A few days ago I talked about the value of regular devotions to the interior life; and yesterday I talked about the Rosary. Today I’m going to talk about the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.
The Divine Office is a set of prayers based around the Psalms. It is called the Hours because there are different prayers for different times of the day, and if you read the kind of fiction I do you’ll recognize the older names for some of the hours: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.
It’s not quite correct to refer to the Divine Office as simply a devotion. A devotion is private prayer, while the Hours are a Liturgy, just like the Mass. The word “Liturgy” means a “public work”, and the Hours are part of the public work of the Church. When you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, you aren’t praying by yourself, even if you’re in your room with the door locked. You are praying with the monks in their monasteries and the sisters in the convents, with all of the secular clergy, and with the saints in heaven. More than this: a liturgy is a prayer of the whole Church, which is to say the Body of Christ. When you take part, you are praying with Christ Himself in His Intercessions with our Father in Heaven.
OK, that’s kind of scary. Let’s bring it down to earth a bit.
Even though the Hours aren’t simply a devotion, praying the Hours has all of the same advantages as any devotion: there’s a set of prayers to say, and a structure for saying them. You don’t need to be endlessly creative; the prayers are there for you. You know what to say, and you know when you’ve said them, and you can judge for yourself whether you paid attention to God or not.
(Don’t be dismayed if you have trouble paying attention to God. Remember that kitchen remodel! The real work is going on even while you’re floundering.)
The Divine Office is an enormous topic, so I’ll be spending another post or two on it.