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.

Memorials and Commemorations during Lent

The General Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours provides the following regarding Memorials and Commemorations during privileged seasons (emphasizes added to highlight relevance during Lent):

237. On Sundays, solemnities, and feasts, on Ash Wednesday, during Holy Week, and during the octave of Easter, memorials that happen to fall on these days are disregarded.

238. On the weekdays from 17 to 24 December, during the octave of Christmas, and on the weekdays of Lent, no obligatory memorials are celebrated, even in particular calendars. When any happen to fall during Lent in a given year, they are treated as optional memorials.

239. During privileged seasons, if it is desired to celebrate the office of a saint on a day assigned to his or her memorial:

a. in the office of readings, after the patristic reading (with its responsory) from the Proper of Seasons, a proper reading about the saint (with its responsory) may follow, with the concluding prayer of the saint;

b. at morning prayer and evening prayer, the ending of the concluding prayer may be omitted and the saint’s antiphon (from the proper or common) and prayer may be added.

In practice what this means is that memorials and commemorations during Lent, because it is a privileged season, are all treated as optional commemorations regardless of their status in the calendar. You will notice if you own a four-volume Liturgy of the Hours set that all of the memorials in the Proper of the Saints within volume II for the Lent/Easter season are called commemorations and the reading provided for the Office of Readings is given the heading “Reading” vice “Second Reading” and this related to the rubrics above. During privileged seasons like Lent, memorials are not just downgraded, they are observed differently within the Hours themselves. In fact, their observance is more traditional and reflect the previous Breviary formula of commemorating memorials and feasts that fell on the same day during the year.

When putting together your Hours and ribbons for the day during Lent you have a few considerations during days when there is an optional memorial for a Saint. First, you may decided not to proceed with the commemoration at all. This is a perfectly valid option during any privileged season and if it is the case you simply carry on with the proper parts from the weekday/Sunday for the season without any regard for the Proper of Saints or additional readings/prayers. Second, you may decide to mark the commemoration and if this is the case you can decided to do so during the Office of Readings or Morning/Evening Prayer (any combination or both) or at all of the these offices.

If you are marking the commemoration during the Office of Readings you add the reading related to the Saint and the responses from the Proper of Saints to the First and Second reading from the Proper of the Seasons. So on that day your Office of Readings will have an Old Testament reading, a patristic reading from a church father or other source, and a third reading related to the particular Saint each with their own responses from the respective proper. For the closing prayer, you will disregard the prayer in the Proper of the Seasons and will close with the prayer from the Proper of Saints.

If you are marking the commemoration during Morning/Evening Prayer you add the Gospel Canticle antiphon at the very end of the Collect from the Proper of the Seasons as well as the Collect for that particular Saint just before ending the Office. This is an old practice that was once very common in the older forms of the Divine Office but is now out of use save for during periods of privileged seasons.

And again, you have the option of either not observing the memorial at all, or of observing it during the Office of Readings or Morning/Evening Prayer or both. The rubrics provide for these options. I would say that when possible you should observe the commemoration during at least one of the Hours during the day. If you have more time than all of the Hours is best. With the option of merely adding the antiphon and prayer at the end of Morning/Evening Prayer, one is not really increasing the prayer load any more during the season. Plus, there is nothing wrong with adding a little bit more of a burden to your prayer life during Lentjust saying.

Remember this does not apply to feasts or solemnities— those retain their same status and format during any season. We can take a quick look at how the commemorations change the Liturgy of the Hours for the day.

For example, today is the memorial of Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr. In the calendar this is a Memorial and would not be optional. However, in the Proper of Seasons (LOTH Vol II, p. 1694) it is labelled as a commemoration and this is because of instruction 238 above (if you look up the same Saint in another volume of the LOTH you’ll notice the heading will say Memorial and the reading provided for the Office of Readings will have the heading Second Reading instead of just Reading– this is a good indication to you when planning what has to happen during the Office itself). Today is Tuesday of the First Week of Lent (LOTH Vol II, p. 102) and the first reading after the psalms and antiphons (from the four-week psalter) is Exodus 6:29-7:25, the second reading is from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by Saint Cyprian and (if I am observing the commemoration during this Office) a third, additional, reading will come from the Proper of the Saints for Polycarp which is a letter on his martyrdom by the Church of Smyrna. After I completed all three reading with their responsories, I would end the Office of Readings with the prayer related to Polycarp found on page 1697 of the Liturgy of the Hours Vol II book.

The format for Morning/Evening prayer is a little different however. You would still reference the Gospel Canticle antiphon found on page 1697 of the Liturgy of the Hours Vol II book for Polycarp but this would be added immediately following the closing prayer from the Office in accordance with the Proper of the Seasons. So you would complete nearly the entire Office as it should be done for the day and right at end the end of the daily prayer, instead of closing with “We ask this though…” you would recite the Gospel Canticle antiphon related to Polycarp (either the one for the Cantle of Zechariah or of Mary depending it being morning or evening) and then you would recite his prayer and close with the typical “We ask this through…”. And that would be it.

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.