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This essay defines the concept of liturgy and explains the nature of the Liturgy of the Hours, (henceforth cited as the LOTH.) It will refer to ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium,’ the ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,’ (henceforth cited as SC,) the primary teaching document on the liturgy originating from Vatican II, to indentify why the Council Fathers felt it was necessary to restore and promote the LOTH, based on the normative liturgical principle of, ”full, conscious and active participation,” (SC, n14.) The essay also examines, broadly, the antecedents of the LOTH. In conjunction with this overview of the liturgy per se, and the antecedents of the LOTH, a schema can be extracted from the ‘General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours,’ to aggregately facilitate how the parish can get more from the LOTH. Synonymously the LOTH is also known as ‘The Divine Office,’ ‘The Office,’ or ‘The Breviary’ and this interchange is reflected in the essay.
“Liturgy designates the official public prayer of the Church,” (Collins, 1987.) The etymology of the word, ‘liturgy’, or to use the Greek word, leitourgia, originates from a combination of two Greek words, laos (people) and ergon (work,) (Collins, 1987.). The Church’s liturgy, is centred on the Eucharist so that, “all other liturgical assemblies are either an anticipation or an extension of the Eucharistic assembly,” (Collins, 1987.)
SC teaches that Jesus manifests himself uniquely in the celebration of the Mass; the administration of the sacraments; the reading of Scripture, and when we pray and sing. “Liturgy is therefore a priestly action of Christ and his Body, us, the Church,” (SC, n14.) All liturgies should be ordered to this structure.
The objective of SC was to, “restore and promote the Sacred Liturgy in its entirety.” (SC, n7.) Chapter four of SC deals specifically with the LOTH, as part of the application of the aforementioned objective. The LOTH is a “wonderful song of praise,” and, “it is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father,” (SC, n84.) The Council Fathers set out to change the culture that existed amongst some clergy, where it was the custom to recite the whole of the day’s Office at once. The reformed approach is for,”each of the Hours (to) be prayed at the time which corresponds to its true canonical time,” (SC n94,) thus sanctifying the day with prayer. Additionally the laity were encouraged to recite the Office, “either with priests, amongst themselves, or even individually,” (SC, n100.)
The core structure of the LOTH, with some variation pending the Hour recited, is composed of an opening hymn, the recitation of several psalms, a reading from the Sacred Scriptures and concluding prayers. The individual hours also facilitate Sacred Silence as a constitutive element of prayer. “The LOTH presumes regular gatherings of the Christian people...morning and evening for public praise, thanksgiving, lament and intercession in Christ’s name and in communion with him.” (Collins, 1987.) Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the chief hours or offices, and, ‘the hinges’ of the Office, (SC, n 89.) The other hours are, The Office of Readings, Prayer during the Day (before noon, at midday and afternoon,) and Night Prayer. Thus, there are seven prayer opportunities during the day. Muslims also have a practice of formal prayer, known as ‘Salah,’ when they pray five times a day, (Internet Source 1.) This is binding on adult Muslims, whereas there are varying degrees of obligation on Catholics in respect of the recitation of the LOTH, pending their ecclesial status.
The roots of the LOTH, can be traced from the outset. The Church is recorded in Acts 2:42 as praying in common. This was not unique but consistent with the Jewish practice of praying three times a day, however, Christians focused on reciting the Our Father. As a point of note, the Our Father has not been incorporated in the set of minor Offices making up the hours of Prayer during the Day. There was also the personal example of Jesus, and his insistence on the necessity of prayer, Lk 18:1. The LOTH gradually developed over the centuries to become, “enriched with readings, principally a prayer of praise and supplication,” (Internet Source 2, n2.) A substantial element of the LOTH is the recitation of the psalms as prayers. The word ‘psalm’ means, ‘songs sung to a stringed instrument,’ (Atherton, 2002.). The psalms “reflect the spectrum of Israel’s piety and belief over the whole course of its history,” (Atherton, 2002,) and comprise of one hundred and fifty psalms, characterized by praise, lament and instruction. Such a range, representative of broad human experience, implies a utility for worship that is also pragmatically scheduled over a four-weekly cycle in the LOTH. It can be asserted that the psalms have collectively, ‘become the most widely used and best-loved prayer book in the world,’ (Atherton, 2002.)
