The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our natural need for human interaction beyond what we get through pixelated screens and headphones. And this need is probably clearest in our churches.
When the world found itself in a similar period of upheaval and change, the Saints of our past look inward and oversaw the construction of massive structures that housed men and women of prayer who toiled in the name of Christ for the good of the church and their fellow humans on earth. A return to the monastery is probably not the best option for our church today, but the model of circling the wagons, supporting one another and our community directly around us and being united in prayer and common work is certainly within the realm of possible. And I would wager, needed more than ever in our post-COVID church.
The Mass will always be the chief prayer of the church– the sacrifice of Christ reenacted and shared again and again for the faithful who gather in His name. But when it comes to supporting the church in prayer, supporting one another in prayer and supporting our communities in prayer we also have the wonderful gift of the Divine Office. “Hours” of prayer set aside that sanctify the day that forms part of an unceasing hymn of praise that rises before God. A prayer that is done not just by the faithful on earth, but by the Saints and angels in Heaven, we enjoin our voice to them– just as at Mass– in our psalms of praise and devotion to God our Father.
This sort of structure prayer should not be done alone. Just like the Mass, the prayer is meant for the congregation of the church and should be celebrated whenever possible in a group setting. But the hours themselves are also said at set periods throughout the day, which means that even when the prayers are said alone, you are not alone in praying them. Especially if you have a group of people who have all agreed to work to pray together– to hold one another account and pray for a common purpose. We are told by Christ that when two or more agree and ask that the Father shall ensure they receive, and this prayer is a vehicle for that liturgical act with God.
We have something to learn from the so-called Benedictine model that can and should be applied to the post-COVID church. The importance of Christian fellowship, especially in this time of social isolation and fear, cannot be understated. A church is already a beacon for people who are isolated, alone and afraid because as a congregation we form a single body that together can and will overcome any challenge before us– this is the power of the church. When we are forced to break up, as we are now, it is even more important we lean on established prayers like the Divine Office to stay connect and inflame our Christian spirit.
O Lord, open thou my mouth that I may bless thy Holy Name. Cleanse my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding kindle my affections, that I may pray to, and praise thee with attention and devotion; and may worthily be heard before the presence of thy Divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Another beautiful Collect for this Sunday from the BCP that again highlights the importance of worship in the vernacular.
ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service: grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this new life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Collect, 13th Sunday after Trinity
This Collect from this Sunday is prayed each week for all ferial days. Integrating the Collect into my daily prayer each week is an easy way to stay focused on the liturgical season of the church in between going to Mass. Whether you pray the Divine Office or not, you can incorporate the Collect into your daily prayer as well. They can be found in your missal or prayer book and are easily searchable online.
I’ve begun praying the canonical hours from the Anglican Breviary. It is an English translation of the version of the Roman Breviary of Pope Pius X commonly called Divino Afflatu with Collects and some other incidentals from the Book of Common Prayer vice the Roman Missal. In other words a truly and more– certainly so than the Morning and Evening Prayer in the BCP and the Liturgy of the Hours in the Roman Catholic today– catholic expression of the canonical hours.
Because of the English translation and insertion of BCP prayers, there are often delightful nuggets of extremely well-written prose. This is the advantage of worship in the vernacular and done right no less. See this example from the Collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (the Collect I prayed at each Hour during any feria this following week).
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we art to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Collect, 12th Sunday after Trinity
The attribution of the character of God expressed in “who art always more ready to hear that we art to pray” and “art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve” is topped only by the admission that “those things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ”. Beautiful.
Continuing with our series on the Liturgy of the Hours. Episode 2 in the Liturgy of the Hours series on Youtube that I had posted earlier continues on how to set up your Liturgy of the Hours prayer book. The set-up is actually very similar regardless of whether you are using the single-volume Christian Prayer […]
I had mentioned in a previous post in this series that I was contemplating putting together a video on how to navigate and use the Liturgy of the Hours– specifically with the four-volume set. But in my own research for this series, I have learned that there are in fact a great many resources available […]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.