After the isolation of the 2020 COVID lockdowns, when all the churches in my area were closed and it was impossible to attend Sunday Mass in person, I decided that I needed to find a way to participate in the life of the Church and remain close to Jesus in prayer, even when I did not have access to the Sacraments. I am a creature of habit; I thrive on structure and routine. Spontaneous mental prayer and reflective meditation just don’t work for me. My roving mind and imagination can’t focus, leading to frustration and discouragement. After trying many different devotions, I’ve finally found a method of daily prayer that seems almost tailor-made for me – the Liturgy of the Hours.
Structured around the Psalms, the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is prayed by clergy and religious as part of their daily obligations. I first learned about the Divine Office when I was a teenager, but I had forgotten about it for many years. Shortly before the pandemic, I was discerning whether or not I had a vocation as a lay friar. Although I ultimately concluded that I was not at that time called to this commitment, I found the rhythm of structured daily prayer that was a cornerstone of religious life appealing. During lockdown, I felt that God was providing me with an opportunity to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours.
Laypeople often use an abridged version of the Office including three core “hours” (Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer). Indeed, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council desired a greater familiarity of the laity with the Liturgy of the Hours, writing in “Sacrosanctum Concilium” that “the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”
As I mentioned, I was first introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours when I was in high school. I attended a small private Catholic boarding school, today known as Gregory the Great Academy. Every evening before “lights out,” the student body gathered in the school chapel for Night Prayer, also known as Compline. We chanted the Psalms together and ended by singing the hauntingly beautiful “Salve Regina.”
During the pandemic, I started reading Scripture every day thanks to the Bible in a Year Podcast, and I was especially drawn towards the Psalms. What captivated me was the intense and often raw emotions conveyed by the Psalms. Each of these biblical hymns are all relatable in some way: Whether as a song of praise and gratitude to God, or a lamentation in the face of hardships, or a sincere contrition for sins. The Psalms also allowed me to step outside myself. For example, even if I am not experiencing in the moment the fear, pain, or anguish of the psalmist, I can offer the psalm on behalf of suffering Christians in dangerous parts of the world. This helps my prayer to transcend my own personal concerns and become prayer for others.
The Divine Office, which revolves around the Psalms, seemed like a perfect fit for me. But learning how to pray the Office can be daunting. The standard Liturgy of the Hours books are expensive, and they can be difficult for beginners to navigate. Then I heard that Bishop Robert Barron’s popular Word on Fire apostolate had begun a Liturgy of the Hours initiative, producing monthly prayer booklets to make the abridged Divine Office more accessible to the average layperson.
After I got my first booklet in the mail, Morning and Evening Prayer
soon became the indispensable pillars of my day around which all my other activities were oriented. Praying the Office has become almost second nature, and I look forward to it every day.
Of course, the Liturgy of the Hours will not work for everyone. Those who thrive on meditative or spontaneous prayer, who enjoy simply “talking to Jesus,” may be put off by the structure of the Divine Office. But if you love the rhythm and flow of public liturgies like the Mass and you’ve found meditative and spontaneous prayer to be more frustrating than spiritually fulfilling, I recommend you explore the Liturgy of the Hours. It may be the way that Christ is calling you to grow closer to him and his Church.