We received a question about how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a great opportunity to talk about this form of prayer that has been central to the Catholic prayer tradition for more than 1,000 years. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office as it is also called has its roots in Jewish prayer tradition and the tradition of Jesus to dedicate certain hours of the day to prayer. In the Acts of the Apostles we read “the apostles gathered at the third hour” (Acts 2:1-15). “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1).
What is the Liturgy of the Hours
The Liturgy of the Hours is prayer that is composed of hymns, psalms, Old and New Testament canticles, prayers, Scriptural and spiritual readings from the writings of the Church Fathers and Church documents. The hymns, psalms and canticles are designed to be chanted or recited. Many religious communities’ rule require they pray all seven hours(Office, Morning, Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon, Evening and Night prayer). In recent years more and more lay people have discovered and are praying the Liturgy of the Hours either alone, with their family or as part of their parish’s prayer. It is a very important part of my and my husband’s prayer life, something we began while we were dating and have never stopped. A colleague shared that he prays the Hours while he is up in the middle of the night feeding a hungry baby or sitting with a restless child. It is such a celebration of the universal dimension of our Catholic faith that all over the world “the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God” (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy).
How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours
The Liturgy of the Hours consists of a four-volume set. Within each volume there are four sections. The first section is particular to the day. The second section gives detailed instruction for each hour and contains the prayers that do not change from day to day. The third section includes a four-week cycle that complements the first section. The fourth section is devoted to the feast days of saints and feasts of the Church.
For people who may not pray all seven hours there is a volume called Christian Prayer or Shorter Christian Prayer that is composed of Morning, Evening and Night Prayer and designed with the lay person in mind.
With the growing popularity of the Liturgy of the Hours as a practice of daily prayer, a modified version is called Magnificat. Magnificat is a “pocket-sized” monthly booklet. It contains Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer, readings for the Mass of the Day and spiritual reflections, including a reflection on a piece of Christian art. See www.magnificat.com
Praying the Hours takes some practice, though all of the volumes mentioned have helpful instructions. Another way to learn is to see if a parish near your home or work prays Morning or Evening Prayer. I am sure that your pastor or another person on the pastoral staff would not mind taking a few minutes to walk you through the structure. Keep in mind there is really no wrong way of praying when your mind and heart are lifted to God.
Please post a comment and share how you have made the Liturgy of the Hours part of your prayer life.