Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Braums, Breviaries, and Awesomeness: The Liturgy of the Hours

Our Tuesday Night Prayer group a long time ago!
 (We had a Star Wars dress-up night, which explains the lightsabers)
Several years ago, when I was in my early years of high school (man, that makes me feel old! Haha!), I heard about this group that gathered every Tuesday night during the summer at my church. The bulletin said it was “Tuesday Night Prayer” with ice cream afterwards. And so I started to go. 

What a wild time! Tuesday after Tuesday, year after year, myself and other teenagers would do the same routine: meet up with a seminarian friend of ours (who was just ordained a deacon a month ago!!!), pray Night Prayer, then head to Braum’s for ice cream and shenanigans. The group had been around for a few years before I started going, and it’s still going strong—as people grow old and move away and whatnot, new people are coming in to continue the group. It’s bound together by God, fun, ice cream, and the Liturgy of the Hours.

 Liturgy of the Hours? I know that this term is completely foreign to many people. If we’ve ever heard of it, it’s because we’ve read a book about how monks pray Liturgy of the Hours at all times of the day and night. But lay people praying it? What’s up with that?

While monks, priests, religious sisters, etc. are under obligation to pray LotH, it is not just for them. We, the awesome lay people, can definitely pray the Liturgy of the Hours. But before getting into that, let’s talk about what it is.

Where does Liturgy of the Hours Come From?
The origins of LotH go way back. See, back in the Old Testament, the Jews were sent into exile in Babylon. As such, they were not able to offer sacrifices in the Temple. And, according to good ol’ ewtn.com, the “synagogue services of Torah readings and psalms and hymns developed as a substitute for the bloody sacrifices of the Temple, a sacrifice of praise. The inspiration to do this may have been fulfillment of David's words, "Seven times a day I praise you" (Ps. 119:164), as well as, "the just man mediates on the law day and night" (Ps. 1:2).

The Jews got back to the Temple after exile, and incorporated the psalms into their services. Remember, Jesus and many of His early followers were Jews. So…when you pray LotH, you are doing what Jesus and His Apostles did! (and how cool is that???) In Acts 3:1, we read that “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer.” In Acts 10:9, records that “Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime.

Throughout the years up to present day, monks and religious communities center their lives around this community prayer together.

But What is this Prayer?
Each of the “hours” is comprised of psalms, Scripture readings, and prayers. I’m going to focus on Morning Prayer/Evening Prayer (they are the same format) and Night Prayer, since those are the ones I pray most often.

  1. Opening Verse and Response: You open with the Sign of the Cross and the “Liturgy of the Hours” Glory Be (which is slightly different from the normal Glory Be prayer)
  2. Hymn: You sing a hymn! (or recite it, if you don’t know the melody)
  3. Psalmody: For Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, and Evening Prayer, this consists of 3 Psalms (or Old Testament Canticles).
  4. Reading: A reading from Scripture!
  5. Responsory: A very short verse-and-response that helps us meditate on God’s Word.
  6. Gospel Canticle: For Morning Prayer, we pray the Canticle of Zechariah, from Lk 1:68-79. For Evening Prayer, the Magnificat, from Lk 1:46-55. For Night Prayer, the “Nunc Dimittis,” from Lk 2:29-32.
  7. Intercessions: These aren’t in Night Prayer. And it’s pretty self-explanatory.
  8. The Lord’s Prayer: Also self-explanatory.
  9. Concluding Prayer and Dismissal: You end with a final prayer and the Sign of the Cross.

It can seem super confusing at first, when you have to flip back and forth between different pages, and are just learning how to pray it. But it doesn’t take long to pick up. Soon, you will be able to pray LotH like nobody’s business!

