The Liturgy of the Hours may only be required for priests and religious, but it is beautiful source of peace for all who take the time to pray it. Here’s why.
Before I moved back to New York last summer, I did a personal retreat at Benedictine monastery in British Columbia. Five times a day, the bell would toll and all of the monks would silently make their way to the chapel to chant the Liturgy of the Hours, as Benedictines have been doing for centuries. I loved following the monastic rhythm, albeit for a short period.
After returning to the East Coast, I decided to get into the habit of praying the Liturgy of the Hours on my own. This form of prayer, also known as the Divine Office, is an ancient part of the Church’s liturgical life. It consists of seven daily sets (or “hours”) of prayer. (Priests and religious are required to pray five of the seven hours.) Each hour includes an opening hymn, Psalms, a spiritual Canticle, a reading from Scripture, and intercessory prayers.
Even though it is a time commitment to keep up with the Divine Office, I love it. It provides a beautiful framework for the day: each hour is a small oasis in the midst of hectic daily life, and an opportunity to refocus on “the things above” (Col 3:1).
But the Liturgy of the Hours is more than an opportunity for finding quiet time during the day. It is an essential part of the life of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ: it is her participation in the eternal priesthood of the Son of God. The Second Vatican Council put it like this:
For he continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the Divine Office. (Sacrosanctum Concilium # 83)
In other words, the Divine Office is one of the ways in which the Church joins Christ in his priestly role of praising God the Father and offering prayers on behalf of all creation. How awesome it is that we can be a part of this!
The Liturgy of the Hours is a temporal expression of eternal prayer of Jesus Christ. It is the endless praise of the Son of God translated into human words. Again, the Vatican Council put it well:
Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise. (Sacrosanctum Concilium # 83)
When we commit ourselves to the ongoing rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours, we unite ourselves to eternal praise of the Second Person of the Trinity, and in so doing we get away from the hectic and feverish pace of our daily lives. The Liturgy of the Hours provides us with a moment to go to the border between time and eternity and, in some way, cross it.
In praying the Liturgy of the Hours, we leave the horizontal dimension of the here and now and enter a vertical spiritual dimension that transcends time; we join the ancient tradition of Psalmic praise that stretches back to the Babylonian exile; we become a part of the Church’s never-ending praise of God that will continue until the end of time; we enter into the very life of the Trinity by becoming part of the Son’s praise of the Father in the Holy Spirit.
It may be not possible for you to pray all of the hours, but it is worth it just to pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, the two “hinges” of the whole Office. You will find the Liturgy of the Hours to be an excellent investment of time. Whether you are in the car or at Starbucks, commuting to work or waiting for your kids to finish soccer practice, taking ten minutes to join in the eternal praise of the Son will be more than worth it! Let yourself fall into the calming rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours and experience the peace it brings.
To get more details on how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I suggest checking out Coffee and Canticles. You can always buy the hard copies, but I it is good to start with the Divine Office app, which offers audio as well as text.