LOTH: Why you might like to pray the Hours and setting up

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.

Four-volume ‘Liturgy of the Hours’. (https://www.osvnews.com/)

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.

Feature image by Samuel Martins on Unsplash.

COVID-19 and Mass

My church diocese has officially announced that masses indoors are cancelled until the Easter season (and even then, they were clear that more direction based on how things look at that time will be provided). Many people are already feeling the pinch, myself included. However, even with churches cancelling their services in light of strong science that indicates an increase risk of spreading the virus in group settings of 50 or more people, there is a pastoral need among the faithful, arguably more so during times of crisis such as these.

It falls to the leadership of churches, our ministers and pastors, to enact creative solutions to the challenges currently being presented in providing pastoral care to faithful. These solutions ought not to ignore the science before us, not only would that be irresponsible because it places individuals at risk for contracting the virus but it also becomes scandalous for the church (just see the responses from non-believers to what happened to the church in Korea when the spread was just starting). With due consideration for the science and a serious regard for one’s pastoral duties to tend to the flock, ministers and pastors can come up with creative solutions– and ought to.

One suggestion that is being considered by my Anglo-Catholic parish is celebrating mass outdoors at a local park. There is more than enough room for people to gather with enough space between them and mass can be slightly altered so that people remain in their places while a single minister distributes the Eucharist. Another option is to arrange for outdoor prayer services based on the Liturgy of the Hours. People can gather (again not too closely) and pray together knowing that they are praying prayers that are part of the whole church, the whole breath of the faithful rising before God. You can also consider learning and starting to pray the Hours yourself while you are stuck at home for long days.

I am considering putting together a video (perhaps with a live feed so people can join in) on how to organize and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. If this is something you’d be interested in helping out with or participating in to learn please let me know. You can find all of the Hours organized online here at Universalis.com and as always you can shoot me a message or email and I would be more than willing to help you out personally.

It is also Lent, we cannot lose sight of our own need for preparation, pentenance, prayer and almsgiving. You can do the Stations of the Cross without the icons that are present with the church around your own home. The prayers and reflections are easy to find online and you can move throughout your own home and conduct the stations. To add even more flavour to the prayer, find out where East is and face toward that direction while your pray.

All of this recalls photos of the past when Priests celebrated mass on whatever surface could be found around the battlefields of the World Wars. I’ll end with a few inspirational photos.

Feature photo by Diana Vargas on Unsplash.

The common cup: is it safe?

In light of the recent information being passed around about COVID-19 and our ability to stem the impact of the epidemic, I thought it would be helpful to touch on a topic that is certainly a popular question within my own church at the moment. Is it safe to take from the common communion cup, especially during seasons of sickness and flu?

The short answer is that it is somewhat complicated. It is true that statistically there has never been a reported case of any person contracting a serious illness from the communion cup. There were many rumours and claims, especially by modern historians looking back to the plagues of the middle ages. But when the data was drawn out, and the facts laid bare, it was obvious that these theories did not hold any weight. But it is important to note that just because something hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it could not happen, especially when dealing with novel viruses like COVID-19.

You might have heard your Priest or Deacon talking about how the alcohol content combined with the material used in the composition of the cup essentially sterilizes the surface and kills anything that comes into contact. That unfortunately is not entirely true. In a study published in 1988, no appreciable change was noted in the presence of micro-organisms on the surface of the cup as a result of the wine or mixture of metals of the cup itself. In fact, what was found to be the best method of ensuring a clean communion cup was the act of wiping the surface with a corporal cloth and turning the cup for the next communicant.

The solution to ensuring that the communion cup is safe is to enforce proper protocols around the wiping and turning of the cup for the next communicant and this requires that communion not be rushed. And the best way to do this in my opinion is to actually have communicants come and kneel at the altar rail to receive communion from the celebrant and only two more communion ministers. And with adequate training and a healthy dose of reverence toward the Sacrament and how it is communicated to the faithful, there is no issue with using the common cup during seasons of illness and flu.

Another important thing to note is that the act of indenture– or dipping the host into the wine and consuming both species at the same time– is actually the worst option when it comes to hygiene. Especially when it is done by communicants themselves. The problem is that the vast majority of micro-organisms that are transmitted to surfaces around us are through our hands, and there is always a risk (and I’ve witnessed it personally many times as a Eucharistic minister) that ones fingers dip in the wine throughout the process. It is extremely unhygienic and most parishes should have a policy of outright banning indenture or only permitting it to be conducted by a Eucharistic minister (with the understanding that they’ve at least washed their hands immediately prior to distributing communion).

