This is the first instalment of a series that I have planned on the Liturgy of the Hours. Given that many of us are undoubtedly stuck within our homes and are unable to attend Sunday mass this weekend (and the many to come in the foreseeable future), this is a great opportunity for you to rekindle or discover a very powerful and important prayer of the church. It is in fact the official prayer of the church, next to the Eucharist of course, and together form the official liturgy of the Body of Christ– a literal breath of constant prayer and thanksgiving that rising before God and acknowledges the sanctification of time itself.
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The Hours themselves are not popular at all with laity unfortunately– especially in the modern church. Medieval Christians would have been much more familiar with the form of the Hours as they would have attended regular Morning and Evening services. The Hours were especially accessible to laity at the time because the psalms themselves could be easily memorized and the repetitive form of prayer lend itself to being learned very easily without the aid of books and the requiring the ability to read. Anglicans in particular have always had a particular association with their own form of the Hours present in the Book of Common Prayer. In many Anglican churches, even to this day, this form of worship overtakes a Eucharist by frequency during the liturgical year. And it is a tradition rich in the music of Evensong which has become a hallmark of Anglican worship for centuries.
The Second Vatican Council did not open up the Liturgy of the Hours to the laity because the Hours themselves had always been opened up but they re-emphasized their importance within the daily lives of faithful Catholics. Alongside the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours forms the backbone of prayer within the church which is why all seven canonical hours are mandated for priests and religious. A burden which is carried by most pious men and women with tremendous joy and gratitude for the blessings that flow from the Hours themselves through dedicated and disciplined prayer. But while this is probably what has historically deterred laity from the prayers themselves, this should not be the case at all, because none of the Hours are required by laity and therefore any and all for that matter could be done. In fact, after some restructuring following Vatican II, their are only two major or hinge Hours. And the fact they are called Hours should not lead one to believe that they take hours to pray, the hinge Hours themselves (being the longest liturgically) take only about 20 minutes when done properly and earnestly. And with a slow of apps for your phone or tablet to help you out, there is no reason you cannot read or listen to the Hours during your commute or when you have a moment alone in the mornings and evenings.
But what I would really recommend (and what will help you for this series) is that you track down a Christian Prayer book or the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours set from the Catholic Book Publishing Company. And you can always check out all of the Hours for the day at Universalis.com. You can still use the apps and listen to the Hours, and they certainly help for learning, but I have found through years of prayer the Hours themselves that the most effective form of prayer and feeling of taking oneself out of the world to join the church militant and triumphant in prayer is through a physical book– especially as more and more of our lives move to our phones, tablets and computers.
In this series we are going to explore the history and structure of the Liturgy of the Hours and then we are going to dive into how to pray the Hours themselves in a simple and easy to understand way that will leave you with a firm grasp of the form of the prayers themselves. It is my hope that during these grey days of uncertainty and fear, you develop a stronger relationship with God through dedicated prayer and the Liturgy of the Hours can become a fantastic vehicle for doing so and for living liturgically.
Lord, open our hearts to your grace.
Restrain us from all human waywardness
and keep us faithful to your commandments.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.