29 October 2009

Liturgy of the Hours: A Gift of the Church

The Church has given us a great gift in the Liturgy of the Hours. While ordained ministers are obligated to pray at least some of the hours each day, and many religious communities focus their daily regimen around the Liturgy of the Hours, the laity to can also gain a great deal from the daily community prayer of the Church.

The Liturgy of the Hours divides the day into different hours and sanctifies each of those hours of the day through prayer. Each of the seven hours revolves around readings from the Book of Psalms. The hours are as follows: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Midmorning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Midafternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer (aka Vespers), and Night Prayer. There is also an Office for the Dead which can be prayed at anytime. While the structure of each of the hours remains static, the particular psalms, antiphons, readings, and individulaized prayers change each day and move one through the year in reflection of each liturgical season including every feast, solemnity, and memorial. The Liturgy of the Hours is the same throughout the Church for every hour every day. So, even in private prayer, praying the Liturgy of the Hours joins one's voice with the whole Church.

Trying to regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours was a devotional practice that I took up several years ago. It is sometimes tough to make time in a day to sanctify the hours of the day with prayer, but the daily office is worth the effort. My first introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours was awkward, as I had never focused before on the psalms as a manner and exercise of prayer. Deeper reflection on the psalms, though, and additional reading about the Judaic basis for praying the psalms, has brought them alive in my prayer life as a source of reliable approach to God. Consider this, Christ himself prayed the psalms--even uttering words from Psalm 22 while in his agony on the Cross. (Matthew 27:46) One can then approach Jesus in prayer using the same form of prayer (probably the same words--all other things being equal with translations) that He used. What a blessing! What a gift!

If you have never before prayed the liturgy of the hours, I will warn you that the structure can be a bit daunting at first. However, there are any number of resources that can guide you.

Do not be turned off by the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours. If one prays the Liturgy of the Hours using the four volume set, as I do, there will be some page turning involved in praying each office. However, the structure can quickly become a familiar vehicle of prayer. And, shorter adapted versions of the Liturgy of the Hours are available. In fact, my introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours came through the booklet published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) entitled: Night Prayer. I provides an adapted version of Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, that can be used by any lay person, and does not require page flipping or ribbon markers. In fact, it provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the universal daily prayer of the Church, the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the gift of santcifying the hour of the day just before retiring (each of the daily hours sanctifies a particular hour of the day) without being too rubricly heavy for an uninitiated lay person. For example, nightly examination of conscience, a part of the formal structure of Night Prayer, has been very helpful in my spiritual development, and will I am sure continue to be so.

If you have not experienced prayer with the Liturgy of the Hours, I would encourage you to open your prayer life to this wonderful gift. If you have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, continue to do so and to use the variety of prayers, and the different hours to guide you through the liturgical year on a journey that will enliven your love of God. I would also recommend for anyone the Church's General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (available here), as a tremendous introduction, overview, and explanation of this wonderful blessing.

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