There is a reason to wonder about the extraordinarily dynamic and successful development of Arnold Janssen’s foundation of a missionary congregation. Despite its humble beginnings, the Mission House in Steyl became a center of intense activity. From Steyl the Founder directed the rapidly expanding Society, whose number increased by a hundredfold during his lifetime. There were 11 members by the end of 1875 and 1,018 members in perpetual vows by 1909, including 308 candidates in basic formation. Surprisingly, Fr. Josef Grendel (1932-1947), the fourth Superior General, preparing the Society for the celebration of the centenary of the Founder’s birth, turned the spotlight in his circular/message written on December 4, 1936 not on the glorious past but on the practice of the quarter-hour prayer. Fr. Grendel, in his message entitled “Zealous practice of the Quarter- Hour Prayer”, spoke about the special value of this prayer, desired and expected of us by God. This prayer is a special gift of God to the Society and should become the Flagship Prayer of all SVDs as a recognizable sign of their unity. This Quarter-Hour Prayer gained the fame of a jewel (biblical association with pearl) in the Society’s spiritual heritage among some SVD authors. The reasons why this prayer merits a special place in the Society should be discovered anew. In order to do this we need to take a look at the main arguments presented by Superior General Grendel in its favor, in terms of its theological, spiritual, practical and historical value.
1.1 Theological value. The Quarter-Hour Prayer brings the Society into regular communion with our Holy Triune God, the source of the deepest and truest life of the Society. Since the only reason for our existence is to give greater glory to God, our main call is to walk in the presence of God and stay in permanent and deep union with Him, despite our very active missionary lifestyle. Our lives are a gift of God; hence they should be like flames burning to the greater glory of God. Fr. Grendel says: “Our Quarter-Hour Prayer must ever be like a quiet going to God in faith; a kneeling before Him in hope and confidence; a blissful becoming one with Him in loving spiritual communion; a renewed filling of our soul by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, thus our whole being and all our activities may be a pure flame consuming itself for His greater glorification”.
1.2. Spiritual value. Fr. Janssen found in the Quarter-Hour Prayer a practical way to preserve and deepen in all of us the divine life and establish ever more deeply this union in and with God. This practice allows us to take to heart “the whole Society, every individual confrere with their works, intentions, and plans including the thoughts and designs of God over them”. For our Founder, the Quarter-Hour Prayer was a constant calling to renew our communion with God in the Holy Eucharist by participation in the Body of Christ, thus leading us to renew our commitment to the society and making our whole day and all our activity deeply Eucharistic. The invocation to the Holy Spirit, the Father of our Society, reminds us of the presence of God within us as a source of blessing and spiritual strength. The frequent repetition of the acts of faith, hope and love permitted our Founder to remain calm in the midst all his activities, thus favoring interior recollection. The Prayer also reminds us that a fruitful missionary life is only guaranteed by a deep-seated unity of activity and prayer. Such was the spirit that inspired our founding generation and the first communities of our Society. As was noted by members, the activities in Steyl were interspersed with a spirit of incessant prayer. Therefore, Joseph Freinademetz, entering Steyl in 1878 could say: “The house here is a truly a house of God”.
1.3. Practical value. For Father Grendel, the Quarter-Hour Prayer was first of all a call to unity among both living and departed confreres. He saw in the prayer a very practical means to strengthen the unity of the Society of the Divine Word. The spiritual communion among confreres delivers a foundation for good collaboration in our common activities. This prayer supports an apostolate full of blessings for the sick, for the Society, and especially our missionaries who live and work for God in great external isolation. Fr. Janssen was very worried about the spiritual development of the mission house and was The hidden jewel in our Spiritual Heritage Retracing our roots and heritage 7 June 2013 convinced that the congregation can only be effective when it is imbued with a good spirit. The message “Zealous practice of the Quarter-Hour Prayer” conveys also the binding customs regarding the recitation of the Quarter-Hour Prayer and the means to foster and preserve zeal in its recitation. The only condition for the effectiveness of the Quarter-Hour Prayer is that it must be made as a prayer bringing God’s will to fruition within us.
1.4. Historical value. The Quarter-Hour Prayer had a special place in Arnold Janssen’s life. It was already a part of his prayer book of 1866 as the prayer for reception into the Apostleship of Prayer, long before the foundation of the Society in Steyl. The first form included acts of faith, hope and love. This prayer was introduced into St. Michael Mission House from its very beginning (1875), receiving the name “Quarter-Hour Prayer”. From the Fall of 1876 the recitation of the prayer was regulated by the stroke of the bell, every fifteen minutes. This became the rhythm of life of an individual confrere as well as communities. Later, the Quarter-Hour Prayer also included acts of humility and spiritual communion. At the suggestion of Fr. Medits in 1884, a petition was added honoring the Holy Spirit on the ground that if the Society often calls on the Holy Spirit, it will surely be guided by Him. In 1909, the 4th General Chapter shortened the prayer to five invocations and finally in 1962, it underwent further shortening and got a missionary-orientation by stressing the Trinitarian dimension. The Quarter-Hour Prayer was close to the Founder’s heart. In his Personal Notes (1906) we read: “It would grieve me very much if this prayer ceased to be recited by the Society, because it would do the Society a great disservice, depriving us of a rich stream of grace”. Fr. Grendel concludes the message on the Quarter-Hour Prayer saying: “A wise son hears his father’s instruction”. At no other time are we so completely one with our saintly founder and all our confreres who have gone ahead of us than when praying the Quarter-Hour Prayer.” Fr. Grendel’s “Zealous practice of the Quarter-Hour Prayer” opened a long string of 32 Exercitium annuum (yearly practices) addressed to all members of the Society between the years 1937-1967. Hopefully, other historical insights into the remaining 31 Exercitium annuum will follow in future issues of Arnoldus Nota.
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