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Daria Sockey explains the Liturgy of the Hours for everyday Catholics who want to create a more regular rhythm of prayer in their busy lives. Whether an individual prays one, two, three, or all seven “hours,” it helps all who pray it to share their day with God.

Liturgy of the Hours: Sharing Your Day with God
By: Daria Sockey


Each issue carries an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited

We value our time, complain that we don’t have enough of it, and marvel at the swiftness of its passing. So it makes sense to dedicate the hours of morning, noon, evening, and night to our Creator, to give our work, play, rest, and sleep to the One who understands their purpose and destiny best.

If you already make a daily morning offering or commit yourself to God’s protection before you go to sleep, you’re engaging in a tradition that came from the older tradition of liturgical Morning and Night Prayer. To anyone who lives in friendship with God, it’s natural to praise, thank, repent, petition, and tell him of our grief and sufferings. The Liturgy of the Hours takes these types of prayer to a higher level. It sanctifies time and consecrates the phases of our days.

Divine Office. Liturgy of the Hours. Matins. Lauds. Vespers. Evening Prayer. Breviary. You may have come across these words and wondered what they mean. What are these prayers? Where did they come from? Why might I want to use these prayers, and how would I get started?

WHAT IS IT?

The word liturgy comes from the Greek leitourgia, which means “a public duty or service.” The Liturgy of the Hours is “part two” of the official, public worship of the Catholic Church (“part one” being the Mass). Liturgy differs from private devotions, such as the rosary, novenas, litanies, chaplets, and conversations with God.

The Liturgy of the Hours—or Divine Office—is a repeating cycle of psalms, biblical canticles, Scripture readings, intercessions, hymns, and other prayers. Some elements change with the seasons and feasts of the Church calendar. The book containing the Liturgy of the Hours is the breviary.

These prayers are arranged in seven daily sets, or “Hours.” (See boxed material on next page.) Don’t let the term Hours scare you. It refers to how the prayers mark and sanctify the various times, or hours, of the day. The typical liturgical “Hour” takes maybe 10 minutes to recite—longer if you do it with a group, chant it, or take your time meditating on the prayers.

Seven breaks for prayer each day, even short ones, may sound like too much for most of us. It’s mainly in monasteries that all seven liturgical Hours are prayed. Priests typically pray five. Most laypeople focus on one, two, or three: Morning, Evening, and Night prayer.

As part of the Church’s public worship, the Liturgy of the Hours is ideally prayed in group settings. Some parishes offer Evening Prayer on Sundays or Morning Prayer after weekday Mass. Outside of these times, parish priests, deacons, and laypeople pray the Hours privately.

WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?

1.  It unites us to the Church universal.

As we greet a new day, a symphony of prayer rises from cathedrals, mission chapels, city apartments, seminaries, mass transit vehicles, and homes.  This melody of praise, sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, travels like a torch passed around the globe.

When we pray these daily psalms and readings, we’re united with believers around the world. There’s something powerful and satisfying about using the same words and forms used by millions of believers. Praying the Hours connects us to the communion of saints. The faithful on earth, saints in training, are joined in a unique way as we pray the psalms and canticles appointed to each day.

2.  It’s liturgical.
The Liturgy of the Hours is liturgy. Along with the Mass, it’s the official public worship of the Church. When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we exercise the common priesthood of the faithful, which we possess through Baptism.

Since Vatican II, laypeople are delegated to offer the Hours as liturgy. Unlike clergy and religious, we’re not obligated to do so. We’re merely given the opportunity. And it’s an opportunity too good to miss.

3.  It’s scriptural.
Making the Liturgy of the Hours part of your day combines prayer and Scripture—you're both reading and praying the Bible, using the word of God to praise, thank, and petition him. If you say only Morning and Evening Prayer, you’ll become familiar with about 80 psalms, several dozen Old and New Testament canticles, and 50-some short readings from the epistles. Should you tackle the Office of Readings/Matins, with its daily passages of Scripture, you’ll go over significant parts of many Old Testament books, arranged to map out the plan of salvation through the liturgical year.

The psalms, all divinely inspired, are truly the Lord’s prayers! They teach us how to praise, thank, repent, petition, and complain to God about suffering and injustice. We pray in the words that God gave us. By praying the psalms each day, we gradually absorb their language and attitude.

4.  It flows from and into the Mass.
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324). Sunday Mass should be the spiritual highlight of our week; daily Mass, when possible, the highlight of our days. The rest of our prayer should flow into and out of the Mass. There’s no better way to make that happen than the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Mass has been called a precious jewel and the Liturgy of the Hours its golden setting. It’s easy to see why. The Liturgy of the Hours follows the Church calendar, observing its seasons, solemnities, and feasts. Praying the Hours keeps us aware of what the Church commemorates or celebrates each day throughout the year and reminds us of the Church seasons.

