Thanks to Lake for challenging me on my rant-ish claims about the Liturgy of the Hours in yesterday's post. It is certainly silly to suggest that if priests only said their prayers it would save the Church, or that their failing to do so will destroy us, as if the life of the Church depended on our faithfulness rather than the faithfulness of Christ.
That being said, over the years, my learning of the Tradition as well as my reflection on the meaning and function of the Scriptures in the life of the Church has led me to the strong belief that, apart from the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours is the ordinary and preeminent way that the Holy Spirit--as the abiding Presence of Christ in the Church--prays with us, for us, and as us to the Father.
Therefore, it is my sincere belief that we as a Church, and we who are clergy in particular, take the Hours lightly at our spiritual peril. It is the public prayer of the Church, and the Church and the world have a right to expect that those of us who have accepted the obligation to pray the Hours either through ordination or religious choir are actually doing it.
All that being said, I do have two complicating reflections:
First, we must also recognize that in most places we have not yet heeded the call of the most recent reform of the liturgy to make the Liturgy of the Hours into true public prayer, a prayer of the whole people of God in their cathedrals and parish churches. (See, e.g. Sacrosanctum concilium 100 or the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 2o) In some places and at certain special times of year there have been great successes in this regard, but generally speaking this has not yet been carried out.
Second, as a cleric, I must admit that there are times when I have "said" one of the Hours--especially Daytime Prayer or Night Prayer--with such distraction and stress that I have wondered if "fulfilling" my obligation to keep the Hour is overshadowed by the danger of breaking the second commandment in its execution, i.e. taking the name of God in vain. Now this is probably just a challenge to live a more orderly religious life, but it does remind me that it is always dangerous to talk about law and obligation without love, lest I "strain out the gnat and swallow the camel." (Matthew 23:24)