Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rediscovering the Hours

Just finished a really fine book by Robert Benson, "In Constant Prayer." This is an introduction to the whole concept of what we Catholics call the Liturgy of the Hours. Benson was brought up in the Nazarene tradition (he's now Episcopalian) and writes for a non-Catholic readership, but I suspect that many Catholics could profit from this beautifully written presentation. (It helps that Benson is a poet.)
Benson noted in an early chapter that on his morning drive to the store to pick up the papers he reads daily (hey, writers have to read!), he would pass several houses of worship. At that early hour, between 6:30 and 7:00 each morning, he noticed that the parking lots were busy as worshipers streamed back to their cars and went off to work. They were beginning the day with prayer as a community. He also noted that the houses of worship were: a mosque, a synagogue, and a Catholic Church. The churches of his own tradition were not the sites of such daily activity. But many Protestants are beginning to adopt the ancient prayer that Catholics and Orthodox Christians inherited from Judaism. And many Catholics are learning how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or are joining in morning prayer in their parish before daily Mass.
It never was supposed to be just for monks, deacons and priests: we are all supposed to be participating in the prayer that the Body of Christ (that would be us) offers to the Father. Believe it or not, for about a thousand years, everyone was expected to come to Church daily for morning prayer: it was part of being a believer! That started getting lost at the time of the Renaissance; the Reformation finished the job in many places. (I recall from reading some early writings of our Founder that at least in Italy in the late 1800's, parishioners were expected on Sundays to attend not just the Mass, but also Evening Prayer in their local Church.)
Benson's book comes some years after he published a kind of introductory version of "fixed-hour" prayerbook. It offered first steps in what the ancient monks (and also Vatican II) spoke of as sanctifying the whole day. His book, and a similar one by Phyllis Tickle, enjoyed a really good distribution. What I think we are beginning to see in these years is a rediscovery of the value of what is called by many names: the Divine Office, the Breviary, Lauds and Vespers, fixed-time prayer. It would be an important renewal in Christian living: we seem to be one of the first generations of Christians who do not typically recollect ourselves two, three or the biblical seven times a day in prayer--not the "gimme" kind of prayer, but the prayer of simple praise. And in the Liturgy of the Hours, that praise does not have to depend on one's feelings of exaltation or gladness: the words of praise and thanks have been given to us right in the book of Psalms, which the Hours use as the primary prayer book.
Do you pray some form of the Liturgy of the Hours? What has your experience been? How many "hours" (set brief prayer periods) do you pray, and where?

4 comments:

~Joseph the Worker said...

I am a recent convert to Catholicism and learned about the Liturgy of the Hours through spiritual guidance by one of our parish priests. It has served to bring enormous comfort and strength to my life and my wife's life. I usually am able to pray morning prayer, the office of readings, and evening prayer. Generally I try to pray it either in a closed room in our house with incense or in the church before daily mass. I highly recommend it to everyone as a wonderful and enlightening experience, a way to get to know God better through his word and through meditation in prayer.

Anonymous said...

My day begins with a prayer (the morning offering) the angel of God Prayer, the perfect prayer called the Mass, and a continuous chit chat with Jesus during the day. I fall asleep when I try to pray the Rosary, and yes, the gimme prayer (at His behest). Ya got a problem with that?

Br. Cody said...

Yes! I am a proud Protestant who prays the hours. I started praying the hours this summer. This past week has NOT been a good example, but I'm trying.

I wake up and pray the morning prayer. Then at noonish I get a noon prayer in. I try to fit one in the late afternoon/early evening. Then the night prayer.

When I pray the hours, I feel very much more confident and peaceful. I enjoy very much. Oh...and I've got the continual chit-chats with Jesus all throughout the day.

God's blessings to you all.

RAnn said...

Something kind of amusing. I went to college at Miss. Univ. for Women, which is located in Columbus MS. Let's just say that those of us who were Catholic were not generally from that area. At that time the Student Interfaith Society offered Vespers in the chapel on Sunday evenings. It consisted of some hymns, scripture readings and a talk by someone. Unlike the traditions at many coed schools, our homecoming was about alums coming back and visiting with each other and enjoying being on campus again rather than about a football game. One year one event offered was "Morning Vespers".

On a more serious note, I've tried the Liturgy of the Hours different times over the years. I try it sometimes during adoration but I have a hard time figuring out what pages I'm supposed to be reading, so I just guess and figure He understands.