Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Praying with the Church

I wasn't initially sure how I would approach the following post. I knew I wanted to write about Liturgy of the Hours, but what should I write? A full account of its history? Well, I don't really know all that, and I don't know how interesting that would be. A full, step-by-step description of how to pray it? Again, I'm no expert, and that isn't really what this blog is about.

So I'll just tell you about how I came to learn about the Liturgy of the Hours. I'll probably sprinkle in some tidbits about the history of the prayer and how it is prayed, for those who are curious.

You might be wondering, "What is the Liturgy of the Hours?" Perhaps you've heard of it, but never really known much about it. Or maybe you've never heard of it at all. The very basic concept behind Liturgy of the Hours is saying certain prayers, centered around the Psalms and other Scripture readings, at certain hours of the day. The practice has been around since the early days of the Church, and that was continuing a long-held Jewish custom of praying certain prayers throughout the day.

The Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office, took different forms as time went on, and became a very important part of monastic life. Eventually, at the Second Vatican Council, it took the form it has today. It is made up of the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer (which can be split into three prayers at three different times - Mid-Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, and Mid-Afternoon Prayer), Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.

I was first introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours was during a family vacation when I was in middle school. Among other places, we visited St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. If you're not familiar with the name, you might be familiar with Abbey Press, which is operated by the Benedictine monks at St. Meinrad. We were able to take part in Evening Prayer, also known as Vespers, with the monks. It was a cool experience, but I didn't really fully know what Liturgy of the Hours was at the time.

I learned a bit more about it when I was in high school. Our parish had an organization called CYO - Catholic Youth Organization. We met Sunday evenings during the school year. Our priest taught us how to pray Night Prayer, and we prayed it at the end of every meeting. However, since Night Prayer for a given day is the same from week to week, we were just praying the same prayer each Sunday; I was only getting a small piece of the puzzle.

Fast forward to sophomore year of college, when I found myself at St. Meinrad Archabbey again. I was attending a college in Chicago, and was involved in Catholic Campus Ministry. The pastor at my parish was a Benedictine priest based out of St. Meinrad, and he invited us to a retreat at the Archabbey. During the retreat, we prayed the different prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours - sometimes as a small group, and sometimes with the Benedictines. Participating in those prayers, I felted connected to a larger community, with the universal Church. I was saying the same prayers that people were praying on the other side of the world. I was also connected to the Church throughout history, by taking part in a form of prayer that went back centuries.

After the retreat, I decided to look more into Liturgy of the Hours, and to start praying it regularly. I ordered a copy of Shorter Christian Prayer, which was the book we had prayed Night Prayer out of in high school. I also found a website that had all the prayers for each day, but I quickly realized it was a different translation, and decided to stick with the book for the time being.


Over time, I got comfortable with the structure of the prayer. Each prayer starts with an opening phrase. (Evening and Night Prayer start with "God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.") Then, you pray the psalmody. For Morning and Evening Prayer, this consists of two psalms (or portions of a longer psalm) and a canticle (a passage from another book of the Bible, like Isaiah or one of Paul's letters). Each psalm or canticle has an antiphon that you say at the beginning. At the end of the psalm or canticle, you say the Glory Be, and then repeat the antiphon again. Then, there is a reading (a passage from Scripture), and a response, followed by the Gospel Canticle (which has its own antiphon as well). The Gospel Canticle for Morning Prayer is the Canticle of Zechariah, or Benedictus: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free..." Evening Prayer has the Canticle of Mary, a.k.a. the Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..." And Night Prayer has the Canticle of Simeon: "Lord, now you let your servant go in peace..." After the Gospel Canticle, Night Prayer goes right to the concluding, but Morning and Evening Prayer also have intercessions and the Our Father.

As I kept praying, the prayers became a part of my daily life. I upgraded from Shorter Christian Prayer to the larger book Christian Prayer. I didn't always pray all of the prayers, but I would at least try to get one prayer in each day, even if it was just the unofficial translation of Night Prayer on my phone.

