Five Reasons to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a sacramental Christian

It should be pretty obvious to you that I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, I am an Anglican-Catholic, a protestant of sorts, who is out of communion with the Church of Rome. But I am catholic (please see the Blog Manifesto for more information on how this works exactly). And my Anglican-Catholic faith is a sacramental faith and we have much in common with the Roman Catholic Church and indeed all of the various catholic churches around the world– whether in communion with Rome or not. And we have much in common with our fellow sacramental protestant churches around the world as well such as Lutheranism, Calvinism and episcopalism. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours despite having an official canonical prayer structure approved within the Book of Common Prayer (I would argue that Divine Office is a parish style of the older Breviary, but we do not need to get into that right now). There are also many Anglican-Catholics who pray the unapproved but very well designed Anglican Breviary. There are also many Roman Catholics traditionalists who pray an older form of the Breviary.

In this post I will share five simple reasons why I pray the Liturgy of the Hours and why the Liturgy of the Hours is the best alternative for any sacramental Christian. Perhaps during Lent you are looking for a way to enhance your prayer life and searching online about the Liturgy of the Hours is how you ended up here…if that is the case, I hope this post will help persuade you to consider starting to pray the Liturgy of the Hours today.

Reason One: The Office of Readings

I’ve written before on the richness and beauty of the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is the evolution of Mattins and provides Biblical readings and readings from patristic readings from the church fathers. I truly believe that the Spirit was at work in our church fathers when they developed and approved the new form of Mattins in the Liturgy of the Hours and that this Office was modified to address the direct needs of the faithful. It is a giant door into which the faithful from all walks of life can enter into the history and tradition of the church through regular prayer. Hands down, the Office of Readings is the number one reason why I pray the Liturgy of the Hours and why I will never consistently pray older versions of the Breviary, no matter how deep I go into traditional catholicism.

Reason Two: The Common Lectionary

Most sacramental Christian denominations use the Revised Common Lectionary with its three cycles of Gospel readings. The English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours reflects the themes of the lectionary at Mass in the Gospel Antiphons during Morning/Evening Prayer. While some churches still call their various Sunday services by different titles (the old Ordinary Time count versus counting from Epiphany and Pentecost), the readings remain the same. You will have occasions when the title of the day itself is not the same, but the themes and readings will all line up and work. This is a very strong point for praying the Liturgy of the Hours over traditional Breviaries which will not lined up neatly with the RCL if that is what your parish is using regularly. As a side note: if you are a traditional Roman Catholic who attends Mass in the extraordinary form than you will find the Liturgy of the Hours lectionary will not line up and an older Breviary form will work best, but I find it a huge drawback of the extraordinary form that the lectionary does not line up entirely and this should be addressed by your Bishops (in my humble opinion).

Reason Three: Clear Language

The English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours uses the Grail psalms and the New American translation of Scriptural texts. The psalms are translated taking into account their musical nature and flow well reading in prose, chant or song. The language is not strictly traditional like we find in the Anglican Breviary (thou, thee, etc) but it is strong and accurate language that reflects the true meaning of the psalms themselves. The language used in the Bible readings is clear and understandable for the typical lay person and will sound familiar to the RSV used in church. There is no doubt that the Liturgy of the Hours provides the clearest modern language out of all of the Breviary options available.

Reason Four: A Reflection of Unity

If you’ve read the Blog Manifesto, you will understand how Anglican-Catholics view the larger catholic church beyond the confines of the particular churches such as the Roman or Orthodox churches. We share a common lectionary and a very common form of Mass as well as an approach to sacramental worship that has very nearly no differences. It makes sense as well that we are capable of sharing a common Breviary and common book of personal and communal prayer outside of the Mass. The Liturgy of the Hours can be that vector. I find a common connection to all devout Roman Catholics who I speak with on the grounds that we share a common prayer book, and in fact we can signify that unity by sharing in prayer together– which is more often what ends up happening. It is a powerful tool of Christian unity.

Reason Five: Access to Resources

You can find the Liturgy of the Hours in many forms in many places. From the four-volume English translations, to the one-volume Christian Prayer book, and the various Shorter Christian Prayer and day prayer options there are many books available to purchase and own. There are also many apps and resources online to access the prayers when you are away from your books. There are message groups and subreddits geared to praying the Offices regularly and offering assistance when needed. There are also hashtag groups on Twitter dedicated to building prayer lives around the Liturgy of the Hours. The more people praying and engaging in the Hours, the more resources seem to be popping up and this makes the Liturgy of the Hours a powerful draw for anyone looking to develop a stronger prayer life.

Featured Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash.

