Liturgy of the Hours

Many don’t know what the Litury of the Hours is, so I thought I’d post about them.

The Liturgy of the Hours dates back to St. Benedict.  He desired that those who participated in the monastic life read the entire book of psalms (more accurately, prayed those psalms) every week.  As with most practices in the Church, over time the practice was broadened to include more of the Church and the pacing for reading the entire book was slowed to 4 weeks.  Again as time continued, there were additional prayers and readings that were added to round out the psalms making it more like a service than a private prayer.  Eventually the combined prayers, reading and psalms became the “official” daily prayer of the Church.

The prayers are broke up into a number of sessions throughout the day:

  • Morning Prayer
  • Reading of the Office (can be before or after Morning Prayer)
  • Daytime Prayer (which is further broken into Midmorning, Midday and Midafternoon)
  • Evening Prayer
  • Night Prayer

As you can see, it’s a nearly hourly set of prayers that are to be a constant presence in the life of those who participate in it.  Generally that means that it is limited to group participation in monastaries and convents or other communal living environments of faithful Catholics.  For the rest of us, including most priests and bishops, it is a private set of prayers that is done on one’s own.

The “Big 3 prayers” of the day are Morning Prayer, Reading of the Office, and Evening Prayer.  These three consist of a Hymm, a set of psalms to pray, a reading or two, and a closing prayer.  The reading is short for the Morning and Evening prayer and is lengthy for the Reading of the Office.  For the office, it generally consists of 1 Sunday Mass sized reading from scripture and 1 Homily/Sermon from a saint of old.

To give an example, the Reading of the office today consisted of reading psalm 103 in three parts (it’s a fairly long one, on other days you’ll read 3 separate psalms), a reading from Isaiah 12 and an excerpt from a letter to the Corinthians by Pope Clement (who was Pope from AD 88-97, or the 4th Pope and said to have been ordained (not as pope, but as either priest or bishop) by St. Peter himself).

The other three prayers are shorter in nature and forcus more exclusively on the psalms.

For me, although I have attempted to do all the prayers throughout the day, the reality is that someone with a growing family, a full-time job and more hobbies than he should, I just can’t find the time in the day to do all of the prayers.  As a result, I have limited my use of these prayers to the Reading of the Office.  While it means I don’t get the full set of psalms over the 4 weeks, I do get a very good sampling of them, as well as some wonderful readings both from scripture and many early fathers.

And as many have said, to read the early fathers shows just how Catholic the early Church was.

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