Posted on February 08, 2024 08:21

A Lenten Practice- The Liturgy of the Hours










Praying the Liturgy of the Hours during the season of Lent

The Liturgy of the Hours is an act of ultimate, pure selflessness in which countless Catholic clergy, religious, and lay people engage every day, throughout the day and night.

Are you looking for an outstanding Lenten practice? Do you long for divine order in an increasingly chaotic world? Would you love to enrich your spiritual life? Do you seek to serve others in an all-too isolated world, and to advance the cause of peace during a time of “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt 24:6)?

If your answer to any (or all) of those questions was “yes,” then consider praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Also known as the Divine Office, this prayer of Christ and His Church is a treasure waiting to be discovered by many more Catholics. It is also a gift underutilized by many who have tried it but left it behind for one reason or another, or who continue to pray it, but listlessly.

My purpose here is not to offer instructions about how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The easiest way to begin would be to download an app such as iBreviary TS Plus and simply begin praying. Another idea would be to buy a one volume or four volume breviary [the name of the book(s) used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours] and watch one of the helpful “how-to” videos available on YouTube. Praying with a community that regularly prays the Divine Office would be ideal, and learning to pray along with family or friends is also a great option.

My focus is on the riches of the Liturgy of the Hours and its divine power for our lives, for the Church, and for the world.

In his 1955 book, simply entitled Prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes of the Sacred Liturgy:

Liturgy is the Church’s sacred service of prayer in the presence of God. Here, in an ultimate, pure selflessness, it seeks for nothing but God’s glorification through worship, praise and thanksgiving.

The Liturgy of the Hours is an act of ultimate, pure selflessness in which countless Catholic clergy, religious, and lay people engage every day, throughout the day and night. It is an act by which those who pray it seek nothing but God’s glorification through worship, praise, and thanksgiving.

Even the intercessory prayers, which might seem to be at least somewhat self-centered, are not. Von Balthasar writes that prayers of petition are a complement to all of the other acts of the Sacred Liturgy. Petition “indicates the inner vacant space, ready to be inundated by the glory of grace, which is in turn a new cause for worship, praise and thanksgiving.”

However, the selflessness of the Liturgy of the Hours operates at an even deeper level than this. We know that we can come to the Liturgy as selfish people, to one degree or another. But by entering into the Sacred Liturgy we embody and enact, for those moments and in those liturgical words and actions, the testimony of St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

By means of the Sacred Liturgy, we enter into the worship of Christ, Who is our Great High Priest and offers the only perfect and redemptive worship to His Heavenly Father. And we do so as His Body and His Bride, the Church.

Pope St. Paul VI, in his Apostolic Constitution on the Liturgy of the Hours, Laudis Canticum, writes:

Christian prayer above all is the prayer of the whole human community, which Christ joins to himself. Everyone shares in this prayer, which is proper to the one Body as it offers prayers that give expression to the voice of Christ’s beloved Bride, to the hopes and desires of the whole Christian people, and to supplications and petitions for the needs of all humanity.

This prayer takes its unity from the heart of Christ, for our Redeemer desired ‘that the life he had entered upon in his mortal body with supplications and with his sacrifice should continue without interruption through the ages in his Mystical Body, which is the Church.’ Because of this, the prayer of the Church is at the same time ‘the very prayer that Christ himself, together with his Body, addresses to the Father. As we celebrate the office, therefore, we must recognize our own voices echoing in Christ, his voice echoing in us.

The sublime beauty and power of the Divine Office can hardly be overstated. But even those who pray it daily might not appreciate it fully. Familiarity is both a blessing and a challenge in almost every sphere of life, including prayer.

And so, let’s consider briefly how to overcome three common challenges experienced while praying the Liturgy of the Hours:

1) To overcome boredom, it helps to discover (or recover) our sense of the sweetness of the Psalms. Natural human experience teaches us that there are few things as powerfully evocative as music and poetry. In some of the most beautiful words ever composed, the Psalms tell the story of our salvation. They show us the glory of God and the life of man in all of his states and attitudes towards God.