Our daily experience of the Hours provides a pattern of prayer with enough variety to prevent boredom. It extends and amplifies each Mass we attend with psalms, antiphons, and readings that complement it.

5.  It’s the prayer of Jesus.
David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists start with number 10 and become progressively wittier. If I were to list the Top Reasons to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, it would be difficult to put the reasons in order of importance, except for number one: in the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours, you’ll meet Jesus. You’ll pray with him and in him. Jesus will pray with you and in you. Christ is present in the Liturgy of the Hours because this prayer is scriptural, liturgical, and united to the Mass.



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WHY DO IT? WHY NOT? BEGIN!

In The School of Prayer, John Brook speaks of the power of the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office: “Without the Office, our prayers can follow the same old track, saying the same things over and over again, boxed into our own small world. The Office explodes that box and opens us to experience the whole Church praying the mind of Christ, praying for the world for which he suffered and died. It is a way of praying rooted in the Scriptures, in the experience of Jesus, and in the life of his Church.”

There are many outstanding resources for those who choose to travel this road of prayer. Thanks to the Internet and widespread use of mobile devices, the Liturgy of the Hours is available in both hard copy and digital breviaries. Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours is the most popular breviary for laypeople. An inexpensive annual booklet from Catholic Book Publishing Company tells which page is needed for each day. Divineoffice.org is the most popular digital breviary in the United States. With these and many other resources available, everything is now in place to fulfill the Church’s desire for the Liturgy of the Hours to become “the prayer of the whole People of God” (CCC, 1175). 
  
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A BRIEF HISTORY

The liturgical Hours predate Christianity. Mosaic Law prescribes prayer three times daily: morning, afternoon, and evening. The first Christians—who were Jews—continued this practice of fixed-hour prayer in the Temple, synagogue, and home (see Acts 3:1; 10:9, 30). Holy men and women, living consecrated lives of prayer, recognized that the psalms were the perfect prayer of God’s holy word.

St. Benedict, the sixth-century organizer of monastic living, came up with the form of the Liturgy of the Hours that has had the greatest influence on the way we pray it today. He named it the “Divine Office” and gave the hours their Latin names of Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, and Matins. Benedict specified prayer for every three hours around the clock. (The 3 a.m. Prime was removed by the Second Vatican Council.) 
  
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‘SEVEN TIMES A DAY I PRAISE YOU’ (Ps 119:164)

Readings/Matins—The Hour that monks rose to pray at midnight, it now may be prayed at any time. The longest of the Hours, it consists of three psalms and two long readings, one from the Bible, the other from the fathers, doctors, or saints of the Church.

Morning Prayer/Lauds—
The first “hinge” of the liturgical day, it may be prayed any time between waking and mid-morning. We consecrate our day to God and ask for the grace and virtues we’ll need to live our day well. We ask God to keep us from sin, fill us with love for our neighbor, direct our actions, and help us bear wrongs patiently.

Daytime Prayer—
This shorter liturgical Hour has three subdivisions:
  • Terce/third Hour (9 a.m.)
  • Sext/sixth Hour (12 noon)
  • None/ninth Hour (3 p.m.)
The Latin names come from the Roman numbering of the hours of the day. Most laypeople and parish clergy pray only one Hour of daytime prayer.

Evening Prayer/Vespers—
This is the other “hinge” of the liturgical day, it is prayed between 4 and 7 p.m. At Vespers, we pray for a wide array of people and situations.

Night Prayer/Compline—
This Hour is prayed after Evening Prayer, usually close to bedtime.


Daria Sockey is a writer, mother of seven, and experienced homeschooler. This text is taken from her book The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours (Franciscan Media).

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Gregory the Great: Coming events cast their shadows before: Gregory was the prefect of Rome before he was 30. After five years in office he resigned, founded six monasteries on his Sicilian estate and became a Benedictine monk in his own home at Rome. 
<p>Ordained a priest, he became one of the pope's seven deacons, and also served six years in the East as papal representative in Constantinople. He was recalled to become abbot, and at the age of 50 was elected pope by the clergy and people of Rome. </p><p>He was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery. He is known for his reform of the liturgy, for strengthening respect for doctrine. Whether he was largely responsible for the revision of "Gregorian" chant is disputed. </p><p>Gregory lived in a time of perpetual strife with invading Lombards and difficult relations with the East. When Rome itself was under attack, he interviewed the Lombard king. </p><p>An Anglican historian has written: "It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great." </p><p>His book, <i>Pastoral Care</i>, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline. In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called "the Great," Gregory has been given a place with Augustine (August 28), Ambrose (December 7) and Jerome (September 30)as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.</p> American Catholic Blog The pierced, open side of Christ on the cross, which makes visible the Sacred Heart of the Son of God, remains “the way in” to knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 
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