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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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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
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