Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Liturgy of the Hours

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The Liturgy of the Hours: ever desired in its beauty, ever peaceful in its rhythm, ever the obnoxious bane of the existence of average "Joe-in-the-pew."  Despite complex rubrics and differing patterns of prayer, I hope to demystify this Liturgy of the Church.  I hope you'll allow it to broaden your relationship with Christ and let the life of the Church to ever more permeate and guide your daily work, play, and prayer.

The Liturgy of the Hours is the cycle of seven "hours" or times of prayer scattered throughout the day which sanctify time.  It is intimately connected to the Mass and a part of the official prayer of the Church. Clergy and religious are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours several times a day.

Laity are encouraged to participate as their duties and responsibilities permit.  For our purposes here I will focus on the format of the two main hours which hinge the day: Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers).
Each hours begins with a call and response from Scripture:

"V./ O God, come to my assistance.
R./ Lord, make haste to help me."

This is then followed by a "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen."  Note the different form of the prayer from what you may have learned as a part of the rosary.  Often a hymn is then sung relating to the feast day, praising God, or speaking about the particular time of day.

After the hymn comes three psalms prayed with an antiphon.  The antiphon comes first and may relate to the psalm, the Gospel for the day, or the feast.  Antiphons are my favourite part because they give the core of the message for reflection.  They are the lens through which the psalm should be read, the mystery of faith packed in one or two sentences.  Once the antiphon is said the psalm is prayed followed by a "Glory Be" and the antiphon repeated.  A period of silence is observed for reflection, and the cycle repeats with a new antiphon and psalm.

Following the psalms a Scripture passage is read, which is concluded by a Responsory, a short and poetic response to the Scriptures.  Then comes the great hymn of praise, the climax of the hour.  In Morning Prayer, the Canticle of Zechariah is prayed, the words of the father of St. John the Baptist when he regained his speech.  In Evening Prayer, the Canticle of Mary is prayed, the words of the Mother of God when she visited her cousin Elizabeth.  Each canticle  has an antiphon just like the psalms.  General intercessions follow, covering a wide variety of needs, requests, adorations, and thanksgivings, just like at Mass.  The Lord's Prayer is said and a closing prayer follows, frequently matching the opening collect for Mass.  If a priest or deacon does not give a blessing, the hour ends: "May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life."

Daughters of St Paul praying Liturgy of the Hours together.
If you are brand new or even mildly experienced, do not - I repeat - do not get bogged down by all the rubrics and guidelines.  There are many different forms, books, and styles of the Liturgy of the Hours.  Each community will pray together just a little differently.  The point is not to pray the Liturgy of the Hours perfectly.  The point is to unite each moment of your day more intimately to Christ by taking small respites to bring yourself to His Presence united with the Church.

Start small.  There are many beautiful resources which are easy to manage and work into your routine.  Then, as you might feel called, you can step up to the more official books of the Church: Shorter Christian Prayer, Christian Prayer, and the "4 volume"!  You may also wish to read the Church's official how-to guide: The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, if you're feeling particularly ambitious!

Kellen is 26 years old and is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings, MN. He is a Masters student in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and is a scholar of the church.

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