Ha! See the pun I made? It’s even grammatically correct!
Seriously, though, I recently started praying the Divine Office / Liturgy of the Hours. I didn’t really plan to; it just coincided with something else that I felt like I should be doing in my life, and here I am!
I remember hearing about the Liturgy of the Hours from the very beginning of my exploration of Catholicism. The idea was appealing; I had always greatly admired Islam for its 5-times-a-day prayer, and the concept of formally acknowledging God at predetermined parts of the day made a lot of sense to me.
The problem was that every time I investigated further, I was discouraged by the number of people who complained about how complicated and confusing it was, and how they could never figure it out, etc. etc. So, being the lazy and self-detracting person that I am, I concluded that I’d never be able to do something so (apparently) complicated, so I never bothered to try.
Well, I am here today to tell you that it’s really not all that complicated, at least to a lay person who has low standards.
Here’s a back-lit picture of my books.
For me, of course, there have to be books. Partially because I lovelovelove books, but also because if you use one of the many, many digital options there are for the Liturgy of the Hours, then it’s not complicated at all, and you have no excuse for not doing it! 🙂
To me, the Divine Office is set up kinda like Mass. If you (like I do) follow Mass faithfully every Sunday in your little missalette, eventually you should be able to pick up on certain rhythms. Like: song, prayer, reading (with bracketed response before and after), psalm with responses, reading (with responses), homily, song, prayer, etc. etc. The Liturgy of the Hours is the same way, so once you pick up on the rhythm (which itself is not complicated), then you’re good to go.
I have always sucked at praying. I was raised Evangelical, so all prayer was supposed to be extemporaneous. So I always hated praying in front of other people, and even when alone, I always felt like my prayers were lacking. Since I’ve become Catholic, I tried to make my own little prayer book, carefully copying prayers that I liked into a notebook, even trying to divide them into morning and evening so that I could do them every day. Problem was, once I got the notebooks completed, I never used them.
I thought about being satisfied with the “Catholic minimum,” as I heard someone describe it: an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be, twice a day. That never worked either. For one thing, it’s so short that it wasn’t enough to re-orient my attention from whatever else I had going on. Plus, it’s really boring and repetitive.
So what with one thing and another, I picked up Shorter Christian Prayer a few weeks ago, and I’ve actually been able to stick with it — so far. Even though it’s greatly abbreviated, it’s great for beginners because it’s small and relatively cheap. You still have to learn how to flip ribbons, but that’s not that bad. Especially if you start in Ordinary Time; I started during Lent, so it’s a more complicated time. The book comes with one ribbon, but I have four in there that I usually use: one in the Ordinary (the instructional section that has the daily morning psalm), one in the Psalter (the four-week basic schedule of psalms for morning and evening), one in the Proper of Seasons (special readings and antiphons for Lent; in Ordinary Time I won’t need that one), and I ended up sticking one in Night Prayer once I added that to my rotation.
I am far from an expert, but this is my basic pattern for Morning Prayer:
- Inside cover, where I wrote in the Introduction: Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
- First ribbon in the Ordinary for the Invitatory Psalm and its antiphon: say the antiphon, the psalm, the Glory Be, and the antiphon again.
- Second ribbon in the Psalter: say antiphon 1, 1st psalm, Glory Be, antiphon 1 again.
- Say antiphon 2, canticle, Glory Be, antiphon 2 again.
- Say antiphon 3, 2d psalm, Glory Be, antiphon 3 again.
- Fourth ribbon (since it’s Lent; otherwise all this stuff is right there in the Psalter where you just were): say the reading, responsory, antiphon, Canticle of Zechariah, Glory be, antiphon again, intercessions, Our Father, prayer.
- Conclusion, which I also wrote inside the cover: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
See, that’s not so bad, is it? You only need the three ribbons, and once you go to each one, you finish that bit, then move to the next one.
Notes: I have omitted the hymns and “Psalm-prayers”; I have reason to believe that they are optional, and I plan to add them back as I gain proficiency.
This edition has the Canticle of Zechariah (said every morning) and the Canticle of Mary (said every evening) printed inside the front and back covers, which is great. I added the other couple little things that I need every time so that I don’t have to flip back to the first ribbon to find them. Otherwise, everything goes pretty much in order.
The first couple days I did it, I was loosey-goosey with the timing; I think I said Morning Prayer at 2 p.m. one day! Importantly for me, I didn’t set such a high standard that I was bound to fail and never try again, and I was super-relaxed about timing and mistakes. (St. Alphonsus, patron of the scrupulous, pray for us!) Which antiphon to use can get especially tricky sometimes, but I just went with it if I used the wrong one, or even started the wrong day or time and had to double up on a psalm or something.
I started just trying to do one “hour” (prayer) a day, and when that was easy, went to two, then added Night Prayer. Once I could be fairly certain that I would do Morning Prayer early enough that I didn’t have to take Shorter Christian Prayer with me when I left the house, I went back and picked up Daytime Prayer, which includes 3 potential hours for praying during the day (Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon). That one’s very slender, so it’s easy to throw into my bag, and short enough that I can get a couple in during the day.
Right now, my goal is to say no fewer than two “hours” a day. Often I exceed that, and sometimes the two are Midmorning and Night. And I’m still pretty flexible with the timing.
Daria Sockey has a nice blog about the Divine Office. She says,
Luckily we lay folk are not bound to do everything according to regulation. In fact we are encouraged to adapt the Divine Office to our situation.
I’m taking her word for it, so that’s why I’m giving myself lots of leeway. Truthfully, as regimented as it seems, I feel like the flexibility has been the most enabling thing for me. If I miss Morning Prayer, I have 5 chance to make up for it, and that’s not even counting the Office of Readings (which is above my level, at this point). I have acquired a one-volume edition of the Breviary, and one of the Office of Readings, but what I have so far is working for me right now. Once I master this level, I’ll move up. There are options for different postures at different parts of the prayers, and options for saints days and stuff, so I feel like this will never get boring. And it’s linked to the liturgical year, which is helpful if you’re like me, and you’re checking at church every Sunday to see what season we’re in…
Short version: I really like praying the Liturgy of the Hours; it’s not that complicated; and if you have trouble getting a good prayer routine going, I highly recommend trying at least one section of it every day!