April 1, 2008

Liturgy of the Hours

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)


ben in denver said...

Might I be so bold as to offer some suggestions to foster amore of a lay devotion to the liturgy of the hours?

1) brief, regular (maybe 2-3 times per year) seminars on how to use the books. It took me a few months to figure it out on my own, and I'm still not to clear on when to use the reading from the commons and when to use the reading from the proper of the season for a memorial or optional memorial.

2) in the fall, when your community buys the ordo's for the following year, invite lay members of the parish to order with you (I ususally forget to buy one at all, hence my stuggle with the readings).

3) start teaching kids in CCD how to say the Canticle of Zechariah and the Magnificat.

4) help lay people who are interested in praying the office form a community to pray with--even if this means praying alone most days and just coming together for communal prayer once in a while.

(I may be really overstepping my bounds a laymen on the next couple)

5) think about incorporating themes some of the longer readings from the Office of Readings into homilies.

6) instead of sticking to Hail Mary's and Our Fathers as pennances for confessions, suggest that a penitent pray over a particular psalm for a few minutes.

Evelyn said...

I like your ideas, Ben! It took me six months of four offices a day to really feel comfortable with the page turning and all. I no longer break into a cold sweat when deciding between the common of pastors and the common of martyrs, etc. and I do get kind of twitchy if I forget to pray, now that it is part of my daily rhythm :) I would love to see more people pray it together! In my parish, we begin daily Masses with the appropriate office, and then leave off before the reading, which comes as part of Mass. That was all it took to get me hooked!

Charles of New Haven said...

Love the comments, you guys.

lake said...

Thank you for your continued reflections! I truly love the Liturgy of the Hours and believe that all of us - lay and ordained - would benefit from it greatly if we prayed it regularly.

Of the many advantages of this particular Liturgy, 3 things stand out for me.

1) the Hours are heavily steeped in the Scriptures. Immersion into this prayer keeps us in regular contact with the Word of God.

2) the Hours offer us prayer throughout the day. It's a constant reminder to turn & return to God at morning, daytime, evening, & night.

3) the Hours follow the Church calendar. We pray w/ the Church as we move through the different liturgical seasons and w/ the life of the saints.

For these reasons and many more, I agree that regular prayer would (eventually) break the power of malaise and low morale. I didn't mean for my previous comments to be a challenge to your reflections. I simply wanted to hear more prayerful thoughts on the Lit. of Hours. I appreciate the discussion!

Garpu the Fork said...

Lurker, here, but I agree with you. The Liturgy of the Hours is vital for the Church. I think, though, that with laity the problem is that for so long the Divine Office was thought to be just for the realm of priests, deacons, and religious, not the entire Church. I've still heard the opinion from some that the Divine Office isn't something laity should even consider. Kind of sad, in a way.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks for the comment, Garpu the Fork. I agree with your assessment of the situation. Many times I think the problem is a steep and twofold learning curve with regard to the Liturgy of the Hours.

First, it's just hard to use. Even the most streamlined editions like Catholic Book Publishing's "Shorter Christian Prayer" can be hard to figure out how to use without a live mentor.

Second, and this I think is a deeper issue, it seems to me that praying the Hours well requires a different sense of Sacred Scripture than what we usually hear in church. The Hours, and the psalmody especially, require us to hear Christ praying through and as the larger Word of God. This to me is how the Liturgy of the Hours makes sense as the preeminent prayer of the Body of Christ.

In other words it goes against how we are generally taught to "use" the Scriptures in our time, which is for vague moralizing, or asking "what does the Scripture say to me." Now if "what does the Scripture say to me" is a part of the larger question, "what is Christ saying to the Father," well then it can work. But if it's just about us and what we can "get out of it," then we have ceased to believe in the incarnate Word of God.

liturgy said...

This post expresses it well.
I regularly say that the Eucharist is the jewel in the crown - but the Liturgy of the Hours is the crown in which the jewel is set.
I encourage the praying of the Hours ecumenically at
and hope you will consider linking there.
Whilst we cannot share Eucharist,
we can share the Liturgy of the Hours, that praying of the scriptures which our common baptism calls us to.