Chapter Four of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy focuses on what is properly called the prayer of the Church, known as the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. My guess is that most people associate this prayer with the daily prayers of those who live in a monastic setting or as the private prayer of priests. The council, however, encourages a wider use of this prayer by all the faithful as a way of making each day holy through continual prayer.
By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; lt is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.
I must admit that it was only when I began to seriously consider entering the seminary that I began to pray this prayer of the Church. It began with what we called our “Monday Night Group” in Chattanooga. The “Monday Night Group”, even when we met on Thursdays, ended our time by praying what is known as Compline or Night Prayer. This group was comprised of several men who were considering the priesthood, along with Fr. Al Humbrecht who hosted this group to actively promote the discernment of religious vocations. It was later in the seminary and with the Benedictines that I gained an even greater appreciation for this form of prayer.
One of the things that should make this prayer attractive to Christians is that it is primarily made of the Psalms. As noted in the quote from the Council above, these Biblical prayers would have been the prayerbook of Christ. How blessed are we to be given the opportunity each day to pray as Christ prayed! I also came away from my seminary days with a hope that we would soon see a widespread use of this prayer, not only by priests and religious, but by the laity. This could be done either communally, or individually. It is still one of my goals to establish a common time for this prayer at St. Thomas, even if it to pray only one of the hours each day. Every time we have to cancel a daily mass due to both of our priests being unavailable, I lament the fact that this in not yet a goal that has been realized. This is one form of liturgical prayer that does not require a member of the clergy’s presence which would make it perfect for daily prayer in any parish that could be prayed both when a priest is present or when there is simply a group of the laity gathered for daily prayer.
One thing that I noted from reading chapter four that I had missed before was the following:
Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.
I have never been in a parish where this was practiced on a regular basis, but I think it would be terrific to spend the time necessary to promote this practice in our parishes, even if it were only attended by a few. Reading these documents of the Church never fails to challenge me to a greater responsibility in my role as a member of the clergy. Here is a prime example of an area of instruction that I missed somewhere along the way. I will have to work towards including more opportunities for the communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours in our parish.
What has been your experience of the Divine Office? Have you been in a parish where it is prayed regularly or where people are encouraged to pray it individually? If so, how well was the prayer received? Your comments as always are welcomed.