The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary Draws Us Closer to Heaven
‘As you struggle through the stormy seas of life,’ says St. Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘do not turn away from Mary, Star of the Sea.’
“As you vigilantly school yourself in studying the psalms and in giving praise to God, I exhort you, venerable brother, and recommend that you also not omit the daily office of the blessed Mary ever virgin.” —St. Peter Damian
Some days, when I open my beautiful copy of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and begin to savor its numinous words, I can’t help but feel like I am falling into the loving embrace of my Mother Mary. Prayer by prayer, I nestle myself deeper and deeper into her Immaculate Heart and the most merciful Heart of her Son. I am won over by her sublimity, and galvanized by the power of the Word of God, to which she gave birth. When I pray the Little Office, I am often taken aback by the goodness of the God who created my heavenly Mother — by his providential designs, his wisdom and his kindness.
The amazing thing is, I never fathomed I would be at this point in my spiritual life, where praying the Little Office was an integral part of my daily routine — something I couldn’t imagine living without. For the first 22 years of my life, in fact, I never thought that the Blessed Mother would have any role in my spiritual life whatsoever.
The very idea of having anything to do with the Mother of Jesus used to absolutely terrify me, given that I grew up in a staunchly Dutch Calvinist family. My grandfather was a Calvinist Reformed minister, and my father is an immigrant from the Netherlands who served as an Elder in a Calvinist Reformed church. All throughout my life, I had heard that any prayerful communication with anyone other than “The Lord” was an idolatrous, abominable sin in the sight of God. I had been made to believe that the name of Mary was better left unmentioned, lest one sin gravely by worshiping her as the Catholics do.
After doing years of intense research on Christian history, ascetic spirituality, monasticism and Mariology (a side hobby I embraced as I was earning a theology degree at a Calvinist college so that I could become a Protestant missionary), I gradually began to believe that Catholic Marian dogmas were likely true. Although I didn’t fully embrace them, I was able to at least accept them well enough to be peacefully confirmed as a Catholic at age 22.
For several years, soon after joining the Church, I went to serve with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity as a housemother in their women’s shelters. While I was living with them, I was forced to confront my lingering fears of Marian devotion as the sisters are profoundly devoted to the Blessed Mother. Every day, they pray the entire Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Rosary and other Marian prayers. On many occasions, when they began praying the Little Office, I was overcome by fear and anguish of heart, sometimes even having to leave the chapel because I was in tears.
Almost all my Protestant family members and friends had such a terrible aversion to Marian devotion, and even thought it was demonic — they were such good Christian people in many ways — how could they all be wrong? It was all so confusing to me, and I had to beg God, the author of the Absolute Truth, with all of my poor heart to show me the truth about Marian devotion and the Little Office.
I needed his mercy to reveal to me if it was really a work of his, and if he really did desire his children to pray it. And, thankfully, over time, he did hear my prayers. After praying the Little Office regularly for a year or so (often suffering through it), I began to witness the luminous joy, peace and freedom it gave to the sisters and me. It had such an extraordinary way of lifting our souls up to higher things and heavenly desires — and loosening the grip of selfishness, sin and impurity had upon our human spirits.
These days, as a Third Order Carmelite member, I am committed to praying a couple of offices of the 1962 Brevarium Romanum or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily, as well as to Marian-like meditation, fasting and novenas in her honor. I took private promises to pray three mysteries of the Rosary daily until my death as well. I also love to pray part of the Little Office with my children before they go down for their naps. It calms them, soothes them, and reminds them that they have a Mother who can love them perfectly, especially when I can’t seem to do so.
All of these graces I attribute to the most gracious intercession of my Mother, who saved me from a life of darkness, confusion, sin and heresy. Her Immaculate Heart wrapped me in the shimmering cloak of her light, bringing me back home to the arms of my Heavenly Father and his Church.
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Hours of the Virgin, is a liturgical devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in imitation of, and often in addition to, the Divine Office. A cycle of psalms, hymns, Scripture and other readings, it is truly an ambrosial treasure trove of Sacred Tradition. Its gorgeous, poetic language fortifies the soul in amazing ways, uniting it to the Master of all creation.
As Sister Marianna Gildea expresses in the preface to her book, Living the Little Office:
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the center of religious worship, the spotlight is focused on the life and teachings of our Lord, culminating in the drama of Calvary, a perpetuation of the divine and perfect oblation. THE OFFICE, largely dependent on Old Testament sources, furnishes a more extensive preparation and thanksgiving for this sublime event. It thus provides an excellent opportunity to those who recite it daily, especially religious, to increase their fervent preparation and thanksgiving for the Holy Sacrifice.
Overall, the Little Office gives us a simple way to live out the liturgical life and receive the graces that flow from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It wraps us with the sacrosanct cloak of Our Lady, and shrouds us with her spirit of prayer. It helps us to embrace the “duty” that Pope Pius XII wrote about in his encyclical, Mediator Dei: “The most pressing duty of Christians is to live the liturgical life, and increase and cherish its supernatural spirit.”
It draws us nearer and nearer to the Queen of Heaven and Earth, so that we may obtain the graces we need to merit the conquest of our eternal beatitude.
By living a life of Marian devotion, we will not only form a genuine relationship with the Blessed Mother, but we will also enjoy the illustriousness of Catholicism and savor its splendor. With Mary’s name on our lips, we may defeat the schemes of the Evil One and help bring forth the victorious reign of Christ the Sovereign King. As St. Bernard once said, “In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name leave your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart.”