Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
A wise and gracious priest reminds our congregation, at least once a month: “The family that prays together, says together. And the fifteen seconds before mealtime does not count!”
Daily prayer time is important not just for the family, but for individuals as well. In fact, it can be said that as a family, the Church that prays together, stays together.
As a member of the Dominican tertiary (third order), I elect to pray the Divine Office every day. It was difficult to keep with the pace and schedule for a while, but the routine is established and I often feel odd if I don’t have my books with me. And people must giggle, because I’m often found carrying my Divine Office (otherwise known as a breviary), around throughout the day even at work. With a dress shirt and tie, and a book that certainly resembles a holy book in my hand, I’ve been stopped and asked if I’m Mormon!
But that’s cool, because it offers me a sure fire way to tell them all about the breviary.
Then, too, I run into Catholics who inquire and the other popular response I receive is, “You know you can do that from your phone, right?”
Yes, I know, and I do (when my books aren’t available). But I prefer the books to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and here’s a few helpful reasons why.
My smartphone is a multi-tool, a book is not.
I’m often distracted by technology—isn’t everyone? When I pray with my phone, it’s infinitely more difficult to not be in a hurry like I am with all the other apps and to not feel like I need to answer those messages I saw before slipping the phone into "do not disturb" mode. My phone is used for a myriad of operations: email, media, calls, pleasuring reading, some games, and sometimes having fresh sushi delivered to me. Sometimes, with social media, it is also a near occasion of sin.
My Divine Office books, on the other hand, have one single end: the liturgy, prayer and devotion. I’m never distracted—or rather—it is never the book that is distracting me and has zero potential to distract me. Not to forget, I will never use my pray books as a tool of sin.
The feel and aesthetic together are incomparable.
Holding a book in my hands is one of my favorite feelings. Its compositions are natural and there is something special about flipping pages, overturning ribbons, and reading words I’ve read on the same page, over and over, and watching the pages become used, little by little. I once wore the paint off some beads on a rosary, and it was a similar feeling—I knew that rosary was my rosary.
My books never run out of battery, never have to be charged, or hurt my eyes, or have to receive updates, or require data, nor do they cause me to stay up at night with the now-infamous “blue light.” And as much as engineers try to make the perfect ergonomic phone, they’re still stiff and weird in our hands—and that will never change.
It’s more communal.
I’m not a monk (you knew that, right?), but when I pray the Hours, I like to imagine I’m in communion with the rest of the Church, many of whom are singing and chanting the Hours in community. The books help because I know that the religious who pray the hours in community are not doing it on their phones. I also pray the Hours with my wife on occasion and the book enables us to follow along together with the readings and responses with such ease that multiple phones would just not match.
I never have to worry about approvals.
When I started praying in the Office, a friend bought me the current book of the four-book set. I think it was the Lent/Easter one. I got the rest as needed, and used them for the next four years. I took those on pilgrimages, to adoration, and on road trips. They were also with me on my deployment to Afghanistan. I read them everywhere and recommended them to others along the way. Then, this last year, I showed one of these books to my priest because I had a question about its use. He opened it up and didn’t recognize the readings! And wouldn’t you know it—it wasn’t an approved translation!
Although it was accurate, it was approved by the episcopal see that approves translations and texts for the United Kingdom. In all those years I never read the third page, which specifically states that it is only approved for use there. This was the Collins U.K. publication. (I’m not slamming them, I’m slamming myself for not reading and using the correct publication.)
What’s that mean? It was still according to the universal calendar, right? The readings were, generally, the same. But the layout, the organization, and what to do on feast days were often different. Vastly different. The translation and the Office is approved for a reason: unity and accord. This not a matter of splitting hairs: the orderly composition of prayers and texts for the use of the faithful requires our assent to the hierarchical authority of the Church. That's the nature of the liturgy! If were not reading from the same Bible, we’re in trouble. And if we’re not reading from the same prayers—prayers that were assembled for Christians to pray in unison—we’re in trouble.
Placing the Collins U.K. next to the Catholic Book Publishing Corporation was a good exercise, and the problems exists with some of the apps, also. Some of the apps out there, even the well-rated and popular ones, are not approved, and to make matters worse, they don’t have the approved translation of the Bible even though they present them as the “readings of the day.”
I’m not ranting, I just hope to save some people the trouble I found. But more importantly, I hope to convince reader to consider praying the Liturgy of the Hours more often. If you’re looking to limit your screen time, as many are these days, why not say your prayers from something that you can hold naturally, an object with one purpose in mind: getting your soul to heaven.
If you’re worried about the pace and the time required to pray the Hours, don’t be alarmed: there’s an easy way to get into the hours without diving right into the deep end. Take it one prayer/time a day, and do that for about a month—nothing more. Then, work in another. I was advised to just start with the Office of Readings, and it was a fantastic suggestion.
If you’re interested in praying the Divine Office, the set I recommend is the four-book Liturgy of the Hours set from Catholic Book Publishing Corporation. I’m not a salesman, because I’m going to tell you it’s not cheap. However, it comes with some solid features: five strong multicolored ribbons, a bookshelf organizer, all prayer inserts on laminated cards, and a fool-proof instruction card that lays out the prayers for each day of the year (the image on this post is my actual set). This set is the real deal and will last you a long time.
I hope you will join me in prayer.
P.S. Don't worry: Next, I'm going to talk about why I love the apps.