter. This approach route is called praise.