By the fourth century, a cycle of prayer was established in local cathedrals, where the ‘Office’ was recited by clerics. Parallel to this was the rising influence of monasticism and the increasing involvement of the laity in their prayer, through associations with specific monasteries. Gradually a synergy occurred from the mix of monastic and cathedral ‘Offices,’ resulting in the immediate lineage of the current LOTH. However, in subsequent centuries, there was a decline in the participation of the laity in cathedral prayer. Consequently, by the 12th century, the Divine Office was relegated to the private prayers of the priest and religious, and recited in common mostly in monastic houses, (Brook, 1992.) There were revisions to the LOTH over the centuries, however, it could be argued that the most fundamental revision was undertaken at Vatican II because, ‘the Council treated the...hours...with such thoroughness and skill, such spirituality and power, that there is scarcely a parallel to the Council's work in the entire history of the Church,” (Internet Source 3.)
The desire of the Council was that the LOTH, ‘becomes the prayer of the whole people of God,” (CCC, p1175.) How can this be achieved in my parish? A starting point must be liturgical catechesis, so that the LOTH is established within the framework of liturgy as understood and taught by the Council. As part of this a simple overview of the roots of the LOTH, and its development in the practical tradition of the Church over the centuries, utilising the content of this essay, would be useful.
Because of its ecclesial character, the parish is a natural target for the celebration of the LOTH. It could celebrate it during Exposition, as part of Solemn Evening Prayer. A good starting point for someone new to the Office could be the Office of Night Prayer, because of its simplicity amongst the Offices.
There is also the facility to incorporate the LOTH into the Mass. Instruction as to how this can be achieved is outlined in the detailed, and sometimes complex, ‘General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours,’ specifically norms 93-95. This would bring the LOTH to the attention of the whole parish, and act as an impetus for those who want to study the LOTH further.
The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours recommends that the more important hours i.e. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, could be celebrated in common in church, (Internet Source 4,n21.) The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, also recommends the celebration of the LOTH during parish meetings, and ‘whenever the laity is gathered,’ (Internet Source 5, n27.) This is a laudable practice to introduce, as it would help to embed the LOTH into the parish culture, outside of Mass and other services.
What is the ‘more’ that the parish can get from recitation of the Office? At first, the Office may seem complex, with its strategic positioning of ribbons and frequent turning from one section to another. However, persistence with, ‘the Divine Office is an enormous help in tackling the problem of discipline in prayer, because it provides a pattern of prayers that can easily be built into our daily habits,” (Brook, 1992.) Such persistence over the long term can only have benefits that divinize the individual by this ‘soaking’ in the prayer of Christ and his Church to the Father, especially the incorporation of the Scripture elements of the LOTH into personal and communal lectio divina. An application to the parish at large can potentially energise mission activities and the growth in holiness of life for the parish.
This essay has shown how my parish could get more from the LOTH, by the application of a simple methodology, extracted from the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours. This can be underpinned by a liturgical catechesis that focuses on the nature of liturgy, as taught by the Church in ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium,’ the historical roots of the LOTH, and its development in the practical tradition of the Church. In this manner the incorporation of the LOTH into the many aspects of parish life, communally and individually, with a view to increasing holiness and energising mission activities can be realised. It can therefore be said that, ‘through this constant diet of Sacred Scripture, not only does God speak his Word to us, not only do we contemplate over and over again the central mysteries of salvation, but our own lives are gradually attuned to this rhythm,’ (Taft, 1986.) And, from the perspective of Pope Paul VI writing in ‘Laudis Canticum,’ promulgating the reformed LOTH, enables “the fullness of divine worship contained in the eucharistic sacrifice (to) overflow to reach all the hours of daily life,” (Internet Source 6.)
Atherton, R, 2002. New Light, Discovering the Psalms in the Prayer of the Church. Redemptorist Publications 2002 pp. 13-14
Brook, J. 1992.The School of Prayer, An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians. The Liturgical Press. Minnesota p.14 & p.5.
CCC. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2007.London: Burns & Oates.
Flannery, A. 1998. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium. In The Vatican Collection, Vatican Council II, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition ed, Vol. One, Dublin. Dominican Publications.
Komonchak J. et al. (edd.), 1987. The New Dictionary of Theology. Article on Liturgy by Mary Collins OSB. London. by Gill & Macmillan.
Taft, R. 1986. The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, Minnesota. The Liturgical Press. p368.
Internet Source 1: Accessed 23/02/10 http://www.sunna.info/prayer/TheBasicsoftheMuslimsPrayer.php
Internet Source 2, 5 : Accessed 20/02/10 http://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources/Rites/GILH.pdf
Internet Source 3, 6 : Accessed 19/02/10 http://www.catholicliturgy.com/texts/laudiscanticum.txt