On The Liturgy of the Hours

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I started to answer this in the comments box below, but both the question and the answer seems far too important for a mere comments box reflection:

Tom asked the question whether Liturgy of the Hours were really necessary to the pursuit of holiness. My long answer follows. My short answer is undoubtedly (and most assuredly from a personal, experiential perspective), "Yes it is." As difficult as it may be to fit into a life, whatever life it is fit into is made better by the discipline of following this great work of the Church.

With the advent of works like Magnificat a version of the litrugy tailored to those with strong time constraints is available to all. Moreover, as the name implies the "Liturgy of the Hours" is the work of the whole body of the church. It is liturgical prayer second in importance only to the Mass itself. Finally, the liturgy of the hours provides structure to the day. It would seem, to instill the discipline necessary to start the practice of the presence of God.

Personal prayer, while commendable, and indeed sanctifying often tends to be somewhat loosely regarded and on-the-fly. The Liturgy serves to structure this otherwise rather free-form mode of expression.

That's not to say you can't become holy without with Liturgy--but rather that the liturgy is so helpful to the process that it should not be remanded to a mere recommendation, but put forth as a sacred treasure whose usage greatly increases the probability of success on the road to holiness by virtue of the grace of obedience and discipline.

Finally, to address the objection, " After all, people in the world do not always have the luxury of living as though they occupied a cloister," I quote from the work of the Holy Father regarding lay participation in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Inuente #34 John Paul II

It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning. I myself have decided to dedicate the forthcoming Wednesday catecheses to reflection upon the Psalms, beginning with the Psalms of Morning Prayer with which the public prayer of the Church invites us to consecrate and direct our day. How helpful it would be if not only in religious communities but also in parishes more were done to ensure an all-pervading climate of prayer. With proper discernment, this would require that popular piety be given its proper place, and that people be educated especially in liturgical prayer. Perhaps it is more thinkable than we usually presume for the average day of a Christian community to combine the many forms of pastoral life and witness in the world with the celebration of the Eucharist and even the recitation of Lauds [Morning Prayer] and Vespers [Evening Prayer]. The experience of many committed Christian groups, also those made up largely of lay people, is proof of this. [emphasis added]

and from Sacrosanctum Concilium

from Sacrosanctum Concilium

83. Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.

For he continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office.

84. By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church's ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; lt is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.

85. Hence all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ's spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God's throne in the name of the Church their Mother. . . .

88. Because the purpose of the office is to sanctify the day, the traditional sequence of the hours is to be restored so that once again they may be genuinely related to the time of the day when they are prayed, as far as this may be possible. Moreover, it will be necessary to take into account the modern conditions in which daily life has to be lived, especially by those who are called to labor in apostolic works.

and this, from "Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours"

27. Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church's duty, [103] by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours. The laity must learn above all how in the liturgy they are adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth; [104] they should bear in mind that through public worship and prayer they reach all humanity and can contribute significantly to the salvation of the whole world. [105]

Finally, it is of great advantage for the family, the domestic sanctuary of the Church, not only to pray together to God but also to celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church. [106]

It would seem to me far easier to become holy if one were to spend some time "sanctifying" and "consecrating" the day with the form of prayer specifically designed for that purpose.

For additional comments see here (Cardinal Spellman, 1950), John Paul II, 2001, and John Paul II, 2001

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That's a good suggestion, Steven. I've gotten away from this as of late, but I need to get back to it!

God bless,

First, as I'm sure you know, I am by no means disparaging the Liturgy of the Hours, nor its profitability to those who pray it.

Second, as you won't be surprised to read, I distinguish between the Liturgy of the Hours and other forms of sanctifying and consecrating the day, including Magnificat (published by the Dominican Eastern Province).

I would agree with the following: Sanctifying and consecrating the day is a necessary part of any plan for holiness. The Liturgy of the Hours is the preeminent means available to Catholics for sanctifying and consecrating the day.

But I wouldn't agree with this: The Liturgy of the Hours is a necessary part of any plan for holiness. I'd hate to think facility with ribbon placement is an essential precursor to faithful Christian discipleship.

Oh, but thanks for collecting those pro-LotH quotations. My Lay Dominican chapter is changing our Lenten lecture series this year; instead of evening Mass prior to the talk, we're doing sung Evening Prayer, which I suspect will be a new thing for many attendees. I might gen up a flier with these quotations as an unsubtle hint.

(Synchronicitically, our parish's associate pastor has been thinking about introducing Morning Prayer before daily Mass.)

Dear Tom,

I guess we will respectfully disagree. I don't think I've gone so far as to say it is a necessary part (except for myself). (In fact, please note, "That's not to say you can't become holy without with Liturgy--but rather that the liturgy is so helpful to the process that it should not be remanded to a mere recommendation, but put forth as a sacred treasure whose usage greatly increases the probability of success on the road to holiness by virtue of the grace of obedience and discipline." Essentially the wording you use. In fact, I believe my statements are largely in the same realm as your own.