Monsignor Ronald Knox, in his Retreat for Priests, writes in praise of the Psalms:

Christendom has many songs…But there is one body of poetry, far older than Christendom, which has from the first entwined itself in the history of the Church, interpreted her aspirations and enshrined her experiences. It was the poetry which our Lord sang with his apostles on that last night, before they went out to Olivet. It was the poetry from which he quoted, as he hung on the Cross. It was the poetry which first sprang from the lips of the assembled disciples, when they gave thanks in a time of persecution.

As was the case for Our Lord and His first disciples, the Psalms possess divine power and sweetness even when they express great sorrow, even when we pray them at times of great personal sorrow.

2) To overcome a feeling of drudgery, it helps to focus on the privileged duty of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. It is not completely out of place that this liturgy is called the Divine Office. Praying ritual prayers every day, at the same times of day, brings comfort and a feeling of stability, but can also bring the temptation to view these prayers as a holy chore. The antidote to this temptation is not to deny the element of duty involved in the Liturgy of the Hours. Rather, the needed remedy is to recognize the nobility of this duty to worship with Christ and His Church. One of the noblest aspects of praying the Divine Office is that we pray for those who for whatever reason do not have the ability to pray as we do. And we pray “for” them in two senses. We pray for their sake and we pray on their behalf, giving voice to the prayers they would offer if they were able.

Again, Knox offers great wisdom in his own poetic prose on the blessed duty of the Liturgy of the Hours:

The recitation of the Divine Office is an employment whose dignity can hardly be exaggerated. We unite ourselves, in the process, with all of the sighs of love which our Incarnate Lord sent up to his Eternal Father; we take up the echoes of the psalmody which range through the Cenacle on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Our voices are reeds that rustle in the wind of Pentecost; the Holy Spirit uses them as the human organs of that uncreated praise with which he fills the world. The Church has deputed us to be the spokesmen of her eternal loyalty, to press her suit at the court of heaven. The holy angels accept us for their fellow-choristers. The dumb creation commits to us the interpretation of its silent worship, the heavens that tell God’s glory, the sun and moon that rejoice before him, the earth and all that is therein, the sea and the fulness of it, beasts of the earth and all the cattle, the fowls of the air and the fishes of the sea, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars; their adoration is like the breathing of a great organ, which can become vocal only through a vox humana stop. What wonder that holy men have called the Divine Office the Work of God?

3) When facing temptations to quit or to skip the Divine Office, don’t! There was an old Bob Newhart skit in which he played a character who was like the drill sergeant-esque twin of the psychologist he played in The Bob Newhart Show. In the skit, Newhart’s repeated advice to his patients was to bark, “Stop it!” While the skit’s purpose was to show a humorously brutal approach to psychotherapy, such blunt advice is sometimes just what is needed. To pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily, whether because one has promised to do so for life or chosen to do so for a time, is a spiritual challenge. Most of us, when facing a challenge, face moments when we are tempted to quit or go easy on ourselves. Holiness is forged by overcoming such temptations and persevering to the end. Our Lord tells us solemnly, “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13).

As in all things, we draw our strength from our Eucharistic Lord. Pope St. Paul VI writes that the Liturgy of the Hours is rightly “seen as a kind of necessary complement by which the fullness of divine worship contained in the eucharistic sacrifice would overflow to reach all the hours of daily life.” All Catholics who wish to pray the Divine Office faithfully should draw their power from Christ Who is God With Us, Emmanuel, our Great High Priest, joined to Whom we offer the only worship capable of saving us and saving the whole world.

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March 4, 2022  Fr. Charles Fox The Dispatch 5Print

(Image: Carl E. Olson)

About Fr. Charles Fox  

Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.

Source: Article posted on Catholic World Report

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