The church has given us so many tools to help us to grow in our faith. One of those tools is the Liturgy of the Hours. This form of prayer is sometimes known as the Divine Office or The Hours or The Breviary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the Psalms into the age of the church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated. More over, the reading from the Word of God at each hour, with the subsequent responses and readings from the fathers and spiritual masters at certain hours reveal more deeply the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, assist in understanding the Psalms, and prepare for silent prayer.” (CCC 1177). As a person who has prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for over 40 years now, I can tell you that it is an extremely good way to grow in our Catholic spirituality. As an ordained deacon, I am required (just as all bishops, priests, sisters and brothers) to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I do not consider it a burden, but rather an extremely uplifting way of Growing In Our Catholic Faith. Though not required of lay people, it is something that I would highly recommend.
Along with the celebration of the mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the oldest prayer forms in the Church. As a matter of fact, the reciting of prayers at different hours of the day and evening goes back into our Jewish roots. In the Psalms we find expressions like, “I will meditate on You in the morning”, and “I Rose at midnight to give praise to Thee” and “evening and morning and at noon I will speak and declare and He shall hear my voice.” It also says “seven times a day I have given praise toThee.” The early Christians continued the practice of the devout Jewish people by praying different hours of the day. As a matter of fact, in the book of Acts we learn that the Apostles prayed at midnight and at mid-morning (Terce) and at midday (Sext) and at mid afternoon (None). The prayers at this time consisted of the reading and chanting of the Psalms, the reading of the Old Testament, and then the Christians began adding readings from the Gospels and Acts and the Epistles. The prayers we do today are very much like what the Church has done from the beginning. By the fifth century, the Office consisted of Lauds (Morning Prayer), Prime (first prayers), Terce (Mid-morning Prayers), Sext (Midday Prayer), None (Mid-afternoon Prayers), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Complin (Night Prayer). We still have these prayer times with some minor modifications. See the following list for today’s Liturgy of the Hours.
Current Roman Catholic usage focuses on three major hours and from two to four minor hours:
- The Officium lectionis or Office of Readings (formerly Matins ), major hour
- Lauds or Morning prayer, major hour
- Daytime prayer, which can be one or all of:
* Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer
* Sext or Midday Prayer
* Non or Mid-Afternoon Prayer
- Vespers or Evening Prayer, major hour
- Compline or Night Prayer
The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours only takes a few minutes (about 15+ for the major hours) but is worth every minute you put in to it. The Liturgy of the Hours can be prayed individually or in a group. Usually when in a group it is prayed antiphonally, alternating from left to right sides of the Church. Parts of it can also be sung. However, praying it privately can be a real help in your own spiritual growth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the Liturgy of the Hours: From #1174 “The mystery of Christ, his Incarnation and Passover, which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, “the divine office.” This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to “pray constantly,” is “so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.” In this “public prayer of the Church,” the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. Celebrated in “the form approved” by the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours “is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father.”
So, you are probably asking yourself, “how do I pray the Liturgy of the Hours”. It used to be that you had to buy the Four Volume book set, or abbreviated one volume set, but today we have it available on the Internet and through smart phone apps. I own the Four Volume Set and used to use that continually. However, about four years ago I started using the Ibreviary app and I love it. There are also websites to help you pray it on a full sized computer or tablet. Instead of listing these out, there are so many, I would suggest you search on “liturgy of the hours”. You won’t be disappointed in what you find.
Prayer is at the heart of our relationship to God. The Liturgy of the Hours is one of the best forms of Prayer that I have found. I pray it every day, along with my rosary and attendance at daily mass. All of these bring us closer to the God who loves us so much and wants us to have an abundant life. Please try praying this beautiful prayer form. It isn’t just for the Clergy and Religious. It is for lay people too. God bless you in your journey.