November 24, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours is for all

John F. Fink(Seventh in a series)

The Church would like to see more members of the laity pray the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

Most Catholics, though, have yet to discover this liturgical prayer. Sometimes when I say something about the Liturgy of the Hours to lay people, they ask, “What’s that?”

St. Augustine, in his Confessions, said that, at the beginning of his conversion, when he heard the Divine Office his heart melted with happiness and his eyes with tears of piety.

Perhaps modern Catholics wouldn’t show quite that much emotion, but I think the Church could interest more members of the laity into saying the Liturgy of the Hours, at least morning and evening prayers, if it tried to do so.

The Liturgy of the Hours includes prayers—mainly the Psalms—for various times of the day—morning, daytime, evening and night. Reciting these prayers is a way to join in the unity of the Church because people throughout the world—mainly priests and religious—are praying the same prayers each day. This is the way the Church follows the apostolic exhortation to “pray always.”

Another part of the Liturgy of the Hours is the Office of Readings. It, too, has Psalms, but also readings from both Scripture and from the writings of saints. When it’s the feast of some saint, if she or he has written anything, there’s an excerpt from that. Or if it’s the feast of a martyr, there might be a description of the heroic way that he or she died.

It’s true, of course, that the Liturgy of the Hours has historically been recited, or chanted, primarily in monasteries, and most Catholics think of it as something monks and nuns do.

But the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy tried to make it clear that it “is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God.” It said that members of the Church “participate according to their own place in the Church and the circumstances of their lives.”

As members of secular institutes who pray the Office can testify, the “hours” really don’t take that much time when prayed individually—usually five to eight minutes, or perhaps 15 minutes for the Office of Readings. Those who pray the breviary individually have an advantage over monks and nuns who pray it in community: We don’t have to say it at specific times as they do when they pray it together.

We can pray morning prayer anytime before noon, daytime prayer anytime from mid-morning to late afternoon and evening prayer anytime from late afternoon to bedtime. The Office of Readings can be said anytime. Whenever we pray it, we’re joining someone somewhere in the official prayer of the Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Liturgy of the Hours “an extension of the Eucharistic celebration (#1178).” It complements various other devotions, including and especially adoration and worship of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Church thinks the Liturgy of the Hours is important. More Catholics should try it. †

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