However, I am troubled that one would regard proper prayer of the Liturgy as "facility with ribbon placement." I know it is meant for effect, but it is nevertheless the way many regard this extraordinarily valuable prayer and we do no service by reducing it to this mechanical action. If the Liturgy is merely a matter of ribbon placement, I would suggest that there is something more deeply wrong with the spiritual life of the person placing the ribbons.



Facility with ribbon placement is a precursor to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least to praying it with any level of confidence.

For that matter, so is literacy. But of course the Liturgy of the Hours is not itself merely a matter of reading.

Dear Tom and All,

My apologies, I read the comment I left above and it seems to imply something I did not intend about you. If I offended you, please pardon me. I did not mean to imply in any way that there was anything lacking in your approach to the Liturgy. If what I said seemed to suggest this, please accept my public and sincere apology for it. Thank you.



I didn't notice you were being rude to Tom! I thought it was a gentle, friendly jab in response to a bit of Monday morning Dominican cheekiness!

I've really fallen down on the job with my Morning and Evening prayer. Would that faithful attention were a matter of ribbon-flipping facility!

Unfortunately, faithful LOTH prayer requires a willingness to devote oneself to an image of God that isn't the one currently flitting through one's mind; unselfishness with one's time; and the self-discipline to be obedient.

My pastor is currently holding LOTH "training" on Sunday evenings! Wish I could go!

Dear KTC,

Thank you, that was how it was intended, but sometimes the language lets us down. Moreover, I do tend to be something of a Liturgy of the Hours Facist advising all and sundry that it is GOOD for them. AND I eschew, abjure, and abhor those horrible little guides produced to "help" you. They simply make you codependent so that if you lose it your are lost. . . utterly lost. Stuff and nonsense.

As to your own situation--all too true. I will add you specifically to the intention of morning prayer.




When I was in formation for priesthood with the Franciscans, I found praying the whole Liturgy of the Hours to be cumbersome and nerve-racking (by whole, I mean Matins, Lauds, Prime, None, Sext, Vespers, and Compline). I remember an older Friar inisting that missing one of the hours was a mortal sin for someone in vows, and I think I fell into scrupulosity worrying about it sometimes.

Even as I worried, I had this comic image of two men sitting in hell. One says to the other, "What are you in for?" The second responds, "I was a was a serial killer of children whom I raped and then ate their hearts. What about you?" The first responds, "I missed compline on the night I died."

Of course, it is ludicrous to think that missing an Hour is really a sin, and we need to avoid implying that the Liturgy of the Hours is "necessary" to holiness. We also need to avoid what the Protestants call "self-righteousness" - an attitude that we somehow are holier and deserving of reward for simply spending specific amounts of time praising a God who is worthy of all praise all the time! Its not the form of prayer so much as building the relationship.

I do think the Hours is a beautiful way to pray, and I have continued to say Lauds and Vespers for the nine years I have been out of formation. Setting time aside for formal prayer is a great way to reinforce our relationship with God, and I like the idea that I am praying with the wider Church through the Hours.

But overselling the Hours can be a mistake as surely as underselling it.


Dear JCecil3,

Being the self-avowed hours facist I've claimed to be, it simply isn't possible to "oversell" what has been called the second most important liturgical prayer of the Church. However, I will readily acquiesce that it is possible to make such a fetish of it that it no longer is about increasing a relationship with God, it's about "getting it all said right."

I don't think God particularly cares how you say it. I don't think any reasonable person in the Church would say that you have "failed" if in the middle of a hour you are carried away by meditation, mental prayer, or otherwise spending time with the Lord. After all, that is kind of the point of the whole thing. But the hours is about obedience and disciplining yourself. And to make a very unoriginal point, its very difficult to be a disciple with discipline.

So, it is wrong to overemphasize it in practice, but it is so valuable a treasure--it is the prayer delivered from the Cross, as I said elsewhere, a fruit of the Passion of Christ who taught us this way to talking to God through his own seven last words. How can you oversell that?



I hope that nobody minds if I interrupt to suggest a good short article that connects praying the hours with Lent. It by a certain Jon Sweeney and entitled "Walking Through Lent with Francis of Assisi":




I can't imagine anyone ever objecting to a comment from you. Your voice is always welcome. And it was approaching Lent that suggested this topic to me. (That and the fact that I need encouragement right now and writing is always encouraging.)



JCecil--that was a lovely, encouraging post. Please do pray for me, you all!

Steven and others,

I just wanted to chime in that regular commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Lauds, has been a central part of my re-introduction to the Faith and has helped me in all areas of my life. Those days I miss Morning Prayer, there is no doubt that I'm not nearly as effective, motivated or prepared to face the temptations of the day. I also encourage everyone to make at least one LoTH a part of their day.

On the question of cumbersomeness, our parochial vicar explained his current requirement as 5 hours: lauds, daytime (any of 3 choices), vespers, night-time and the office of readings. He also intimated that the office is regularly combined with lauds so it's really more like 4 hours.

One of the things I learned today is that since March 2001, John Paul II's weekly audiences have been working through, commenting on and explaining the Psalms and Canticles of the LoTH. I hadn't realized there was a regular, focused study of this form being done. It's another thing I want to take a look at in greater detail.




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