Schemes for Praying the Liturgy of the Hours

The rubrics for the Liturgy of the Hours presents several options for faithful wishing to pray the office in various capacities. In this post we are going to break down a few of the main schemes available to the faithful when praying the hours. We are going to focus on the actual times of each hour, balancing real world needs, and various experience levels. The assumption is that beginners will start with a less intensive scheme and move to a more and more intensive scheme as they develop their liturgical prayer “muscles”.

First Scheme: The whole package

This scheme is for the most experienced and for all laity and religious who are obligated to pray the canonical hours. These individuals pray the Office of Readings, Morning/Evening Prayer, all three day hours (Terce, Sext, None) and Night Prayer. In most cases, the Office of Readings is early in the morning, Morning Prayer around 7am in community, Mid-morning (Terce) at 9am, Mid-day (Sext) at 12pm, Mid-afternoon (None) at 3pm, Evening Prayer in community at 6pm and Night Prayer before retiring at 9pm or later. On Sundays and solemnities one may pray the Office of Readings as a true vigil the night before after Night Prayer which reflects the traditional vigil nature of Mattins which the Office of Readings evolved. In this scheme under the Liturgy of the Hours one would be over-exposed somewhat to the four-week psalter as only one day prayer has psalms provided which change daily throughout the month. For the other two day hours one uses as complimentary psalmody which is repeated throughout the month. Many religious who are obliged to pray the office have specific rubrics and customs provided by their own local ordinary which provide a more rigorous routine of psalms but many also pray the Liturgy of the Hours as the exist today for all faithful.

Second Scheme: The laity’s complete office

The revisions to the breviary made after the Second Vatican Council took specific focus at involvement of the laity and took into deep consideration their needs outside of the church. This is also actually true for priests, who also voiced concern over the burden of the offices against increasing pastoral demands around parishes in the modern church. For this reason, those who are not obliged by canon law to recite the entirety of the Liturgy of the Hours have the option of reciting all of the hinge hours (Office of Reading, Morning/Evening Prayer), one of the day hours (Terce, Sext, None) and Night Prayer. This cycle of prayer will not disrupt the four-week rotation of psalms in any way and you will not miss out on any important prayers, canticles or themes. There are several iterations of this scheme that the rubrics make possible in order to conform the prayers to the routine of your own secular life. For example; one can pray the Invitatory only immediately after waking up and continue the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer before leaving the house to start the work day. Mid-day (Sext) prayer can be done in a quiet place at the ten minutes ending your lunch break during the day. If you did not complete the Office of Readings in the morning, you can read it in the afternoon after coming home from work before starting your evening routine at work (I know people who pray in their parked car before leaving work because it is the only place they can find quiet before the family business in the evenings). Either before supper or after supper you can pray Evening Prayer and before retiring, at your bedside with your spouse, you can recite Night Prayer. Some people are early risers and you can combine Office of Readings with the Invitatory and Morning Prayer with a delicious cup of coffee before anyone in the house has woken up (this works especially well if the sun is rising in front of you during the Morning Prayer portion because that just happens to be the theme of that particular office). And if you are a night owl who stalks the hallways in the middle of the night while the rest of your family sleeps, you can actually get the Office of Readings completed as a vigil the evening before and only stick to the remaining hours (with the Invitatory commencing Morning Prayer) and you are all set.

Third Scheme: The hinge hours

If you are just starting out with the Liturgy of the Hours my recommendation is to start with the hinge or major hours (Morning/Evening Prayer) and night prayer. You can do this with the single-volume Shorter Christian Prayer book, the single-volume Christian Prayer book and the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours complete set. The only real difference between the single-volume sets and the full set is the inclusion of a full set of readings and office for the Office of Readings. This are the richest and best aspect of the entire Liturgy of the Hours in my opinion but they are not required, especially when one is just trying to get a routine and habit of prayer developed. I started with a single-volume Shorter Christian Prayer book nearly 20 years ago when I was in high school after coming across it at a Catholic university bookstore. I learned how to do Morning/Evening Prayer as well as the weekly Night Prayer and I developed the core skills required to build on to my prayer life as I become more mature and developed in my own faith. When you are starting do not get hooked on setting a time, just focus on making the time and patiently going through the process of the prayers. Plus, you have very little idea of what you’ll like so it’s best you give yourself some leeway and try different times and methods to see what works and what doesn’t. By this I mean you can try praying Morning Prayer as soon as you wake up, or after breakfast or on the bus to work. You might use a book or an app– try both and see what you like first. Same for Evening Prayer. For Night Prayer, try and develop a habit of praying at your bedside before retiring. Allow God to be your last thought when you drift off to sleep.

