This is an excellent article on the dynamic power of the Liturgy of the Hours. Special thanks to our Sister Mary Andrea who wrote this a couple years ago when she was still a novice.
I was first introduced to a very beautiful and ancient form of prayer called the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours at a diocesan summer camp around the fifth grade. Each day of camp we would pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer together. I enjoyed bringing prayer more into my day, making it the source of my strength and something that bound us together. However, I never thought anything about the power that is contained in this prayer.
Years later, I am now in a religious community (St. Joseph’s Passionist Monastery, Whitesville, KY) whose ministry is to pray for and with the Church and the world. In addition to daily Mass, a key aspect of this prayer must necessarily be the Liturgy of the Hours, named thus to signify that it is the way in which the Mass, or Liturgy, is extended throughout the hours of the day and night. The Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, consists of hymns, psalms, readings, intentions, and other prayers as well as kneeling, sitting, standing, and bowing. The individual external aspects of the prayer are not overly-complicated, but are best learned gradually by watching and doing.
Growing up in a Catholic family and attending Catholic schools, I can remember learning that the Mass is very powerful and thus also learning the value of participating in Mass. The power of the Mass comes from the fact that it is Christ Who offers Himself for us on the altar.
As an extension of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is also a very powerful prayer offered by Christ through our participation. Yes, Christ places His Words on our lips (the psalms and Scriptures) and the Holy Spirit lends us His voice when we lend Him our lips, minds, and hearts because we cannot dare to approach our Heavenly Father any other way. In fact, each Hour of the Divine Office ends with these or similar words, “We ask this through Christ Our Lord.” We, in turn, lend our voices to those people who either cannot or will not take the time to praise God and ask Him for what they need.
From our childhood on, we Catholics are taught that the Mass is a sacrifice. The Divine Office is also a sacrifice, a sacrifice of praise. This may be difficult to understand at first, but to be committed to praying the Divine Office daily can be quite a sacrifice. It means that we must, as far as possible, plan our day so as to be physically and mentally alert and available at the scheduled times. We must also be disciplined to follow the rubrics of the Divine Office and, when we are not praying alone, the pace of those with whom we pray. We should be sure to take adequate time to prepare ourselves immediately prior to praying the Divine Office so as to truly be present to Him Who calls us to chant His praises.
Just as the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is not without the Resurrection, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of eternal life, so too, the sacrifices offered in the Divine Office are not without their positive effects. Through fidelity to the Divine Office, one becomes imbued with the words of Scripture, the beliefs of the Church, and the lives of the saints, which permeate the Divine Office. With God’s grace, fidelity helps us to be united to Him and to one another throughout the day.
As we pray the Divine Office, we unite ourselves to those members of Christ’s Body who are undergoing the joys and struggles expressed in the Psalms as well as to those members throughout the world who join in praying the Divine Office, the universal prayer of the Church. In a mystical way, we are also united to the members of Christ’s Body in heaven, the saints who never cease to praise and glorify God, and to those suffering in Purgatory. “How good it is, how pleasant, where the people dwell as one!” Ps133:1. By uniting ourselves to the members of Christ’s Body, we grow in our union with God Himself.
The slain lamb window in our chapel…a symbolic portrayal
of the Heavenly Liturgy as described in the Book of Revelation.
As Christians, we seek to become more and more Christ-like and centered in Him. The Gospels recount times when Christ went to the synagogue or the temple, the public places of prayer, to join in the worship of God. When we join in the Divine Office – whether in the privacy of our own homes or in church – we are imitating Christ by joining in prayer with the universal Church, praying in English the same prayers prayed throughout the world in various languages. Also, the Psalms we pray are the same ones that Jesus Himself would have prayed during His life on earth.
When we join in the Divine Office, we also imitate Christ by practicing His virtues. The virtue that is most clearly practiced is that of faith because the power and effectiveness of the Divine Office can only be seen with the eyes of faith. By devoting certain moments of each day to praising God in the Divine Office, we are practicing the virtue of hope, hope in the promises of God brought to us through the merits of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. More than all other virtues, we practice the virtue of charity, or love, when we prayerfully and attentively recite (or chant or sing) the Divine Office. While this is true, we must also recall the words of the apostle John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” 1 Jn 4:10 If God did not love us and enable us to love Him with His love, how could we even think of praising Him so explicitly?
In Blessed Dom Marmion’s book, Christ the Ideal of the Monk, he clearly defines that the Divine Office, along with the Mass, is, in the Father’s eyes, the highest and best work we can undertake. He goes on to explain that we should never allow other duties to take precedence over such great works. Through living in a community that has the Divine Office as a key aspect of its life, I have come to understand that this does not mean that we neglect our real duties in order to be physically present at the Liturgy. For example, if you are to be putting a meal on the table at the time of the Divine Office, you must physically be present to fulfill this responsibility, but allow your heart to be present at the Divine Office. Because this is God’s will for you at the moment, you give more glory to Him by putting the meal on the table than you ever could by being present at the Divine Office.
As a loving Mother, the Church knows that not everyone can always be present at the Liturgy. For this reason, she sets apart certain people to have this as part of their vocation – monks, nuns, and priests. This, however, by no means excludes laity from taking up all or even just one small part of the Divine Office and incorporating it into their lives. In fact, Vatican II, highly encourages the laity to participate in the Divine Office. If you would like to have a community to pray it with, or just want to see what it is like, I invite you to join us in our chapel or visit another monastery near you for one or several hours of the Divine Office. By the way, each prayer time throughout the day is called an “hour”. We refer to the shorter Offices which may only take 10-15 minutes to pray it as the “shorter hours”.