Commemorating Ember Days during Lent

Ember Days are an ancient tradition of the catholic church which are three days of fasting, abstinence and prayer set aside four times a year. Their origins lay within the Latin Quatuor Tempora which means four times and roughly following the seasons of the earth. They are celebrated as the sanctification of humanity and likely came about because of the reliance on agriculture (and thus the seasons) of early human societies. In fact, there is little doubt that the long origins of Ember Days resides with ancient societies who practiced feasts and festivals around the changing of the seasons– a profoundly important occurrence for any small, agriculturally dependant group of humans.

The observance of Ember Days within the church started in Rome during the pontificate of Pope Leo I in the 400s AD. Pope Leo wanted a series of days of fasts fixed throughout the year to balance the fasting and penitence found within the great seasons of Pentecost and Epiphany. As they spread throughout European Christianity in the 500s AD, they became fixed and throughout the early modern church the Ember Days were observed accordingly:

The days of Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of an Ember Week shall be observed on the following (emphasize added for relevance to Lent),

  • between the third and fourth Sundays of Advent (although the Common Worship lectionary of the Church of England places them in the week following the second Sunday in Advent); but because the calendar reform in the 1970s includes specific “Late Advent” propers for Dec 17 onward, when Ember Days were restored for the Personal Ordinariates, the Vatican assigned the Ember Days to the first week of Advent.
  • between the first and second Sundays of Lent;
  • between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday; and
  • the liturgical Third Week of September.

Tomorrow, Wednesday 24 February 2021 will be Ember Wednesday in Lent. However, the current Roman calendar does not recognize Ember Days and they have in fact not been a large part of the catholic church in North America for many decades. In fact, most catholics are not even aware of what Ember Days are and what their significance is within the church. During Ember Days, the faithful pray for humanity as a whole. We reflect on our duty as stewards of the earth and pray for bountiful harvests that do not harm the earth to the point we are unable to continue to live and survive off of the land. We dedicate three days over four periods during the year (twelve days a year in total) to look inward and downward at the ground, praising and thanking God for what He has given us through the earth and honouring the environment around us in order to ensure we continue to benefit from it as time moves forward. It was also a time when we ordained priests and today we can pray for the priests in our lives and for those young men (and women) who aspire for the priesthood and are in a period of discernment. It is an absolutely relevant and fitting period of days that ought to be honoured and set aside.

So how can we incorporate Ember Days into our prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours when they are not part of the official calendar? Well, there are certainly no rubrics or instructions for this sort of this within the General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours. But there is a tradition and a formula for commemorating feasts, during Lent in particular. We also have prayers and antiphons from when Ember Days were observed and these can be found in older Breviaries when it was part of the church calendar. Using the existing rubrics as a guide (I have to stress there are not official instructions on this and if you are a stickler for rule following than we’ve just treaded outside of what is prescribed, my defence is that we remain in what ought to be permitted), we can commemorate Ember Days the same way we commemorate memorials as options during privileged seasons (such as Lent).

How would this work exactly? Well, as I explained in this post before, when we commemorate an optional memorial during Lent we either add a third reading to the Office of Readings complete with a responsory and/or we add the antiphon for the Gospel Canticle and collect for the commemoration at the end of Morning/Evening Prayer. You however will not find the collects or antiphons for Embers Days in Lent in your Liturgy of the Hours or Christian Prayer books because these days are no longer officially part of the church calendar. But you can still commemorate them during your daily prayer if you decide– just like any other optional memorial during Lent. But you need the collect and the antiphons and I’ve done just that for you by pulling them from older prayer books. Below you find a collect and an antiphon for each Gospel Canticle for each of the Ember Days during Lent. I do not have a reading to add to the Office of Readings, so unfortunately this commemoration can only occur at Morning/Evening Prayer to remain in line with the existing rubrics. Following the directions in my previous post about commemorations during Lent and add in these prayers below and you are all set.

Ember Wednesday in Lent

Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear our prayers, and to stretch forth the right hand of thy power against all things that fight against us. 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.

Ant. on Ben (Morning Prayer): This generation, being perverse, and crooked, seeketh a sign from me, and no sign shall be given to it, but the sign of Jonas the Prophet.

Ant. on Mag (Evening Prayer): For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth.

Ember Friday in Lent

Collect: Be gracious unto thy people, O Lord, and in thy mercy help all such as Thou hast called to be thine. 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.

Ant. on Ben (Morning Prayer): An Angel of the Lord went down from heaven, and trouble the waters; and whoever first did step therein was made whole.

Ant. on Mag (Evening Prayer): He that made me whole, the same said unto me: Take up they bed, and go in peace.

Ember Saturday in Lent

Collect: Look down mercifully, O Lord, we beseech thee, upon thy people, and graciously turn away from them the scourges of thy wrath. 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.

Ant. on Ben (Morning Prayer): And Jesus taketh his disciples, and bringth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them.

A note on Evening Prayer for Saturday: because the 2nd Sunday of Lent is tomorrow, this Saturday evening is Evening Prayer I of Sunday and this has no Ember Day commemoration at all.

Feature Photo by Jack Sharp 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.