Welcome to the First Week of Ordinary Time 2021

As of midnight last night which ended the liturgical day of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Christmas season has official come to an end and we moved into the First Week of Ordinary Time for the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty-one (technically the Baptism of the Lord counts as the First Sunday of Ordinary Time but we don’t need to get too technical here).

Many catholic churches, my own local one included, do not use Ordinary Time as part of their liturgical calendar (which makes following along each week with the Liturgy of the Hours super fun and confusing at times). The period between Christmas and the start of Lent is called Epiphany-tide and includes Sundays that count away from Epiphany. This is based on the older liturgical calendar of the Roman Church where Easter and Epiphany were the two major festivals that all of time were rendered through. If you’ve ever seen “Fifth Sunday after Epiphany” vice the “Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time” than you’ve probably stepped into a church that uses the old calendar. But for most catholic churches, the readings and responses all remain the same whether you are using one way of counting or another thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary. And this is important because my beef with people who insist in keeping Epiphany-tide and poo-poo Ordinary Time I think overlook the fact that the readings and responses are not connected in such a scheme.

So why have Ordinary Time? Why not use the traditional calendar and still have a period of Epiphany. Well, this is a bit of a controversial topic. Many people take issue with the innovation of a new calendar for the liturgy but this is not really warranted because changes were made in the past and no doubt will be made in the future. There is no set liturgical calendar. I think a lot of the angst around Ordinary Time is also based on misconception. Many English speaking people think it means the time is ordinary or plain and marks a time outside of feasts and celebrations. I’ve even read before (from learned people) that the colour green was picked precisely because green is a typical boring colour in nature. This is simply not true. Nor is calling the Sundays “X after Epiphany” an extension of the celebration of Christmas because the readings at Mass and the antiphons used in the Liturgy of the Hours during this period do not directly reflect anything about the celebration of Epiphany (aside from being about God and Jesus which is a very loose approach). It is actually kind of misleading to read that the Sunday has something to do with Epiphany when it actually doesn’t. And about the liturgical colour? Green is in fact the colour of ordinary time and it was always the colour of ferial days within the church. Some people say that because of Vatican II we have more green because of Ordinary Time, again this is simply not true, we have more green because many feast days of Saints that used to replace the Sunday worship were suppressed or moved before Vatican II even started and this meant actually celebrating Sunday as Sunday each week as opposed to it giving way to the celebration of Saints. This actually makes a lot of sense because Sunday ought to be considered a Feast of the Lord in some sense, and indeed traditionally was considered the most important liturgical day of the week. Going back to wearing more green signalled a return of Sunday to its proper place within the hierarchy of liturgical celebration in the periods between major seasons.

Ordinary in the this sense means ordinal, which is the ordering of numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) and is the root of the word order. Ordinary Time is thus the time when we count the Sundays ordinally (accurate) and we live our lives in an ordered states governed by the supremacy of Christ (accurate). With this understanding Ordinary Time makes sense. It also links up with what is happening in the world, in time itself, which is important for any liturgical calendar that first and foremost exists within the same time, indeed sanctifies said time. After Christmas, we put away our decorations and we go back to the ho-hum of life. There are bills to be paid, semesters to start and friends to see. And this again makes Ordinary Time fitting because it is in these everyday encounters that we in fact order our own lives with Christ as the center. It is a time of order and process and right worship and living.

Welcome to the First Week of Ordinary Time 2021.

In your love, Lord,
answer our humble prayer:
give us the grace to see what we have to do
and the strength to do it.
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.

Collect (Office of Readings), Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Cover photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash.

Capturing the Liturgy on Film

A positive innovation that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic within my own church community has been the creation and development of a new ministry around recording and sharing of our services for viewing online. The need for this new ministry is obvious and undoubtedly a common change within nearly every active church in the world. For a variety of reasons– which almost all come down to having no one else willing to step forward in such short notice– I have become the sort of head of this ministry within my church under the guidance (as with all things of the local church) of the rector. The experience has brought with it a range of emotion from confusion and frustration to satisfaction and joy. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to develop a new found passion. The experience has also given me a chance to reflect on the meaning and value of capturing the liturgy on film for the faithful of my parish and friends from all walks of life.

