Growing up as a cradle Catholic, you would think that I would know everything there is to know about prayer, but honestly, I only recently even heard of the Liturgy of the Hours. What little I did know (or thought I knew) about it was that it was prayed only by the priests and deacons, and it was prayed throughout the day, but that was about it!
Well, the mystery of this beautiful Liturgy is uncovered in the new book by Father Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V., A Layman’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours. Let’s answer some basic questions, and get a head start on this form of prayer.
Is it only for priests, deacons and monks?
Well, for fifteen hundred years it was almost exclusively prayed by priests, monks, and nuns. It was designed to help them focus and to live a life of prayer. The Church is now very clear on its stance: NO, it is not just for the ordained or religious. In fact, during Vatican II the Council wrote, “the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with priests, or among themselves, or individually” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 28).
Is it a new form of prayer?
Nope! In fact, it is based on the Old Testament way to pray the Psalms. It is an extra way to reflect upon the promises in the Old Testament and how Jesus fulfilled those promises in the New. It had been known as the Divine Office or “holy task,” and consists of a psalm, the office of readingz, and prayers. In the book, Fr. Gallagher takes a chapter to explain how to pray the hours, including the psalms.
Cool fact: The book of Psalms is the only book from the Bible that is read from at every Mass.
Does it really take HOURS?
No way! In fact, most of the prayers throughout the day may only take 5-7 minutes to pray the minimum content! “Hours” refers to the ‘cosmic hours’ of the day which are morning, daytime, evening, night, with the addition of the Office of Readings which can be read anytime during the day. The latter is the only one that takes longer, at about 15-20 minutes.
Do you have to pray “on the hour, every hour?”
Again, no. Unless you go to Church to pray with a priest or deacon (some Churches will pray the Morning Prayer before the daily Mass), it can be prayed throughout the day, no matter what you’re doing. For example, Morning Prayer can be meditated upon during your morning coffee. The Daytime Prayer can be listened to on the way to pickup the kids from school. Evening prayer can be prayed as a family as dinner is finishing. And the Night Prayer can be prayed right before bedtime. The Office of Readings can be fit in whenever during the day.
How do I get started?
That’s a great question, and it’s really easy. If you like hard copies, you can pick up a Liturgy of the Hours, a superb volume with the complete prayers, all the inserts, the schedule, five ribbons, and bookshelf organizer. Or, the Shorter Christian Prayer which is a shorter version of the Liturgy. There is also the shorter version in the monthly Magnificat publication.
For those who are a little more high-tech, there are apps such as iBreviary or DivineOffice.org, or apps that give an audio version of the Liturgy such as Pray Station Portable. The Magnificat even provides a digital version with their subscription.
And what if I don’t have time to do it ALL?
A friend once told me that God will meet you where you are at, and this is the perfect example. While the complete Liturgy of the Hours may seem overwhelming, just completing one or two parts such as the Morning and Evening or Night Prayers. Don’t feel bad if you forget or don’t have time to get to it, or even fall asleep while praying. With prayer, the most important part is the building of the relationship between you and God. Just like any friendship, if you don’t talk to a friend, the relationship can breakdown as we rely less and less on the person. Don’t let this happen between you and God! Also, many ask, “How do you pray?” This is the perfect format for those who want to talk to God, but don’t really know how or what to say.
Well, there you go! It really isn’t as long or as cumbersome as it sounds, but rather a beautiful way to ‘pray unceasingly.’ While this is a quick and dirty answers to the Liturgy of the Hours, Fr. Timothy Gallagher in A Layman’s guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, goes into greater detail and explanation of the Liturgy and how it will enhance your prayer life and pour graces down upon you and your family.