Why I Love the Liturgy of the Hours – And You May, Too
One of my favorite ways to pray is the Liturgy of the Hours. They are cool. Let me tell you why…
What Are They?
- The Liturgy of the Hours, (aka Divine Office), is a set of prayers to be prayed at seven “hours” throughout the day (don’t worry – most of the “hours” only take between 5 and 20 minutes if you pray them on your own).
- The hours contain a variety of prayers, including sets of psalms, short readings, intercessions, the Our Father, and a hymn. (Some of these are only for Morning and Evening prayer). The Office of Readings has two longer readings, one from scripture, and other from a variety of sources, usually the writings of a saint or a Church document.
- At the core of the Hours are the Psalms. These rotate on a four week cycle. So if you pray all the hours, over a four week period you should end up having prayed most of the psalms.
Who Prays Them?
- Deacons are required to say Morning and Evening Prayer, priests also pray the Office of Readings, Night Prayer, and at least one of the three Daytime hours. Monks pray them all.
- Since Vatican II, lay people have been encouraged to pray it as well.
Why Pray the Liturgy of the Hours?
- It gets you praying the psalms, which are the prayers Jesus prayed and are the backbone of Christian spirituality. (Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross, for example.)
- If you read the Office of Readings, you’ll end up reading a pretty good chunk of the Bible. There’s no substitute for the Word of God.
- It’s the prayer of the Universal Church. Like the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours are prayed throughout the whole world, every day, and have been for hundreds of years. It goes back to St. Benedict at least, and probably back to the Apostles in some form. Since it’s prayed by religious and clergy, there’s also a pretty good chance your favorite saint prayed this way.
- It’s a complete spiritual workout. The Liturgy of the hours have all kinds of prayer: adoration, contrition, praise, thanksgiving, and petition. One of tricky things about prayer is not getting lopsided. I find I ask for stuff a lot when I pray… but then I either forget to say thanks, or I don’t know the words to express awe, or I’d rather just avoid contrition. The Liturgy of the Hours helps keep your prayer life balanced.
- The Liturgy of the Hours is designed to tie into different parts of your day: Morning Prayer is like a foretaste of the Resurrection, Daytime prayer keeps you going in the middle of the day, and at the end of the day Night prayer symbolizes the end of life, with hope for the resurrection to come. Praying like this trains you to see the Paschal mystery in your life.
- The Hours are designed for communal prayer- and we could use more of that. If there is one thing the Church struggles with in the age of Consumerism, it’s getting away from the idea that my prayer life is all about me (and Jesus). Catholic spirituality needs to have a communal aspect or it ceases to be Trinitarian.
How to Get Started
If you’re trying to get started with the Liturgy of the Hours, I would recommend starting with just one of the hours. The most straight-forward is probably Evening Prayer. Give yourself about 15 minutes if you plan to recite it by yourself. See if you can do it every day for a couple weeks. If so, maybe add another one. (Night Prayer is the shortest.) Enjoy.
If you are just getting into the Liturgy of the Hours, I recommend using a website like www.divineoffice.org (which I think requires you to register), or an App (I use iBreviary, which is currently free) or Universalis. The book Shorter Christian Prayer contains both Morning and Night prayer. It’s pretty simple to use. The somewhat longer Christian Prayer includes both of those hours and also includes night prayer and daytime prayer, as well as most of the Office of Readings. It and the very long The Liturgy of the Hours in four volumes can get a bit complex because they require you to jump around. It’s not too bad if you read the directions, (which are in the middle of the books for some reason) but it’s a bit intimidating at first. Maybe that’s why God made the internet.
About the Writer:
Matthew Erickson is a Theology teacher at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis and a member of the Cathedral Young Adults (CYA) group.