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Liturgy of the Hours - Prayer of the Universal Church

Liturgy of the Hours - Prayer of the Universal Church

By Fr. Bill Van Wagner, Parochial Vicar

The Liturgy of the Hours, sometimes called the Divine Office, is the daily common prayer of the Church. In compliment to celebration of the Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, consisting of five distinct moments of prayer, serves to cover the day in dialogue with the Lord and meditation on the Word of God. Each of the five sections of the Divine Office includes the recitation of select Psalms and culminates in the proclamation of Sacred Scripture.

The practice of the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is rooted in ancient Jewish prayer. In the temple and in the synagogues, the people of God would gather and recite or sing the Psalms of David in worship of the Lord. Our Lord himself would have regularly chanted the Psalms during his earthly life.

This practice was popularized in a Christian context by the monks of the early Middle Ages, who would gather at various times throughout the day in the monastery church to chant the psalms in common prayer. Eventually the discipline was codified and regularized. Each of the 150 Psalms would be chanted over the course of a four-week cycle, and additional prayers, scripture readings, and Gospel canticles were included.

In the late Middle Ages, the form of the Divine Office was modified slightly in order to serve the needs of traveling mendicant Orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. Unable to carry the large books of the Office in chant notation on their long travels, a brief version called the Breviary was developed. Consisting of the same structure and prayers, the Friars were able to recite the Divine Office as they traveled throughout Europe to preach the Gospel.

To this day, the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is a requirement of all priests, deacons, and consecrated religious. However, the Office is not exclusively for those vowed or ordained in religious life. The Church desires that the lay faithful also be familiar with and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. In a particular way, the Second Vatican Council encouraged pastors to “see fit that the chief hours, especially Vespers (Evening Prayer), are celebrated in common in Church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 100). The Council also affirmed that it is more fitting when the office is chanted or sung in common.

In adherence to the directives of the Council, St. Maria Goretti parish has implemented regular public and common recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours. Each weekday, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are prayed publicly in the parish church. Most importantly, Solemn Vespers is now chanted each Sunday at 6:30 p.m. with Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

As Catholics, in obedience to the Ten Commandments and adherence to the laws of the Church, we are called to keep the Sabbath holy. While attendance at the Holy Mass is the only requirement the Church makes of us in order to do so, it is nonetheless important to do more in order to dedicate the entirety of the day for the Lord. Sunday Evening Prayer is a great way to bookend the Sabbath, to extend the graces received at the Holy Mass through the day, and to give added emphasis to the special holiness of Sunday. In effect, Sunday Vespers is a chance for a prayerful break, a quiet rest in the peace of prayer before the busyness of the week.

The Liturgy of the Hours is “the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body of Christ publicly praising God” (SC 99). This venerable tradition is the prayer of Christ himself echoing through history, foreshadowing the eternal praises of the Kingdom of Heaven. All are invited to join St. Maria Goretti parish for Sunday Evening Prayer and “share 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” (SC 85).

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