When I first began praying the Liturgy of the Hours, I complained, like many before me, that the prayer took too long and was too complicated.
Over time, as I prayed more, I experienced the rhythm of praying each of the services of Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office, and I came to understand the flow of the office and why this prayer is so necessary to the life of a Christian.
Robert Taft’s comprehensive study The Liturgy of the Hours in the East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today helped me understand the significance of this prayer.
In the book, Taft tells us that what distinguishes the Divine Office is that it is biblical, objective, and traditional. The pattern of the prayer was established by the early Church, as can be seen in Colossians 1:13-14; 4:2 and Philippians 1:3-11, and has been prayed consistently since then. Besides this, the Psalms are central to the office, as is the Our Father, the Magnificat or the Song of the Theotokos, and other biblical songs and passages.
As a memorial of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Divine Office is objective; in praying this memorial, we experience salvation history at different hours of the day and throughout the course of the year.
Even though we mark the hours in time, as with the Divine Liturgy or the Mass, when we pray the Liturgy of Hours we experience God’s eternal kingdom, which is outside our understanding of time.
While the Divine Office is prayed publicly in community, and some believe this is the best way for the office to be prayed, it also is prayed in private by clergy, religious, and laity.
Even when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours in private, we do not pray alone. Our prayer is joined to that of the angels and the saints in heaven and the prayer of the many others saying these same prayers throughout the world.
In praying the Liturgy of the Hours, we begin our day, dedicate our day, and end our day worshiping and praising the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We pray to keep the commandments of the Lord with our whole heart and to praise the Lord with every breath.
We mourn our sins, rejoice that we have joined the race, and know without a doubt that we are gaining the strength to endure the race to the end.
We acknowledge that God is Holy and Mighty and Immortal and that he has been our refuge through the ages.
One of the most important aspects of the Liturgy of the Hours is that we learn to pray and watch and so to answer the Lord’s command to be watchful:
“Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Mt 24:42)
“Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:13)
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Mt 26:4)
“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare, for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and stand before the Son of man.” (Lk 21:34-36)
In learning to pray and watch, we learn to recognize our weaknesses and our sins, and we learn how to work with God to correct them. In praying for God’s mercy for others and ourselves, we learn humility.
Through the Divine Office, our interior life is transformed. Our private prayer outside the Liturgy of the Hours, our lectio divina, our Jesus Prayer, our Rosary becomes more intense, more fruitful. Like the five wise virgins, we keep our lamps filled with oil so that we are ready for the bridegroom and the wedding feast.
In praying the Liturgy of the Hours we experience, Taft tells us, “the awesome privilege” of witnessing now the “vision of a saved universe transformed into that hymn of cosmic praise before the throne of the Lamb.”
We experience, therefore, “what our end is to be.”
For these reasons and more the Divine Office, as Taft says, is the Church’s school of prayer and its best form of daily prayer.
I once complained about the difficulty of this prayer, but now I cannot imagine a day without it.