The safest way to receive communion and share the common cup is to approach the Eucharist with the level of reverence that many would called traditional today. We ought to be taking time between communicants, purposely moving up and away for communion, and it ought not to be a rushed affair in the hope of finishing the service within an hour window. This is probably why historically the common cup has not been an issue throughout some of the worse epidemics of our human history. I fear that might not be the case in this age of rushed Eucharistic services.

And lastly, we ought not forget that we are talking about the Blood of Christ. Through the incarnation of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity the gifts themselves still retain their earthly properties of bread and wine. This means it is entirely within the realm of acceptable dogma to expect the potential transmission of micro-organisms on these surfaces. But there is also a divine aspect to the bread and wine as well and there is certainly something to be said about the fact that since its institution the Body and Blood of Christ has not contributed to any significant health outbreak.

At the end of the day whether you decide to take from the common cup or not is a personal choice and in no way does it impact your consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ. The presence of the cup for laity is actually a relatively new practice within the history of the liturgy and the church has always maintained that when you consume one or the other species you are consuming the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. So even with all of the facts that the communion cup is safe, you can decide not to consume the Blood of Christ during periods of sickness or outbreak and still get everything out of Mass that you require to go back into the world and bring the Light of Christ to all peoples.

O for a closer walk with You, Lord Jesus so that I may draw ever closer into Your arms of grace day by day. Thank You that I can commune with You Lord as I come before You in prayer and the reading of Your Word.

Help me to seek YOU more and more for Who You are and not just that which You provide. Lord that I may spend time in Your presence – not for what I can get from You but for what I can give to You. Lord that You would fill me with Your love so that my love may flow back to You as well as out to others. Lord, I pray that my life may be a life that glorifies You in thought word and deed and that with each passing day I draw ever closer into close communion with You, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Feature image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash.

Reflections on Lent – Denying ourselves we open up to God

Lent in the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty is well-underway. And if you are like me, it caught you by surprise. It seems only yesterday that we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and ushering in the New Year. Now with all of the decorations gone away, and the snow and cold beginning to lose its grip in the world, all of creation is springing back to life after a winter of slumber.

Lent captures the dichotomy of our faith perfectly, dare I say divinely. While the world is in enthralled in a spring bloom and “love is in the air” we Christians enter into a season of denial, prayer, penance and almsgiving. While the world triumphantly celebrates the cycle of creation, we stand back in silence, preparing ourselves for the Easter season to come. This is a dichotomy. We are both overfilled with joy at the love and beauty of our Creator and we are also aware of our sin and transgressions before Him.

When I was a child Lent was about giving stuff up. I was fortunate to attend a catholic school and every year around this time we were challenged by our teachers to give up pleasures. The usual stuff would always come up: pop, candy, television. Sometimes someone would be bold and try to give up chocolate or meat for the entire 40 day period. When I was a child I thought that Lent was about giving something up and proving to God how much you loved Him and were willing to give up for Him. But as I got older and as my faith became older as well, I learned that this kind of thinking about Lent was pointless. God knows already how much I love Him (or how little at times that I do). And the price for my salvation has already been paid, so there is little that I can do to effect that at any rate. And wasn’t Jesus clear when He told us not to go around sad and moping while fasting and not to pray in public with loud, long phrases that have empty meaning. Why then are we putting ashes on our heads and going around telling everyone what we’ve given up and how hard it is to do so during this period? These are confusing because it is not what Lent is about at all, and I fear that even many mature adults still possess child-like faiths that see Lent as this today as well.

Lent is about denying ourselves that is sure. But it is about understanding that in that denial we are opening ourselves and our lives to God. Falling to our knees and acknowledging our sin is not the end of the prayer, we fall to our knees and empty ourselves so that we can be filled up by God in the manner He wants us to be.

This Lent I took a practical approach to my Lenten obligation. I have given up all frivolous things in life. No milk or sugar in my coffee, no butter for my toast and no desserts or sweets added to my meals. This is not about giving up things, it is about denying myself pleasures so that I can open myself up to God. Each extremely hot and bitter black coffee that I make in the morning, each dry toast that I choke back is not just a badge of honour because I have given it up, but a spiritual exercise that invites God to come into my life. I am serious, during Lent my daily coffee ritual and my breakfast become a spiritual exercise, a divine movement, because I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing and what is to come. That my friends is the intent of Lent; to deny ourselves and allow God to fill the void.

So ask yourself this year, regardless of what you are giving up, are you following through and allowing God to fill the void? Are you denying yourself the harvest that you work in vain in order to reap the larger and greater harvest of the Saviour?

Look with favour on your family, Lord,
and as at this time we restrain the desires of the body,
may our hearts burn with love of you.
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.

Cover photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash.

