Husband & Wife Articles


 

Is Your ‘Office’ Divine?

Try this ancient way of prayer to renew your faith during Lent

By Daria Sockey

Every time I read an article saying that Christians can learn from the Muslim custom of stopping to pray at specific times each day, I want to scream.

Well, not scream, exactly. But I want to raise my eyebrows, and say, in the half-shocked, half-amused voice of Downton Abbey’s dowager Lady Violet, “I’m astonished, my dear, that you didn’t already know, but we Catholics have had such a custom from the very beginning. In fact, for all I know, the Muslims got the idea from us.”

Daria Sockey

I refer, of course, to the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. It’s a cycle of Psalms, Scripture readings, and other prayers, recited in five (or in monasteries, seven) periods per day. These periods, called hours, are prayed at specific times of day: dawn, morning, daytime, evening, and night. You may have heard of these by their Latin labels: Matins, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Most Catholics are only vaguely aware of the Liturgy of the Hours, and for many years it was seen as the exclusive prayer territory of clergy and religious, since they make a promise to pray “the Office” daily.

But ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made it clear that laypeople are not just allowed but encouraged to pray part or all of the Liturgy of the Hours. Blessed John Paul II gave a long series of weekly audiences on the Psalms of Morning and Evening Prayer, and Pope Benedict XVI has stated that he wished all Catholics would become familiar with Lauds, Vespers, and Compline.

Praying the Scriptures several times daily actually comes from the Jewish tradition of praying in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The Apostles continued this tradition after Pentecost, as noted in Acts 3:1, 10:9 and 10:30. The early monastic fathers, and St. Benedict in particular, arranged the Psalms and other biblical prayers in sections, to be prayed every three hours around the clock. In this manner, the entire book of Psalms was recited every week. The modern Liturgy of the Hours is considerably more relaxed, taking an entire month to pray all of the Psalms. And the version used today by clergy and laity does not require any loss of sleep: the midnight office of Matins, now called the Office of Readings, may be prayed during the day, and the 3:00 a.m. hour of prime has been suppressed. Laymen, unlike priests, are not obliged to pray all five hours, but instead may choose one, two or more as suits their schedule. And don’t let that word “hours” scare you. Most of them take between five and 10 minutes. In other words, these are short, Scriptural prayer-breaks, spaced throughout the day.

Morning and Evening Prayer (Lauds and Vespers) are the principal hours of prayer, and the periods that the Church most recommends to the faithful. What makes the Liturgy of the Hours special is that it is liturgy: the official, public worship of the Church, just like the Mass. When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we are joining our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world in offering a “sacrifice of praise”. When we pray the hours, we aren’t just praising, thanking, repenting, and petitioning God for ourselves, but on behalf of the Church.

The Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful way for husbands and wives to pray together. When my husband is not traveling for his job, we often pray Morning or Evening Prayer together. We take turns with the various antiphons, responses and readings. We enjoy offering the intercessions together for the various needs of the Church. Afterward, we sometimes discuss verses of the Psalms that “jumped out” at us in a way that seemed custom made for the current events of our lives.

So, where do you find the Liturgy of the Hours? Until recently, there was only one answer: in a thick prayer book known as a breviary. But now, in the digital age, there is an easier and less expensive way to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, thanks to several fine online breviary websites and mobile applications. These resources make the liturgical hours instantly accessible to millions. Some of them even have audio podcasts of each liturgical hour, making it possible for us to pray along while driving or jogging. Check out: divine office.com, ibreviary.com and Universalis.com. Each of these digital breviaries has its own particular strengths. Find which one suits your individual preferences, and get started. Join an ancient tradition of prayer that may well open up a new era in your spiritual life.