I went to a priest and said, “I would like to have a better prayer life and read more scripture.” He prescribed the Liturgy of the Hours and told me to pray morning prayer (Lauds) and evening prayer (Vespers). He then loaned me a thick green book with no fewer than five ribbons coming out of it. I stared at him blankly. He informed me this book, called a Breviary, contained the Liturgy of the Hours; these are also called The Prayers of the Church. He then told me there were apps I could download on my phone to help me get started, and that’s probably where I should begin. I downloaded The Laudate and iBreviary apps; they’re both easier to use than the book. It doesn’t matter how many seminarians show me how to use it, I still don’t get the book. The Laudate app works fine, so that’s what I’m using for now.
What is the Liturgy of the Hours? According to the USCCB website, “The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office or the Work of God (Opus Dei), is the daily prayer of the Church, marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer. The Hours are a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ, using scripture and prayer.” For me, it was a wake up a call. Hymns, a couple of Psalms, scripture passages from the Old and New Testaments, beautifully written prayers, canticles, intercessions, opportunities for reflection — and all this only takes about 15-20 minutes.
What surprised me is that priests are required to pray the entire Divine Office. Most in religious orders will also pray the whole thing, but it depends on the order. The laity aren’t required to pray it, but are highly encouraged to pray the morning and evening hours every day. There are prayers scheduled for 3 a.m., 6 a.m. (Lauds), 9 a.m. (Terce), 12 p.m. (Sext), 3 p.m. (None), 6 p.m. (Vespers), and 9 p.m. (Compline). I generally pray Lauds at 7 a.m., because 6 a.m. isn’t happening, and Compline at 10 p.m., because I’m bad at following directions and usually miss evening prayer. At least I’m trying.
Why is the Divine Office called, “The Prayer of the Church?” First of all, the prayers are offered up every day, at about the same time by everyone. We are united in prayer — in communion with people all around the world. We are praising and petitioning God together. We’re not just praying for ourselves, but for the whole world — and those praying with us are also praying for us and for the world. The best part is, the words are given to us, and all we have to do is pray along. It reminds me of the Mass; not all the participants are visibly there, and the graces are easy to underestimate. Again from the USCCB website, “In the Hours, the royal priesthood [All baptized people] of the baptized is exercised, and this sacrifice of praise is thus connected to the sacrifice of the Eucharist, both preparing for and flowing from the Mass.”
Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V., says the Liturgy of the Hours is “the Church’s greatest gift to hearts that long for prayerful communion with God throughout the day.” Whether you’re a person who prays, or a person who wishes they prayed, if you haven’t explored the Liturgy of the Hours, now is the time to begin.