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

Everyone has a manner and way in which they like to pray. Some people read the Bible and reflect on the passage, others use a Rosary or other prayer aid and move through traditional prayers. The official prayer of the catholic church– alongside the Eucharist (aka Mass)– is the Liturgy of the Hours, traditionally known as the Divine Office or Breviary. The Liturgy of the Hours is composed of psalms and canticles, readings and hymns that mark hours through-out the day. All ordained and religious people must pray the major hours (Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer) and Night Prayer and laity are encouraged to pray the same. Some religious orders pray all seven canonical hours and even wake up in early hours of the morning to do so.

The Liturgy of the Hours has been with the church for centuries but it has developed over time. The prayers initially started in monasteries through-out Europe and were used in conjunction with rules that defined the structure of the day for members of religious orders. The Benedictines under the rules of Saint Benedict were particularly influential in their development because of their own proliferation through-out Europe in the middle ages. Because these holy men dedicated themselves to God and often a life of prayer on behalf of their patrons and community, these prayers became known as opus dei (the work of God). As the prayers became more elaborate and different forms were taking shape within different monasteries and orders, the need for a single reference for the prayers became obvious and the Roman Breviary was established in no small measure from inspiration by the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy of the Hours has undergone significant changes and revisions since the middle ages, but the substances of the prayers being based on hours of the day, the recitation of psalms and canticles and the requirement that all religious pray the offices themselves, remains intact.

Prayer during certain periods of the day is not unique to Christianity. In fact, the church draws inspiration from the Biblical fact that Jesus as a Jew prayed at certain times during the day, as did the Apostles during and after Christ’s physical presence here on Earth. The psalms in Judaeo-Christian culture play a central role in these prayers. In both traditions, the entirety of the book of psalms is recited on a monthly basis via a rotating four-week psalter. The church therefore traces the roots of the Liturgy of the Hours, as a continual prayer rising before God all of the way back to Christ Himself and the Apostles and even way before that. In this sense the Liturgy of the Hours, as the official prayer of the church, is also the oldest form of Christian prayer that the church holds within her deposit of faith.

“The purpose of the Divine Office is to sanctify the day and all human activity.” – Apostolic Constitution, Canticum Laudis.

The concept behind the Liturgy of the Hours is actually mind blowing. The psalms, composed hundreds of years before Jesus walked the Earth, speak of the coming of the Messiah and the Lamb of God and of the unending hymn of praise that rises before God. The Psalmist (the person who wrote the psalm) is actually so bold in many occasions of speak for God, and on behalf of the entire human race, the Israeli nation and all of creation in the world. And since Christ entered into the world, God entered into time, physical time– the time that we talk about God existing outside of because God has no beginning and no end. And since that moment that God entered time the church, with the choirs of angels in heaven, have continually sung a hymn of praise that sanctifies the time which God has entered into. This is because God became man and existed in time, He touched and sanctified time by His mere presence within it, we are therefore required as a church to join the whole catholic church (heavenly and temporal) in the eternal hymn of praise because time itself is sacred.

Four-volume ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ books. (https://www.osvnews.com)

As each second, minute, hour and day unfolds in time– as we move forward since the time that God has entered and sanctified said time– the church is praying the Liturgy of the Hours and praising, honouring and glorifying the second, minute, hour and day that God has made holy because of His coming as man. And when you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, no matter where you are, you are joining the church here on earth with people all around the world praying the same psalms, the same hymns, the same readings and the same canticles— and not just that but you are joining all of the angels in heaven and the Saints and all who have gone before us in the catholic faith in the eternal hymn of praise that never ceases. Together with the Eucharist it is the breath of the church, always honouring God, acknowledging the sanctification of each moment of time that unfolds in the universe and continuing the eternal hymn of praise.

The entirety of the Liturgy of the Hours is from the Bible– from the opening prayers, to the Our Father– with the exception of the second reading in the Office of the Readings which comes from a historical text and the hymns (which are more like poems with Biblical phrases) and the daily intercessions in Morning and Evening Prayer. This gives a level of Christian legitimacy for the Liturgy of the Hours that puts it on equal footing with the Mass as a prayer before God. Together, the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass can become a powerful tool for living liturgically. The catholic church exists within time, and we mark this sanctified time through-out the year with solemnities, feasts and general seasons. This is why we cannot simply have a Mass where the theme is the Transfiguration if we are not celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (which occurs on August 6). Remember that time is holy, and the church lives within time and acknowledges the sanctification of time by having a liturgical calendar that reflects this unfolding of time. The Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist (together making up the Mass) and the Liturgy of the Hours all exist firmly within the liturgical calendar of the church. When you pray the Offices, especially the Major Hours, you will naturally reflect and ponder the mysteries of each solemnity, feast and season of the church because they are affixed to the prayers, antiphons, psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is incredibly powerful and makes living liturgically a simple act of praying the Hours on your own or with your family.

