Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Revisiting the Liturgy of the Hours

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.
And I can pray with them, if I wish.

As I wrote here in the past, 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, I definitely need some of that structure I once dreaded.  Otherwise, I wind up wasting entire days.
I find that those 'words others have written' often turn out to be cries and groanings from my very own heart.

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.


  1. The Sydney monks and Toledo nuns might actually be praying different words, as they might have their own Office liturgy and different psalm schedule, but the main thing is we're all praying the Psalter every day, even if not the same psalms. Many Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox, and others are included in this: the 150 psalms are being offered throughout the world. As the old hymn says, "The sun that bids us rest is waking /
    Our brethren ’neath the western sky, / And hour by hour fresh lips are making /
    Thy wondrous doings heard on high."

    1. Sometime after I posted this for the first time (a couple of years ago?), I learned that the words may indeed be different in different countries. But as you pointed out, we are all praying the Psalter!

      I like the words of the hymn you quoted. I always like remembering that as some of us settle down for the night, people on the other side of the earth are beginning their day of prayer.

      "Hour by hour fresh lips..." oh yes, I do love that.

  2. I love the liturgy of the hours!!! It helps to join in prayer when I cannot pray on my own. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to the Office of the hours! The hymn is wonderful as well!!!

    1. I don't know what I'd do without the Liturgy of the Hours anymore... a I get older, my mind is wanderier than ever (and even makes up its own words ;) )!

  3. Nancy, have you heard of Shorter Christian Prayer? It's similar to the Divine Office but as its name implies it's the short version for those short on time. A little like the Magnificat devotions but not as short and it does follow the Psalter. I love it, it brought me closer to God as I work full time and don't have time for the longer version. These days, though, I use Magnificat which I adore because with my fatigue and not sleeping well the past couple of years I can't finish the SCP but would love to get back into it some day.

    1. Yes, Aileen, I'm familiar with that; several members of my family prefer it. I have the 4 volume set of breviaries, but I will confess that even after 2 decades I still need a yearly guide to make my way through them. Because I spend a fair amount of time online in recent years, however, I now go to Divine several times a day. I would have put a link to that site with this post, but it's my understanding that currently they are only available to those who were previously signed up (free) with them. Anyway, the Shorter Prayer is a very good option, and thank you for mentioning it.