November 15, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The Liturgy of the Hours

John F. FinkLast week, I wrote about various devotions in the Church. One I didn’t mention, though, was the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, because it’s more than just a devotion. Like all parts of the liturgy, it’s part of the public prayer of the Church.

Often, when I say something about the Liturgy of the Hours to lay people, they ask, “What’s that?”

The Liturgy of the Hours includes prayers—mainly the psalms—for various times of the day—morning, daytime, evening and night. The most important are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, known as the “hinges of the entire office.”

Reciting these prayers is a way to join in the unity of the Church because people throughout the world are praying the same prayers each day. This is how the Church follows the apostolic exhortation to “pray always.”

The Liturgy of the Hours divides the year into its liturgical seasons. It’s a way of taking all of the great mysteries of the life of Jesus, and spreading them out through the whole year.

One 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 that the Liturgy of the Hours has historically been recited, or chanted, primarily in monasteries, and most Catholics think of it as something priests and men and women religious 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.”

The “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” also said that members of the Church “participate according to their own place in the Church and the circumstances of their lives: priests devoted to the pastoral ministry, because they are called to remain diligent in prayer and the service of the word; religious, by the charism of their consecrated lives; all the faithful as much as possible.”

In recommending the introduction of the Liturgy of the Hours to more laity, I don’t for a minute believe that most lay people can pray them as men and women religious do. Many people could do so, though, as those who belong to secular institutes have learned. Each of the “hours” really doesn’t take that much time when prayed individually—usually five to 10 minutes, or perhaps 15 minutes for the Office of Readings.

We can pray Morning Prayer anytime before noon, Daytime Prayer anytime from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, and Evening Prayer anytime from late afternoon to bedtime. Night Prayer is said before going to bed. Whenever we pray it, we’re joining someone somewhere in the official prayer of the Church.

The Church thinks the Liturgy of the Hours is important. If more people would try it, I’m sure they’ll find that they like it. †

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