Many years ago I used to run a retreat and conference centre in London. As I had to run the place on a shoe string I tried to do as many of the odd jobs myself to save money. But I always had to call in the plumber when the drains were blocked. One day when he was having his lunch I went to look inside his tool box to see if I could find the tool that he used to save me calling him again. It was then that I saw these words written in Latin inside the lid. ‘All for the greater honour and glory of God’ (Ad maiorem Dei gloriam).This was the ‘be all and end all’ of all that he said and did each day, as it has been for all sincerely practicing Christians from the very beginning, as it had been for Jesus himself.
When in the first century the Martyr St Justin was writing about the celebration of the Mass, he said that, when at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the priest said, – ‘Through him with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honour is yours almighty Father for ever and ever. The ‘Amen’ of the faithful was so loud that it nearly raised the roof. Their ‘Amen’ was so strong so loud and so vibrant because the priest was not just summing up the offering that they were making at that Mass, but the offering that they were making with their lives. It was the offering that they were making with every fibre of their being, at every moment of their lives, in and through all that they said and did each day. When the high priest made a sacrifice in the temple trumpets would sound, to draw the attention of all the worshippers. No trumpets were needed to remind the early Christians when they should offer themselves to the Father at Mass. Yet strangely enough this supreme moment in the Mass is not appreciated, as it once was. When I was looking for a picture to illustrate this, the key moment in the Mass, I could not find one, although there were many hundreds of other illustrations. When I last went to Mass the ‘Amen’ was no more than a murmur just loud enough to assure the celebrant that his congregation were still awake!
The incredible mystery of God’s love is that he doesn’t actually need us to praise him and give him all honour and glory, he teaches us to do this because it is in doing this that we are taken out of ourselves to centre our attention on him, and to receive what he gives in return. This is the highest form of human action that eventually leads to moments of great happiness on earth and to eternal happiness in heaven.
From the very first centuries Christians would begin their day by offering all that they were about to say and do throughout the day, for God’s honour and glory, so that their whole day would become the Mass. Later this offering came to be called The Morning Offering. This is how my own morning prayer begins the moment I wake up. However I have found that just before beginning it’s a good idea to try and fix the mind on a depiction of the glorified Christ through whom we are making our offering to the Father. If it helps picture an Icon of the Risen Lord, or of Jesus after the Resurrection as depicted by one of the great Renaissance artists, or some other such depiction of your choosing. It might be the image of the Sacred Heart or a more modern picture of Jesus in glory, radiating the uncreated life and love that he has received from his Father. If it helps, place the image of your choice on the wall as a reminder. Then, when this is done, repeat those last words of the great Eucharistic prayer to help prepare you to transform the day ahead into a daily Mass:- ‘Through him with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honour is yours almighty Father for ever and ever Amen’.
Once the great ‘Amen’ had assured the celebrant that the whole congregation had joined him in offering themselves in, with, and through Christ to the Father, he would intone the ‘Our Father’. So now the whole assembly could now pray to the Father, in with and through Jesus using the very words with which he had taught his disciples to address him. This then, could be the time when the ‘Our Father’ can be said in the Morning Prayer.
On a personal note let me explain how I pray each morning to give you some idea of how the principles that I am trying to explain can be personalised by each one of us. For instance once I have visualised the abiding presence of Jesus I pray: -‘Lord Jesus I know that you are here now, as you always will be, for you promised to be with us to the end of time. Help me to pray with you, in you, and through you, to God the Father, who is always drawing us together in the love of the Holy Spirit, now, and for ever’. When I have done this I try to say the ‘Our Father,’ as slowly and prayerfully as I can. Then I call to mind all who are with me when I pray in Christ asking for their prayers, and praying for family, friends, and for all whom I have promised to pray. In this way I can, not only pray for them in words, but in all and through all that I say and do in the forthcoming day. Finally I review all the things that I have to do in the day ahead and resolve to do them as best and as kindly as I can. That’s how my day gets started!
Less than ten years before Constantine granted religious tolerance to all in the Roman Empire one of the last of the Christian Martyrs, St Euplius, was tortured on the rack before having his ears ripped off and then scourged like Christ before him, and finally beheaded. All this took place in Catania in Sicily by the orders of the prefect Calvisanus in the reign of Diocletian. In his interrogation he was asked why he would not offer sacrifices to the gods. He said he did, but his God was the father of Jesus Christ. Nor did he need to go to a temple to offer sacrifices, for his whole life was a sacrifice to God, as it had been for Jesus Christ before him.
Two hundred years before him Christians used to insist that they had no temples, no altars, nor any priests for that matter. The same was true of their founder Jesus Christ. Although he was brought up and practised his faith in every other respect like a good orthodox Jew there is no evidence that he ever offered any physical sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem. His mother and foster father did, like all his friends, relatives and disciples, but he never did. Why? Because the very essence of what he had come to do was contained in his total commitment to introducing a new form of worship that he had promised to the Samaritan woman. It was a form of worship that would come from the heart and entail the complete and unreserved offering of oneself to God, in with and through him, just as he had offered his all to his Father, every moment of every day to his death on the Cross. His followers were asked to do the same, and that means us too!
After Jesus’ glorification, St Peter taught that Jesus himself was the new temple, a spiritual temple and every Christian was built into him, as spiritual bricks and mortar to offer themselves in, with, him and through him to God the Father (1Peter 2:5). Furthermore they were not only to do this on Sundays, but on every day too, and at every moment of that day, as Jesus had done throughout his life while he was on earth. The precise nature of the offering that God wanted in order to give him ‘all honour and glory’ was defined, so that there could be no misunderstanding. Before the resurrection it was to love God with your whole heart and mind and with your whole soul. After the Resurrection the Old Testament commandment was given a new meaning and a new power that made what was impossible before, possible. Now the new offering was made possible, because it was offered in, with, and through Jesus himself. He was not just the New Temple, but the new High Priest too. In the early days of the Church the word priest was only used for Christ himself and for every member of the Christian Community, who daily offered themselves to the Father through him. The first thing that the early Christians would do each morning therefore, was each in their own way, to renew the offering that they had made at the Sunday Liturgy. Remember that for over a thousand years daily Mass was hardly practised at all, it was certainly never the norm. Although many practices of the early Church have been forgotten, this one has persisted in what we have known since childhood as the Morning Offering. The Curé d’Ars once said that, “All that we do, without offering it to God, is wasted,” and I think he was right.
First published on Catholic Stand 4th February 2015
David Torkington is the author of – ‘Wisdom from the Western Isles’, a book that teaches the reader how to pray, from the very beginning to what St Teresa of Avila called the Mystical Marriage.