I used to have little appreciation for the Liturgy of the Hours. I considered it ‘too structured,’ ‘too formal,’ and a mere recitation of words other people had written. It could be spoken while the speaker’s mind wandered anywhere and everywhere (I decided)… so wouldn’t such a practice just lead to dry, lifeless prayer?
I could not have been more wrong.
The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the ‘Divine Office,’ is an official group of prayers used by priests and Religious. It is a primary part of the daily schedules of monks and nuns.
The Divine Office is the same for people throughout the Church, throughout the world. On the very same day, Father O’Neill in Dublin and a group of monks in Sydney and a monastery of nuns in Toledo are praying the exact same words.
As I wrote here a few weeks ago, the Liturgy of the Hours helps my prayer stay on track. In it, scripture is right before me; thus I have 'grillwork' for my day. I am praying with the whole Church, right along with Father O'Neill and the monks in Sydney and the Toledo nuns. And, if I'm tempted to bypass prayer, I get help to carry me past my (laziness, in my case).
Do I, personally, pray the entirety of the Liturgy of the Hours? No. But My goal is to work toward that. I'm making a commitment to at least pray part of it every day. I hope to pray more and more of it, to 'baby step' my way into staying solidly on its tracks throughout the day.
In my haphazard life (and my very nature is 'haphazard'), I definitely need some of that structure I once dreaded. Otherwise, I wind up wasting entire days.
Does my mind wander while I pray in this way? My mind wanders no matter how I pray. The Divine Office helps call the drifting mind back.
Does the Liturgy of the Hours lead me to the dry, lifeless prayer I feared? No. Sometimes I feel dry and lifeless, yes, but again: that would happen no matter how I pray. The printed words help me stay focused.
In some key ways, the Liturgy of the hours is a lens that helps me zoom right in on the presence and reality of God.
Where can we find the Liturgy of the Hours?
A WONDERFUL resource is Divine Office.org. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is free, it has all of the hours available for reading or for listening to, and it's a marvelous tool for those of us who have trouble finding our way through the books themselves. It's all right there for us. The one and four volume breviaries are available for purchase at this site as well.
And for an excellent explanation of this kind of prayer, check out Daria Sockey's blog Coffee and Canticles for 'About the Liturgy of the Hours. '