The Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office) is part of the official liturgy of the Church. Contrary to popular belief, it is not solely the prayer of priests and religious. All are encouraged to pray the psalms, readings, canticles and prayers at the specified times of day. The main prayer times in the modern version are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, with a shorter prayer at Mid-Day.
In my younger days, I spent a year in a Benedictine Priory discerning a religious vocation. One of my fondest memories was the daily rhythm of prayer. The bells tolling the call to chapel were a welcome relief from the work. It was a chance to stop and rest awhile, although the prayer itself took some energy. You had to learn the liturgical calendar and weekly cycles. Multi-colored tabs and ribbons had their own code to help navigate between seasonal and daily prayers with ease. True Benedictine hospitality ensured that visitors were always given a companion to help them fully participate with the community.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the praying of the Hours in a variety of places. On a visit to London with my Mom, we discovered that Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral were closed to tourists during prayer times. But all were welcome to join the community in prayer. So, we did. At St. Paul’s, on a quiet evening, we were even invited to sit in the choir seats. There we were, two Catholic women surrounded by the colorful robes and glorious sound of the Anglican cathedral choir chanting the Evensong. We experienced the real worship space, not just the historical tourist destination.
I’ve been welcomed into the praying community of many Religious Brothers and Sisters in my travels, and am always struck by the hospitality. All is done to ensure that you have the necessary books. Pages are opened for you. And, if you are lost, there always seems to be a pair of eyes that you can catch for help. This is especially appreciated when the prayers aren’t in English. 🙂
Recently, I’ve made some small steps into revisiting this prayer form. It took some time to re-learn the structure and I’m sure I won’t be able to maintain a daily discipline. But there is still a comfort in the psalms and a deep connection knowing you aren’t praying them alone.