Any Divine Office Head-scratching?




It’s weekly Q&A time.

Anything that has you scratching your head, frowing, or slamming your breviary on the table and saying, “I just don’t get it” should be shared here. I’ll do my best to figure it out for you.

This week I’ve done some head-scratching myself over what it means in the book of Exodus (which is playing all through lent in the Office of Readings) when it refers to “seeing God”. On Monday, Moses plus the seventy elders “beheld the God of Israel” and “He did not smite them. after gazing on God they could still eat and drink.”

Then yesterday, it says “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.” Yet in the same reading, Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God gives a very conditional Yes: “but my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and lives.”


So I guess speaking to God face to face is NOT the same as seeing his glory face to face. But I really wish I could read Hebrew.

Got any questions about the Divine Office? Leave them in comments.

Daria Sockey


Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at

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  • William Quinlan

    I don’t have any expertise on this, but found a site called Sr. Sarah’s Bible Bytes in which Sister Sarah Schwartzberg is quoted as saying the following:The phrase “in his presence” is capable of a number of translations.  Literally it may be rendered “face to face.” In Ex. 33:10, God tells Moses “my face you cannot see, for no one sees me and still lives.” Moses is permitted to see only God’s back.  On Mount Sinai, God sets Moses in the hollow of a rock, covers Moses with his hand, and passes before him.  At that moment, the Lord reveals his personal name to Moses and reveals his mercy and compassion: “Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with him there and proclaimed his name, ‘Lord.’  Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity’” (Ex. 34:5-6).  However, we have already been told that “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Ex. 33:11).
    There are, in fact, a number of places where God does show his face.  In Gen. 32:31, after wrestling with the angel, “Jacob named the place Peniel, ‘Because I have seen God face to face,’ he said, ‘yet my life has been spared.’”  In Judges 6:22-23, Gideon encounters an angel: Gideon, now aware that it had been the angel of the Lord, said, ‘Alas, Lord God, that I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!’ The Lord answered him, ‘Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.’” In his temple vision, the prophet Isaiah says “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:5).
    What does it mean to see God’s face? We know that God does not have a body, that God is incorporeal.  In the Jewish tradition, the midrash gives us an answer:
    Rabbi Luliani said in the name of Rabbi Isaac: it is written (Ex. 19:19): “Moses spoke and God replied with a voice; God spoke and Moses replied with a voice”? No. It states only that “Moses spoke and God replied with a voice”; that is God talked to Moses with Moses’ own voice.” (Numbers Rabbah 13:3).
    That is, Moses heard God interiorly, in a sort of monologue.  The Hebrew word for “face” or “presence” can mean not only that which is in front of you, but also that which is inside, interior, innermost.  Moses had such an intimate relationship with God that he heard God within his own being when he stood within in the cloud on the top of Mount Sinai.  Later he listened to God when he entered into the silence of the Tent of Meeting.Sr. Sarah Schwartzberg is currently stationed at San Benito Monastery in Dayton, Wyoming. In addition to the weekly class, Sr. Sarah has taught classes on the psalms and on “The Women of the Pentateuch.”[Sr. Sarah earned a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from Spertus Institute, in Chicago, Illinois. At the present time, she is a doctoral candidate at Spertus. She brings to her Scripture classes a unique combination of contemporary scholarship and traditional rabbinic commentary.]

  • Daria

    Thanks. That’s good information. I appreciate the time you took to write that all up for me.

  • S.

    I have been wondering for quite some time about Psalm 110 in Sunday evening prayer.  They left out the second to last verse, about crushing heads. I suspect this might change the tenor of the whole psalm, or at least about exactly which head is to he lifted up after drinking from the stream.  And I don’t understand the significance of the Master drinking from a stream and then lifting up his head.  Surely this image meant something specific to the audience for which it was originally written.  Any comments?

  • Daria Sockey

     When the Liturgy of the Hour was revised after the Second Vatican Council, a decision was made to leave out three psalms (56,83,and 109), plus verses from a few of the others (such as the one you refer to in Psalm 110) that contained cursing or excessive violence. The reasoning was that the laity, who would be praying the hours in the vernacular tongue rather than Latin, might find these verses to be distasteful and repellant. It was important to the Council fathers that the laity begin praying the hours again after years of it being perceived as the domain of clergy and monastics. As you can imagine, this was a controversial decision,but there it is.
    There’s an excellent commetary on the morning and evening psalter, called The School of Prayer,by John Brook (liturgical press) Here’s what he says about drinking from the stream, etc.:
    “During the coronation ceremony the king may have drunk from water from a brook, possibly the spring Gihon in Jerusalem, mentioned in connection with the anointing of King Solomon (1 Kings 1:33-45), in order to be endowed with life and  power. The Messiah will be filled with the Spirit, the water of eternal life, and will therefore be triumphant. To ‘lift up his head’ is a metaphor for victory.” 
    Hope this helps.