One of our parishioners has asked to open up a space in our leaflet to share personal devotions used through-out the congregation. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has kept us all apart from regular Eucharistic service, this parishioner was interested in what others have been doing in their own time to keep their spiritual lives rich. I thought this was a wonderful idea and a great chance to share my experience with the Liturgy of the Hours.
Here is my write-up that will appear in the leaflet next week.
When I had heard that there was a plan in the works for parishioners to share personal devotions in the Barnabuzz I was very excited. I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours since I was in high school and I’ve always wanted an opportunity to share this wonderful catholic devotion with my Saint Barnabas family.
The Liturgy of the Hours bill themselves as the official corporate prayer of the church alongside the Eucharist. The Roman Catholic Church puts particular weight in the prayers because they draw a direct line to Jesus and the Apostles who prayed the psalms are various times during the day as per Jewish custom at the time. The prayers within the early Christian church grew out of monastic devotions and evolved to mark certain periods of the day. Over the centuries, their form and practice has changed and since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s an emphasis has been made on the whole church, including laity, participating regularly in the prayers during the day. Reforms at this time made the prayers more accessible to laity (and dare I see more reformed in nature) and a wonderful English translation was produced in North America by the Catholic Publishing Company. Each Hour is typically composed of a hymn, a few psalms and cantles with antiphons, intercessions and a short reading. While each Hour is themed for a particular time of day (that aligns with the passion and death of Christ), there is absolutely no obligation to pray each Hour at a set time, although it is a useful practice. One of my favourite Hours can be prayed at any time, although it typically opens the day, called the Office of Readings. During this Hour one prays three psalms (or three parts of one larger psalm), reads an extended Old Testament reading followed by an extended reading relevant to the church season, saint day or feast from a church leader or Saint. This wonderful Office has enriched my faith and broadened my exposure to important liturgical writings and perspectives.
The mystic spirituality that surrounds the prayers are two fold. First, when we pray the Hours together and share in common prayer we join our single voices, no matter where we are and what we are doing, to the entire church and the hymn of praise which constantly rises before God. There is something tremendously powerful about praying an Hour alone but knowing that hundreds of thousands of other people are doing the same prayers with you and together you are all worshipping God. Second, we conform our own selves to the cross and die a little bit to Christ each time we engage in regular prayer especially in moments that we would otherwise give-up. These prayers are particularly powerful in sanctifying the day and reminding one of our place in the universe as a creature of God. Having the prayer book and the structure presents a form of prayer that calls out to me to engage at many moments during my day. The antiphons and prayers follow the liturgical calendar and saints and feasts are celebrated appropriately as they occur which assists greatly in living liturgically and continuing the church in our homes and lives outside of our Sunday obligation. They are particularly wonderful for communities and families because they are designed to be prayed as a group but can be prayed as couples or even alone (because you’re never alone with this prayer).
I have had a solid attachment to the Liturgy of the Hours for years particularly because they give me the words that I cannot find on my own. Regardless of how I feel in the moment, I have the prayers that I need to offer praise and thanksgiving toward God. Sometimes when I am angry with God but cannot find the words, the psalmist does it perfectly for me. Other times, when I am dry and have no words, again the psalmist fills my mouth. They have become an important aspect of my daily life, and greatly assist in my ability see Christ in all aspects of my life. I highly recommend this catholic devotion for any Anglican who is interested in living in the life the church every day and would like to clutch their prayer life into the broader catholic church. There are a slew of options to get started from apps for your phone to a single volume prayer book and a full four-volume prayer book with the entire church year. And I am always available to share my experience more and explain the Hours and the little prayer book you’ll usually see me carrying in church.