O God, Come to my Assistance
O Lord, make haste to help me.(Ps 70:2) With this simple invitation and response, people all over the world pause to pray. If you have ever seen your parish priest with a leatherbound book with colorful ribbons, chances are he is not catching up on his “David Copperfield”; he is praying the Psalms. Every day bishops, priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters and members of the lay faithful pray the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office or the breviary). Liturgy refers to a public work of worshipping God. Liturgy is also God working in his people’s lives when they worship. God makes our acts of worship holy because they are directed to him. In the Liturgy of the Hours, God makes holy even the moments of our day when we pause and direct ourselves to him in prayer. The title Divine Office envisions setting aside time and space to be with the Lord. Think of a doctor or professor keeping office hours to be available to help patients and students. The breviary refers to a shortened book of all the many prayers from morning to night that one could conveniently carry with them (or install as an app on a smartphone).
All the Ends of the Earth (Ps 98:3)
The Liturgy of the Hours (LOH) is the official daily prayer of the Church outside of the Mass. At the heart of the LOH is the Book of Psalms, the prayer book of the Old Testament. At five times during the day (morning, midday, evening, night and another time one chooses) Christians unite with God and others around the world in prayer. Your priests, deacons and religious make promises to pray all or a certain amount of the LOH when they are ordained or make a religious profession. In recent years, a large number of the lay faithful have begun to participate in the LOH on their own or with spouses, family members and co-workers.
The beauty of the LOH is the knowledge that throughout the day someone, somewhereis praying the Psalms. While the seminarians at Sacred Heart gather for morning prayer (7:10 AM!), a group of religious sisters in Rome pray midday prayer, as a family in India prepares for evening prayer and Archbishop Byrnes in Guam begins night prayer. The Psalms are the inspired words of Scripture that speak to every genuine human emotion and relate it to God in praise, thanksgiving, joy, lament, admission of our own faults or trust in God’s care. Even when the way we feel while praying does not match the words of the Psalm, we trust that somewhere in the Church someone is experiencing that Psalm’s emotion. Hopefully, this encourages us to offer our prayer for them and in union with them.
Finally, the Psalms were the prayers that Jesus himself prayed throughout his earthly life. Mary and Joseph would have taught him the words, and he would have prayed the Psalms constantly with his disciples. Saint Augustine said that when we pray the Psalms, Jesus “prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our head, he is the object of our prayer as our God. Let us then hear our voices in his voice, and his voice in ours.” (Discourse on Psalm 85)
My Soul Sings Psalms to You Unceasingly (Ps 30:13)
Morning and Evening Prayer are the principal prayer times in the LOH. The other prayer times are modeled upon them. At Morning Prayer, after an invitation to prayer and an opening hymn, we pray two psalms and one Old Testament canticle. Then, we read a short Scripture passage, observe a time of silence and offer a response to the reading. We pray the words of Zechariah “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (Lk 1:68-79) every morning, followed by intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer and a closing prayer. The main difference at Evening Prayer is that the canticle after the Psalms comes from the New Testament, and every evening we pray Our Lady’s Magnificat “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” (Lk 1:46-55) Morning Prayer is about praising God for the gift of the new day, while Evening Prayer becomes an act of thanksgiving for what God has accomplished in us as the day closes.
The Thoughts of My Heart Are Before You, LORD (See Ps. 19:15)
When you first begin to pray the LOH, it can be overwhelming. If you use the book, there are lots of ribbons and page turns to navigate. If you go the digital route, there are apps like iBreviary and Laudate that can help you start navigating your way around the LOH more easily. You will soon find yourself getting into the rhythm of daily prayer which is exactly what the LOH envisions! The most important thing for anyone who is considering starting the LOH is simply that: to start praying the Psalms and “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17)
Ask someone who prays the LOH to pray it with you and teach you (Soon you will be able to invite someone else who does not pray the LOH to join you!) If spouses, engaged couples, men or women’s groups, bible studies or any parish group are looking for a way to begin praying together, there is no better way than the LOH. The Psalms are arranged in stanzas which makes recitation between couples or groups ideal. Soon, the Psalms will become a rich part of your daily prayer life, and you will be able to say with the Psalmist, “Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.” (Ps. 139:4)
Morning and Evening Resound with Joy (see Ps 65:9)
Consider praying a small portion of Morning and Evening Prayer for a week and see how it goes. The apps iBreviary and Laudate provide the entire text for the LOH. The US Bishops have also published a beautiful collection entitled The Abbey Psalms and Canticles. Try to set aside a consistent time in your day, when you know you will be able to have a few minutes of quiet prayer. (For each day the Benedictus is Lk 1:68-79 and the Magnificat is Lk 1:46-55)
Sunday morning: Psalm 63 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 110 and the Magnificat
Monday morning: Psalm 42 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 45 and the Magnificat
Tuesday morning: Psalm 24 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 138 and the Magnificat
Wednesday morning: Psalm 77 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 27 and the Magnificat
Thursday morning: Psalm 57 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 72 and the Magnificat
Friday morning: Psalm 51 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 145 and the Magnificat
Saturday morning: Psalm 117 and the Benedictus;
evening: Psalm 116 and the Magnificat