On the day when Pope Benedict first used the Internet ‘to tweet’, he was asked by one of his respondents, how can married people, living such busy lives, find time for prayer? He replied –“By offering everything that is said and done each day to God.” First thoughts on waking each morning he said should be to offer the forthcoming day to him. It was my mother who first taught me to say the Morning Offering. She told me that by offering all that I said and did to God in the day ahead of me I would be able to transform ordinary little things into precious gifts for God, just as Rumpelstiltskin had turned straw into gold.
My mother owned a very old prayer book handed down to her from her recusant forebears. In the front it had listed down the dates of many of my great grandparents going back several generations, but that’s another story. It also had their age when they died so I was able to find out where and when they were born, so I didn’t need a genealogist to trace my forbears back to penal times and beyond. The story that I want to tell you is of what I found in the middle of the book. It was the text of an ancient Morning Offering that they had all used for generations, my mother included. It was written on a well-thumbed card and in an archaic form of English.
I have put it into a more modern version similar to the Morning Offering that my Mother first taught me. Nevertheless it still gives me quite a thrill when I say my Morning Offering to realise that it was said by my grandparents going back for generations to penal times. Perhaps it was said by my distant grandfather Sir Nicholas Tempest, who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1539 with the Abbot of Fountains Abbey by Henry VIII (1491 -1547) for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37). This was a peaceful rising to protest against the ransacking and dissolution of the Monasteries and the rejection of the Pope in favour of Henry making himself head of the Church in England. This is my rendering of this ancient prayer:-
Father I offer you the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, in union with the offering that Jesus made and continues to make in the Eucharist. I offer them with all who are alive in you, whether they are living or dead. May I draw strength from those who have already proved their faith and become the instrument of giving strength to those who haven’t?
My mother taught me to say it the moment I woke up in the morning. But above all she showed me how to put it into practice by her own example. It wasn’t the little things that I noticed at first, but the big sacrifices that she made that even I noticed. Like that terrible moment in her life when her own precious son died at the age of 22 and she had to learn to accept his death as Mary had done, as she stood at the foot of the Cross. Lessons learnt in such moments are never forgotten. They indelibly stain the memory and determine the way you think and act for the rest of your life, for better or for worse.
In my mother’s case it was for better not worse, as it had been for Mary. For both of them it meant that through their terrible ordeal, their motherhood had somehow been refined and deepened to the benefit of other children, who looked to them for the motherly love that was always given without measure. I for one know this because I have experienced it for myself, and still do. My Morning Prayer always reminds me of my mother for it was she who first taught me how to make it. It reminds me of the other mother too, who inspired her and who was given to us all by Jesus himself as he died on the Cross. So this is the time in my morning prayer when I say a Hail Mary to ask her to help me today, as I try to offer all I say and do to God the Father through her son, Jesus.
When the family went to Mass each Sunday, they saw their mother totally absorbed in what they took all too easily for granted. Their selfishness meant that they had too little to offer, while she was offering a thousand and one acts of self-sacrifice made for them during the previous week. This meant that she received to the measure of her giving. Without any formal theological education she discovered for herself that the Mass is not only a sacrifice, the place where we offer ourselves, in with and through Christ to the Father, but something more.
It is also a sacred sacrificial meal where we receive the love that he is endlessly pouring out, onto and into all who are open to receive it, through daily sacrificial giving. It was here that she received the help and strength she needed to go on selflessly giving in the forthcoming week for the family that she loved so much. Each day she reminded herself of this, her sacred calling, by making her Morning Offering, as her ancestors had done for hundreds of years before her. If ever I forgot to say mine she used to say that the Curé d’Ars would say that, “All that we do, without offering it to God, is wasted,” and she was right wasn’t she?