Between my junior and senior years of college, I did a summer internship in Germany. I brought my Christian Prayer book with me, and prayed morning prayer on my way to the work in the morning, and evening prayer on my way home. One day, as I was riding the bus to work, a German woman sitting next to me started talking. I spoke almost no German (only English was required for the internship), so I had no idea what she was saying. But she was smiling, and pointing at my book, so I knew it was something good.

I related this story, as well as the other spiritual benefits I was getting from praying the Liturgy of the Hours, to my then-girlfriend (now-wife) Jess. She asked me if, once we were back at school, I could teach her how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It became one of the things we did together, and a way we grew together spiritually. When we were engaged, and living about an hour's drive apart, we would even occasionally pray Night Prayer together over the phone or Skype.

We still pray Night Prayer together fairly often. Now we use the iBreviary app on our phones to pray. It's a lot easier to use (no flipping back and forth to different pages). We've also found that if the Christian Prayer books don't happen to be handy, we're a lot more likely to pray if we can just pull up the app on our phones than if one of us would have to go get the books. I also pray Morning Prayer every week day during my walk. I find it's a great way to start the day.

While my prayer life is still growing, I consider the Liturgy of the Hours to be an important part of it. There have been times where it seemed like my prayers were too mechanical. That I was just saying the words, and not really praying. I tried dropping Morning Prayer, and praying spontaneously instead each morning. But then I found that my routine wasn't there anymore, and I found it hard to keep my focus while praying. I recognized that I did need to incorporate more mental prayer and meditation into my prayer life, removing the Liturgy of the Hours was not the answer. By having the Divine Office as the foundation of my daily prayer, I am uniting my prayers to people all around the world. I am praying with the Church.

Catholic Pick: Shorter Christian Prayer and Christian Prayer

I'm going to try something a little different with my pick this week. You may have noticed that the URL to my blog recently changed from "geekycatholicdad.blogspot.com" to just "geekycatholicdad.com". In order to do that, I had to purchase a domain name. It's not a financial burden or anything, but I'd like to be able to offset those costs a bit. So I became an Amazon Affiliate. If I'm ever recommending a product, I'll create a special link to that item's listing on Amazon. If you decide you want to buy that item, you can click on the link, and purchase it. If you use my link, I will get a small percentage of the profit that Amazon would normally get. (The cost of the item will not be changed at all for you.) I'm not expecting to make a whole bunch of money this way, but if you will be buying a product anyway, it would be nice if you could use the link in my post. (The exception would be if you are related to me. I think that might violate Amazon's terms and conditions, and I'd rather not open that can of worms.) Thanks! Okay, on to the pick.

As I stated in the main post, I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours using two different books. If you aren't totally familiar with how to pray the prayers, and would like to get started, I would recommend Shorter Christian Prayer. It contains everything you need to pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. There are special readings and antiphons to use during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, as well as some of the feast days.

You can find Shorter Christian Prayer here.

If you are a bit more experienced with the prayers, or you would like a more complete version, I recommend Christian Prayer. In addition to also including the Office of Readings and the Daytime Prayers, Christian Prayer has a more complete selection of readings and antiphons for the liturgical seasons. For example, while Shorter Christian prayer has readings for Mondays in Advent, Tuesdays in Advent, etc., Christian Prayer has Monday of the First Week of Advent, Monday of the Second Week of Advent, etc. There are also more feast days included.

You can find Christian Prayer here.

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Oh, and you might have seen that I posted a review of Doctor Strange last weekend. If you held off on reading it because you hadn't seen the movie yet, you can always find the review, and any other reviews I post in the future, by navigating to the Reviews page. If you're on a computer, you'll see a navigation bar at the top of this page with links to "Home," "About the Blog," "GCD Picks," and "Reviews." If you're on a mobile device, just scroll to the top of this page, and click on the gray dropdown menu that says "Home," then click on "Reviews." Thanks!

2 comments:

  1. I texted your wife a zillion questions when I was getting started. Then when I was too embarrassed to ask them all again I texted Monica. Glad I have so many holy friends!

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    1. Yeah, I thought about adding more "how to" in this post, but I wasn't sure how interesting it would be. Plus, I'd be too worried about messing stuff up. They say you can't really pray "wrong" (God's not going to take points off if you say the wrong antiphon on St. Patrick's Day), but I still like to get it right.

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