I am going to be writing more on the Liturgy of the Hours but for now, if you are interested in bringing the Liturgy of the Hours into your own prayer life you can search for the “Liturgy of the Hours” or “Christian Prayer” (for a one-volume edition) and find it online without any issue. There are also many websites that offer the Hours online which is good if you can pray from your computer/phone without being distracted. You can also comment here or send me an email if you have any questions or would like help getting started.

Father,
your Son became like us
when he revealed himself in our nature:
help us to become more like him,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Featured image by Olivia Snow on Unsplash.

When should Catholics take down their Christmas decorations?

Like anything else in the catholic church– thanks to nearly 2000 years of existence in time– there are traditional rules that govern when and how Christmas decorations should be taken down around the house. Typically on the Sunday between January 2 – 8 following the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1, the catholic church celebrates the solemnity of Epiphany. This is a celebration of the reign of Christ over all of mankind (traditionally focused on the subjugation of the Gentiles) and specifically the visitation to Christ by the Magi following His birth. Christmas itself is not just celebrated for one day within the catholic liturgical calendar, rather the celebration is called the Octave of Christmas and for eight days including the 25th the theme in the readings at Mass and the psalms during the Liturgy of the Hours remain the same, transfixed on the birth of Christ. The Octave comes to a close concurrently with the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the church then prepares for Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord (the first Sunday after 6 January).

Tradition across many catholic parts of the world dictate that Christmas decorations remain up until the eve of Epiphany. If one forgets to take down the decorations on this date, they must remain up through the week traditionally known as Epiphany-tide until Candlemas (this year, Sunday 12 January). It is certainly outside of tradition for catholics to take down their Christmas decorations before the end of the Octave of Christmas, which is probably why a secular tradition is to leave the lights up (and on) through to New Years. Because the celebration of a solemnity starts on sundown on the “day before” the actual liturgical date, the eve of Epiphany is tonight since tomorrow (Saturday evening) will be Sunday Evening I of Epiphany for the church. So if you’re a traditionalist (or desire to be) and can’t get to taking down the decorations tonight, you will have to leave them up until Candlemas on 2 Feb.

The Magi present gifts to the Lord while Mary and Joseph look on. (https://unsplash.com/photos/Y_XS34BFX00)

Traditions such as when to take down Christmas lights are not essential elements of the faith. That is something that needs to be made clear. Having local traditions around mundane things like Christmas decorations can have profound effect on living liturgically– that is, aligning your life with the seasons and celebrations of the Church. Since God came into the world, He who was when the world began, entered into time, and the Church continues to keep this time through her liturgical seasons and celebrations. As lay faithful we partake in this keeping of time when we attend Mass and memorialize different celebrations. We can also bring these liturgical themes into our daily lives through traditions that are rooted in the same manner of timekeeping. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful way, alongside attending Mass, to keep this time. But there are also a host of temporal ways that we can live liturgically and learning about and perhaps trying to follow traditions around things like Christmas decorations just might be the way for you and your family to experience the joys of Christmas and Epiphany-tide with greater joy and love of our Lord and Saviour.

All-powerful Father,
you sent your Son Jesus Christ to bring the new light of salvation to the world.
May He enlighten us with his radiance,
who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Featured image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

Mary, the Mother of God

Today catholics all around the world celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The title Mother of God should not be controversial and yet within many parts of Christianity it is extremely controversial. And more often than not this controversy is rooted in ignorance about devotions to Mary.

To say that Mary is the Mother of God is to both honour her status (a status that is upheld many times by Jesus Himself through out the Gospels) and, more importantly, honour that status of the Christ– as fully man and fully human. How can God have a mother you ask…this is impossible as God was not created. But there is an aspect of God within the Trinity that does have a mother, that was born from a woman. He also experienced all of the other human things we experience as well, that is what makes that part of the Trinity so powerful, and worthly of honour and praise.

We have a God who humbled Himself and came down in the form of man to claim divinity and sanctity for all humans. This is extremely powerful and it is something that is profoundly unique within Christianity. Our God does not play humans and mingle in our affairs like Greek gods of old, and He does not take the form of avatars that are removed from His true nature like the Hindu gods, rather Christ becomes fully man, empties His whole self– which was present when the world was made– into our humanity. For that reason God does have a mother, because all Three Persons of the Trinity are God, one-in-three-three-in-one. And when we say Mary is the Mother of God we are acknowledging this profound miracle of Christmas.

Father,
source of light in every age,
the virgin conceieved and bore your Son
who is called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace.
May her prayer, the gift of a mother’s love,
be your people’s joy through all ages.
May her response, born of a humble heart,
draw your Spirit to rest on your people.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Feature image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash.