Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week I described the care we take here in planning and celebrating the sacred liturgy, and I began by invoking the fifth of the Eight Principles of Evangelical Catholicism, which says in part: “The sacred liturgy, through which the seven Sacraments are celebrated and the Hours of praise are prayed, makes present to us the saving mysteries of the Lord Jesus.” But what are the Hours of praise?
The seven Sacraments of the New Covenant are the ordinary means of grace for disciples of the Lord Jesus, and we rightly emphasis the central place of the sacraments in Christian faith and life. But present alongside the sacraments — from the very beginning of the Church’s life — has been some form of liturgical prayer based on the Psalms and Canticles from both Old and New Testaments. This way of praying is truly liturgical rather than simply devotional, which means that it is a public act of divine worship, and over the centuries its structure has been adapted in various ways, while always leaving intact the essence of the one prayer called by two names: the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours. The Acts of the Apostles describes Christian life in Jerusalem in the first days after Pentecost with these words: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Or, as we might now put it, the early Christians accepted the apostles as their pastors, and they went to Mass and prayed the Office.
In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (which contains the vast majority of Catholics but does not include the 21 eastern ritual Churches — like the Maronite Church), the Liturgy of the Hours was revised after the Second Vatican Council and is now organized in a four volume book which provides the proper texts for praying the traditional seven Hours on each day of the year. Those Hours are: 1) Matins or the Office of Readings; 2) Lauds or Morning Prayer; 3) Terce or Midmorning Prayer; 4) Sext or Midday Prayer, 5) None or Midafternoon Prayer, 6) Vespers or Evening Prayer, and 7) Compline or Night Prayer.
Priests, deacons and religious men and women promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, but this way of praying is not reserved to the clergy and religious. Every baptized person is invited — even exhorted — to pray the Divine Office, and there are many printed and digital texts available to help you offer the Hours of praise. Later this fall we will offer a class on praying the Liturgy of the Hours to help you understand the structure and organization of the four volume book and the various available adaptations. For now, please join us today at 5 pm for Choral Evensong, which is the Anglican way of praying Vespers and parts of Compline, and plan to join us each Sunday of Advent at 5 pm for Solemn Vespers. A Catholic who does not pray the Liturgy of the Hours is trying to breathe with one lung and is then surprised that living the Christian life is so difficult. Come learn to offer the evening sacrifice of praise.