Liturgy of the Hours

I love the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH).  I haven’t always been and am not always very consistent when it comes to praying it.  But that is because I am not very consistent at anything generally, and am not very consistent at praying specifically.  But any semblance of consistency at prayer that has developed over the last few years has almost exclusively been due to the LOTH. 

My interest in this type of prayer began prior to converting when I read a book by Philip Yancey, though I am not sure which one.  In it, he described arid periods in his prayer life in which the only thing he could do was read pre-composed prayers.  I believe he also commented that ones that he had used were composed by Lancelot Andrewes, an Anglican divine of the 17th Century.  My prayer life being characterized at the time as a state of continual and everlasting aridity, I quickly snapped up the idea.  I found his prayers on-line, edited them for modern day language, shortened them significantly, and made them more consistent (I think) in terms of their structure.  I read those prayers every day as long as I was in the Episcopal Church.  Part of the motivation, I think, was doing something new.  Not just new to me, though it was, but also new to my circle of friends and family.  There was a sense of going against the grain of my surroundings, and also of rediscovering practices of the past, even if it was, in this case, the Protestant past. 

But also, the increased structure of this type of prayer helped me immensely to just do it.  There was no need to try to come up with a steady stream of stream-of-consciousness words, non-repetitive in nature, at 5:00 am.  I could get up and do it.  There was surely some time of “personal prayer” incorporated, but it didn’t need to occupy the whole time.  I could finally pray, offer a significant chunk of my time to God, first thing in the day.  Over time, this has developed into a pretty strong habit.  Not one that I necessarily have adhered to with alarming consistency, but one that I certainly notice when I don’t do it.  It now takes a deliberate act of the will to omit my prayers, as opposed to the opposite.  I do, though, deliberately will to omit them more than I should.

I had been exposed to the writings of Kathleen Norris also, around the same time.  She is one of those Protestants who is very open to co-opting “whatever works”, and is thus very open to the goodness of certain Catholic traditions and practices.  Her books are often structured around the rhythms of the LOTH, and so I developed an intense fascination with the concept of regular, rhythmic prayers that followed a seasonal structure.

So all of this was fertile soil for the time when I was first exposed to the LOTH, during our weekly RCIA meetings.  Every Monday night, we would end our meeting with Night Prayer, with various people filling in the various roles.  In hindsight, having multiple people doing different parts made it more confusing than it needed to be.  But we all eventually caught on.  And I have never looked back.  My own cobbled-together Lancelot-based prayers went in the trash. 

For my birthday, which was 8 days post-conversion, I received the Shorter Christian Prayer, which I used regularly.  But before long, I upgraded to the larger Christian Prayer book.  But it later came to my attenton that I was missing the Office of Readings, which contains great season-appropriate readings from the Church Fathers.  So I slowly purchased the complete set of the LOTH, two books for Ordinary Time, one for Advent and Christmas, and one for Lent and Easter.  Surely that was it.  But no, it came to my attention last year that there is a Psalter out there that makes it easier to chant the liturgy.  And so I purchased the Mundelein Psalter.  Very cool.  Though it is difficult to chant at 5:30 am.  My voice stinks most of the time, but is particularly bad in the early morning, while trying to mute the sound so as not to wake the children.  So I don’t use that all that much, except when I am trying to change things up a bit.

I suppose learning the structure of the LOTH is a bit of a challenge, but there are plenty of websites to help (this one helped me a lot back in the day).  One of the hardest things for me, and one that I still need to look at the instructions for, is to figure which parts to say on specific feast days.  Depending on whether it’s a feast, a memorial, an optional memorial etc, different psalms are supposed to be recited.  I did it wrong for years before figuring out there was a rule.  Also, Night Prayer typically ends with a Marian antiphon.  And I have heard whispers of rumors that there are specific antiphons designated, maybe not officially, but perhaps traditionally, for specific seasons.  But I am not sure.  Also, none of the recent saints (e.g., Padre Pio) have an office yet.  Maybe that will change soon, I dunno.  Lastly, some of the translations, especially of the Bible readings in the Office of Readings, are horrendous. 

That said, without the LOTH, my soul would wither and die.  It is my lifeline to God, the only assured means of keeping the lines of communication open for me.  Other’s mileage will vary.


~ by Rob on November 18, 2009.

4 Responses to “Liturgy of the Hours”

  1. Oh yes, flipping around in the LOH book is lots of fun! I’ve gotten my ribbons set pretty well where I can be fairly adept at moving through each of the hours. But dang, those commons can be tough.

    Case in point: yesterday was St. Elizabeth of Hungary (a personal fave). Being a Memorial, you start off in the 4-week psalter. You had to go to the Common of Holy Women: for those who work for the underprivileged to get the antiphon for the Benedictus and Magnificat, but to the regular Common of Holy Women for the reading and intercessions, then to the Proper of the Saints for the closing prayer. Well, for Lauds and Vespers. The Office of Readings, Daytime Prayer, and Night Prayer are completely different animals.

    Eventually you just learn where you’re supposed to take everything from based on the rank of the day; it does become second nature.

    As for the Marian Antiphons:
    *Alma Redemptoris Mater is for Advent and Christmas (thru the Presentation)
    *Ave Regina Caelorum follows up through the end of Holy Week
    *Regina Coeli during the Easter Season
    *Salve Regina from Pentecost to the end of Ordinary Time

  2. i really wish that i could get in the habit of the praying the LOTH. i generally do well with doing morning prayer for the beginning of the year, then taper off right around Lent. Sigh.

    Not to add another thing for you, but have you heard of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s structured like the LOTH, but the prayers/reading etc are all focused around Mary.
    Nice for a change.

    Honestly, I think that half the fun of praying the LOTH is playing around with the ribbons…

    • Lent’s when you pick it up a notch and go Morning *and* Evening. Next thing you know, it’s May and you’ve got a decent habit. Easier said than done.

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