Why Should we Pray the Liturgy of the Hours?
It’s a way to steep our daily life in prayer. Liturgy of the Hours covers all areas of the day. There’s Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer(s), Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. The day is consecrated to God, taking time to consciously pray and meditate on His Scriptures at various points. It’s awesome. I know some of you may be thinking, WHAT? That’s way too much! Let me assure you, though, that many lay people I know (myself included) typically don’t get all of these various prayers in each day. Different routines work for different lay people (since our lives aren’t like monks, centered around the Mass and Divine Office). This summer, I have made a routine of Morning Prayer and/or Daytime Prayer plus Night Prayer. Doesn’t work every day, but we do what we can, right? Also, since the LotH is comprised of psalms (which are songs), they have a habit of sticking in my head throughout the day, which is super awesome.

This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to "pray constantly," is "so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God."47 In this "public prayer of the Church,"48 the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. Celebrated in "the form approved" by the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours "is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father.” (CCC 1174)
It builds community. First off, it’s “Liturgy of the Hours.” So, it’s the whole, entire, huge Church praying together. Even if you’re praying by your lonesome self on your porch swing, you’re still praying with the Church. And that whole Tuesday Night Prayer thing? A community of crazy teens and young adults build on Liturgy of the Hours. Also, when I was in high school, there was a super awesome group called God Squad. We basically treated Lent like a sports season, and each morning would pray Liturgy of the Hours together (starting at 6:45 a.m.) with different devotions afterwards. I made tons of friends in that group, for we were brought together by LotH. 

When I first came to Franciscan, some classmates of mine started a group that prayed Evening Prayer every day, so I got to know people I normally didn’t see around that much. And way back when I met Jacob, I taught him how to pray LotH, and we began praying it every day together. Which, over time, increased to multiple times each day…and, well, we’ve been married nearly a year now, so you see how that went J

My Breviary! 
Also, I have another cool “community story” to share: While I was reading "The Confessions of St. Augustine" and praying in the Port yesterday afternoon, a bunch of lay men (seminarians?), a CFR friar (I'm guessing) and a man in a habit I didn't recognize all cram into my pew and the pews around me (keep in mind, the Port is pretty small...really tiny...). "Well, there's not a Conference going on right now, so what's this?" I wondered. Then Dr. Hahn walks down the center aisle and looks at me and the other people in there. "We're going to pray Liturgy of the Hours now, and you can join us. I wanted to tell you all, and didn't want anyone to be surprised when we started praying."  So…yeah. I totally got to pray Liturgy of the Hours with random religious, guys who were probably seminarians, and Dr. Hahn. Take about community!

It extends Mass and strengthens our devotions. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Liturgy of the Hours, which is like an extension of the Eucharistic celebration, does not exclude but rather in a complementary way calls forth the various devotions of the People of God, especially adoration and worship of the Blessed Sacrament” (CCC1178).

It’s great for a crazy schedule. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are a little longer, so I would say allow about 25ish minutes for each of those. Night Prayer and Daytime Prayer take about 10-15ish minutes each. Really not that much time, in the grand scheme of things. You just have to plan the time for it (such as: “I will pray Morning Prayer after breakfast” or “I will pray Mid-Afternoon prayer in between classes”) and then find that, after you pray, you still have loads of time to get lots of stuff done!

But Will this Cost Me Tons and Tons of Money?
Check it out here!
No way! There are free or low-cost apps of Liturgy of the Hours, and Christian Prayer books are pretty reasonably priced. There’s the “Shorter Christian Prayer,” which is small, has the bare-bones basics (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer), which can be good for beginners. I started with one of these! It doesn’t have Daytime Prayers or a very big Proper of Saints, though. The “Christian Prayer” is what I have, and usually runs about $35 or so (and though mine is a little beat-up, I have a cover for it, and it’s lasted me 5 ½ years). It’s one-volume, has a big Proper of Saints, Daytime Prayer, selections from Office of Readings, and I personally think it’s a good option for the average layperson. Lots of good stuff in there! The big “four volume” (which priests, seminarians, and religious use) are a bit more expensive.

Be courageous, take the plunge, and start praying Liturgy of the Hours! Pick one of the "hours," and pray it, working your way up from there! You can do it!