If I were to ask someone, “what is the public prayer of the Church,” I would typically get the answer of the Rosary. While the Rosary is a great devotion, the Church names a different prayer the “public prayer of the church:” “The divine office, because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 90). Yet very few lay people pray the divine office (aka the “Liturgy of the Hours;” praying the Psalms on a daily basis). It is often seen as the prayer of the priest, nun or monk.
While that is true, it is not meant to be reserved only to them. In fact, it is a prayer that is designed to unite the entire Church in prayer and has the capacity to truly deepen a person’s prayer life. Here are 5 reasons why you should consider praying the divine office daily:
1. The Divine Office Allows You to Pray Like Jesus
Historically Jews prayed at fixed intervals throughout the day. King David, who is believed to have wrote the Psalms, proclaims,
“Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.” (Psalm 55:17)
Even the prophet Daniel is shown to have a specific set of prayer,
“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” (Daniel 6:10).
The Jewish people began a tradition of praying three times a day: morning, afternoon and evening. This developed into a program of praying the Psalms in particular as they expressed the many desires of the human heart. Jesus is recorded praying the Psalms on multiple occasions, most famously the words of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”).
So praying the Psalms (divine office) connects you to Jesus, who prayed them on a daily basis.
2. It is the Prayer of the Early Christians
Since most Christians were converts from Judaism in the decades after Christ’s death, they continued the Jewish tradition of praying the Psalms. This type of prayer was maintained as the Church grew and is recorded, “Throughout the Church, in Palestine, Antioch, Constantinople and Africa, Christians gathered in their churches twice each day to pray the psalms. Daily they assembled for ‘morning and evening hymns'” (Praying the Liturgy of the Hours: A Personal Journey).
The divine office is a development of this early prayer of the Church and connects us to the early followers of Jesus.
3. The Church Asks the Laity to Participate in the Divine Office
Since Vatican II, the Church has continued to promote this “public prayer of the Church:”
“Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 100, emphasis added).
“In this ‘public prayer of the Church,’ the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized (CCC 1174).
“27. Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church’s duty, by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours. The laity must learn above all how in the liturgy they are adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth; they should bear in mind that through public worship and prayer they reach all humanity and can contribute significantly to the salvation of the whole world.
Finally, it is of great advantage for the family, the domestic sanctuary of the Church, not only to pray together to God but also to celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church” (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours).
“I would like to renew my call to everyone to pray the Psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Our relationship with God can only be enriched by our journeying towards Him day after day” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Nov. 16, 2011, emphasis added).
4. The Divine Office Expresses the Movements of the Heart
Saint Ambrose said:
“[A psalm is] a cry of happiness…soothes the temper, distracts from care, lightens the burden of sorrow. It is a source of security at night, a lesson of wisdom by day. It is a shield when we are afraid, a celebration of holiness, a vision of serenity, a promise of peace and harmony.” (Praying the Liturgy of the Hours: A Personal Journey)
Saint Athanasius declared:
“[T]he psalms seem to me like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.” (Praying the Liturgy of the Hours: A Personal Journey)
Personally, I have noticed that praying the Psalms in the divine office supply words when I need them to express what is going on in my soul.
5. It Unites the Church and Becomes the Voice of the Bride to the Bridegroom
What is fascinating is that the Liturgy of the Hours is being prayed by priests and religious throughout the world. When we pray the divine office, we unite our prayers with the whole Church and speak in one voice to God. Or as the Church describes it:
“Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.
Hence all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ’s spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church their Mother” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 84).
So as you can see, the divine office is truly worth praying on a daily basis by everyone, not just priests and religious.
But how does a person pray the divine office?
It can be very confusing when a person first starts out and I believe that is why many people never get past the idea of praying it. Next week, I will walk you through praying the Liturgy of the Hours and give you a “beginner’s guide” that will demystify this powerful prayer of the Church.
Read the Entire Series
- 5 Practical Ways to Prepare for Mass
- How to Actively Participate in Mass
- 3 Ways to Imitate Jesus’ Vocal Prayer