Liturgy of the Hours Makes a Resurgence With the Faithful: by Celeste Behe
Many modern Catholics’ familiarity with the Liturgy of the Hours begins
and ends with a ditty about an ineffective Matins bell and a dozing friar
But due to the encouragement of recent popes, the advent of new technology
and the personal witness of Catholic bloggers and writers, the faithful have
begun to waken to the timeless beauty of the liturgical prayer.
“Outside of the Mass, there is no greater way to pray than the Liturgy of
the Hours,” says Daria Sockey, whose book The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to
the Liturgy of the Hours is winning brand-new converts to an age-old method
“The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is a marvelous
form of liturgical prayer,” continues Sockey. “It is a ‘sacrifice of
praise’ that we pray in union with millions of others around the world,
across all the time zones. No wonder Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI
have recommended the Liturgy of the Hours as the prayer of ‘the whole
people of God.’”
The Liturgy of the Hours is comprised of a repeating cycle of prayers
grouped in seven sets — or “hours” — with daily Psalms and readings
following the calendar of the universal Church. Each set of prayers is
designed to be prayed during a specific segment of the day: morning,
mid-morning, midday, mid-afternoon, evening and night, with the seventh
“hour” a “floating hour” that may be prayed at any time.
In November 2011, Pope Benedict XVI told the faithful at a general
audience: “I would … like to renew to you all the invitation to pray with
the Psalms, even becoming accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours of
the Church, lauds in the morning, vespers in the evening and Compline before
retiring. Our relationship with God cannot but be enriched with greater joy
and trust in the daily journey towards him.”
Sockey likens the Liturgy of the Hours to a “flaming torch of prayer being
passed around the globe,” joining praying Catholics to their fellow
Although clergy and religious have long recognized the transcendence of the
Divine Office, its pre-eminence as a method of prayer may come as a surprise
to today’s laity.
Comments Sockey, “As ‘part two’ of the official, public worship of the
Catholic Church — ‘part one’ being the Mass — it is in a category of
prayer different from private devotions.”
In fact, before daily Mass became customary, the Divine Office was the
daily liturgy of the faithful.
“In the early Middle Ages, the bells that called priests and monks to
prayer also drew in the laity from village and field,” Sockey explains.
“They would gather to listen as lauds or vespers were chanted.”
The Horae Sanctae Crucis, from a medieval Book of Hours, linked the seven
liturgical hours to scenes from Christ’s passion. The poem helped the
faithful to remember the names and timing of the hours:
‘At Matins bound, at Prime reviled,
Condemned to death at Terce,
Nailed to the Cross at Sext.
At None His blessed Side they pierce,
They take Him down at Vesper-tide.
In the grave at Compline lay,
Who thenceforth bids His Church observe
These sevenfold hours alway.’
This was, of course, well before mobile apps such as iBreviary.com,
DivineOffice.org and Universalis.com made it unnecessary to set down one’s
farm implements and trudge to the neighborhood monastery in order to pray.
“Apps that help Catholics pray the Divine Office are gaining popularity
because Catholics want to grow stronger in their faith,” says Tom Lelyo,
founder of CatholicApps.com. “The Liturgy of the Hours is the ideal vehicle
for this because it helps Catholics to pray more often, know Scripture
better, live the liturgical year and enter into the public worship of the
Church. It’s a perfect response to Sacrosanctum Concilium, in which the
bishops encouraged more lay participation in the liturgy.”
With all the benefits to be culled from praying the Divine Office, one
might assume that each of its “hours” requires a substantial commitment of
time, if not a full 60 minutes.
“Don’t let the term ‘hours’ scare you,” assures Sockey. “The typical
liturgical hour takes about 10 minutes to recite, and many who pray the
Divine Office focus on no more than two or three hours daily.”
According to Sockey, the early Christian practice of praying at set times
of the day was carried over from the Jewish tradition of thrice-daily
prayer. The custom of fixed-time prayer has endured.
“Many Catholics are familiar with the practice of praying certain prayers
at certain hours of the day: the Angelus at 6am, noon and 6pm; and the
Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the 3pm ‘Hour of Mercy,’” observes Jeffrey
Pinyan, a catechist, author and blogger at the CatholicCrossReference.com,
has been praying the Divine Office since 2005, when his sister gave him a
one-volume Liturgy of the Hours.
“While the Liturgy of the Hours does not demand such a regimen, it does
allow the praying Christian to grow in many disciplines, both spiritual and
practical. And for those who struggle with organization, it is heartening to
know that setting aside scheduled time for prayer can lead to better time
management in secular matters.”
But how does a busy layperson find 30, 20 or even 10 minutes daily in which
to pray the liturgical hours?
“The key is to start small,” advises Sockey. “Examine your daily routine
and see which times of day present openings for a short prayer break. If you
already like to get up before the rest of the family to savor some peace and
quiet, then Morning Prayer should work. If you normally find time to breathe
a bit either just before or just after dinner, then Evening Prayer is for
you. If you get a decent lunch break at work, try Midday Prayer. Add one
liturgical hour at a time and form a firm habit before adding another one.
If you’re not sure which to try first, then follow the advice of the
Church, which particularly recommends Morning and Evening Prayer to laymen.
Or go with my personal recommendation to beginners, which is to start with
Night Prayer, the easiest hour to do.”
Sockey, a longtime devotee of the Liturgy of the Hours, is well-equipped to
advise the faithful on such matters.
A few years before writing The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy
of the Hours, Sockey launched Coffee and Canticles, a “fan blog” devoted to
the Liturgy of the Hours, where ordinary Catholics can go to share their
enthusiasm and get questions answered. Readers responded with gusto, and
Sockey soon found herself fielding questions on every conceivable aspect of
the Divine Office.
“Liturgical prayer is beautiful, but complex,” admits Sockey. “There is a
lot of terminology associated with it that may confuse people. What are
lauds and vespers? What are canticles? And what is a Breviary?”
“Consequently, some people have been too timid to try liturgical prayer at
all. Then there are those who have picked up a Breviary — a small,
hand-held book of the hours — and tried to use it, but gave up because
they were afraid they weren’t ‘doing it right,’” says Sockey. “Some
people may have attended the odd vespers or lauds service at church and
wondered what that was all about. Others may have been praying the Liturgy
of the Hours for a while, but need a little inspiration to help them
appreciate this treasure once more.
Celeste Behe writes from
INFORMATION: “The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours” Catalog.FranciscanMedia.org