By Jonathan Lynch
Greetings, folks! I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a very special prayer, which holds a singular place in the Catholic Church, and which I believe should be more widely known and practiced. I am referring to the Liturgy of the Hours. This prayer is unique because unlike many other prayers in the Catholic Tradition, such as the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and various novenas, it is a liturgy, that is, it is a true and vivid reflection and share in the worship of God in heaven, which is universal throughout the entire Church. In the words of the Catechism:
The liturgy is also a participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal. Through the liturgy the inner man is rooted and grounded in “the great love with which the Father loved us” in His beloved Son. (CCC 1073)
The prayer itself is made up of a selection of hymns, psalms, Scripture readings, and various other short prayers, compiled in an ordered, logical format. The liturgy of the hours is required for bishops, priests, and professed religious to pray daily, so that their days may truly revolve around and return to their prayer life. Deacons are required to pray part of it, and laymen like myself (and probably most of my readers) are not required to pray any of it. But we are heartily encouraged to partake of it to the extent that we’re able, since it is in no way “reserved” for the clergy. It is very much a unifying prayer; when you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, you are lifting up your voice to God with holy men and women all around the world who are praying the exact same prayers for the glory of the Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls.
In the monastic tradition, there are seven “hours,” or times to pray in a day. (Ps. 118: 164, Seven times a day I praise you.)
- Vigils/Matins (3:00AM!)
This is the numbering scheme used at New Melleray Abbey, a favorite place of mine to go on retreat. There are other ways of ordering the hours; much more common is the one used by most diocesan clergy:
- Office of Readings (any time of the day)
- Morning Prayer
- Daytime Prayer (Midmorning, Midday, and Midafternoon)
- Evening Prayer
- Night Prayer
Perhaps the most daunting part of praying the Liturgy of the Hours is that it can be easy to get lost in the book, to not know where you are supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be reading. I learned by praying a few times with friends, assuming I knew everything that was pertinent, and then gradually finding out later that I was not entirely correct. When you’re learning, Night Prayer is probably the easiest one to do. It is short, and everything you need is neatly kept together and spelled out, so there’s no wondering which page to go to. Daytime Prayer is only a little more complicated, and the remaining “major hours” require a bit more flipping back and forth. That said, once you understand the structure, (which doesn’t take that long really) it comes second nature. If you are interested, here is a quick guide to getting started, and if you have any problems, just ask in the comments below, and either I or someone else more knowledgeable than myself can get you straightened out.
If you’re interested in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, there are a few options for which books to get. Perhaps the most common among laymen is the Book of Christian Prayer. It is the one that I use, since buying one book is much cheaper than buying a four-volume set. Having everything in one compact book means you need to do more page-flipping and searching than if you buy the four-volume set, which is also notable in that it has the full readings for the Office of Readings (rather than an abridged selection). If you love Latin, and money is no object, you can buy the amazing 3-volume English/Latin set from Baronius Press. If you want to get a nice, quality leather cover for your book, you can order one here.
[Editor’s Note: There are also several free phone apps out there which are helpful and can avoid page flipping if that is intimidating. The best one which is available for both Androids and iPhones is called “iBreviary”.]
As a final encouragement, there is no problem if you get entirely lost, don’t know where you’re supposed to be, or even end up a week off for several days… like I did not too long ago…
Like many of the best things in life, you learn by doing it, not by thinking about it or wishing you knew how it worked already. The Liturgy of the Hours is an amazing spiritual tool, and helps you to pray regularly, if you’re willing and able to use it.
P.S. If you’re still wondering why this post has the title that it does, it’s because most of the hours begin with the invocation from Psalm 70:2: “O God, come to my assistance! Lord, make haste to help me!” I think it’s a beautiful way to start just about any prayer, and it sounds amazing when it’s chanted.
‘Til next time, may Christ be with you always, and may His Immaculate Mother shield you beneath her mantle!
All for Thee, Sweet Jesus,
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
For the glory of God
And the salvation of souls!