Filmmaking and recording the various services, announcements and home worship packages has become a passion of mine. Which is my own personal positive innovation that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it has not only strengthened my relationship with God but also practically with my church and community. It has allowed me to continue a sense of purpose and meaning through my responsibilities to the church and another vector to give back my time and talents. And these are responsibilities which I might add are not isolated to just this new passion, I still remain the head of the servers guild and a member of Parish Council and ever-scrutineer of the Finance Committee. But with the entire life of the church seemingly coming to a halt alongside everything in the world, recording and playing a role in establishing a new media ministry has provided beyond ample work in the giant spans of time which make-up the COVID-19 lockdown. It is a gift from God.

There is a tremendously new perspective that I have gained seeing the liturgy through the lens of my camera. And I am coming more and more to appreciate the requirement of anyone who dares venture into a media ministry around the liturgy to understand the meaning behind the gestures, movements, transitions and moments within the service. And this is not unique to filming the liturgy, this is the general job of the director of photography of any movie or film– to capture the mood and tone of the scene, the moment physically and emotionally happening within the frame of the camera’s eye. In the case of the Mass (my “production”), there is already a director who has set the requirements for each scene during any liturgical filming, and that would be tradition which dictates the meaning and spirit of each aspect of how we worship and pray to God. Thus, I see my role as using every cinematographic tool available to me to capture that meaning and passing it seamlessly to the viewer. It is not merely about capturing the action and moving on, rather, each frame passes with it a story and everything from the lightening and the lens angle to the camera position and the sound must be deployed in unity of effort to convey that meaning, purpose and tone. And the ultimate key is that it must be done seamlessly. The video is meant to feel exactly like the real thing while being aware of the fact that it is not the real thing. This is how people begin to get lost in it, this is how we tell the story of the liturgy will the full force of the cinematographic tools available.

There are aspect of filming the liturgy which have become traditions in and of themselves for me through sheer repetition and force of conveyance. For example, I’ve taken to filming sermons using a 30mm lens, with the camera angled slightly below the pulpit to give a feeling of looking up (just as we do in the service when in church physically) and placing the preacher in the right 1/3 of the frame to leave a space for them to literally project their message into as it moves into the viewer’s heart and mind and to capture (slightly out of focus) the statue of Saint Barnabas, our patron, and, in this instance, shameless branding. Each sermon from every service is filmed in this way. The camera placement, the angle, the position of the preacher all tell a story together that helps to convey the liturgical importance of the sermon. And each sermon is filmed in the same way because together each sermon fulfills the same objective, is sourced from the same authority and is spoken in the same voice from the Spirit. That is the tradition and value of the sermon and the repetitive presentation, the stern, clean lines and look is conveying that meaning to the viewer each and every time they watch the film. I am using the tools available to me in order that in every way I may convey and emphasize the meaning and spirit of this moment in the liturgy.

And there are aspects of the liturgy which continue to allude me as an amateur filmmaker. For example, the Words of Consecration, which hold so much meaning and purpose within the Liturgy of the Eucharist still presents a problem to me in capturing its celestial and miraculous reality. It’s tempting to begin wanting to study computer generated graphics (CGI) and effect the roof of the church tearing open with choirs of angels singing and the joining of the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant that we profess occurs at each celebration of the Mass. But that certainly would not work, even with all of the flash, it would still not convey the significance and more importantly the reality of the miracle which takes place at the hands of the priest. For Christmas Mass this year, which was the only Mass service we have recorded since closing over Christmas, my hand was forced because of time and I filmed purely from the perspective of a person sitting in the pews. It was beautiful and it did the job but it was not seamless. The entirety of the Liturgy of the Word was seamless and the fact the Canon of the Mass did not fit made the whole thing jump out.

There is a natural development which comes with taking on any new passion. A chaotic period where one finds their own place and style within their chosen method of artistic expression. I am still very much in that phase with my photography and videography but I remain absolutely enthralled with filming the liturgy and seeing praise and worship through the lens of a camera. It has been an honour to provide these videos to people who cannot attend services and are feeling physically distanced from the church and our community. However, I remain grateful and in the debt of the church for providing me this chance to film the liturgy and focus on worship from an entirely new perspective.

St. Veronica, you gave Christ a towel on His way to Cavalry which He used to wipe the Precious Blood from His Holy Face. In return for this great act of kindness He left you His most Holy image on the towel. Pray for us to Our Lord that His Holy Face may be imprinted on our hearts so that we may be always be mindful of the Passion and Death of Our lord Jesus Christ, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.