What has a quartet of beribboned and bulky volumes, customarily thumbed by devout religious and dedicated laity, got to do with ordinary Catholics?
Plenty, according to Singapore’s Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye.
Last year, Archbishop Goh urged the employees of all parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions to gather and pray the Liturgy of the Hours, a structured compilation of readings and prayers, in union with priests, deacons and religious communities all over the world.
As the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is almost as old as the Church itself. When prayed at designated times, the Liturgy of the Hours sanctifies each hour of the day and helps develop the habit of regular prayer.
“The primary conversion,” explained the archbishop, “is a renewal of our personal relationship with the Lord,” without which we cannot “proclaim the joy of the Gospel.”
According to Archbishop Goh, it is incumbent upon even the most ordinary Catholic to transform his workplace into “a place of brotherly love. No one should think that this invitation is not for him.”
Daria Sockey, author of The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, finds it significant that, in the Liturgy of the Hours, Archbishop Goh has discovered a tool for the New Evangelization.
Said Sockey, “This seems counterintuitive, until one realizes that, just as we encounter Jesus in the liturgy of the Mass when we receive his Body and Blood, so also do we encounter Jesus in the Liturgy of the Hours, when he prays the Psalms to his Father ... and we pray with him.”
Archbishop Goh’s invitation to prayer comes at a time when global instability and religious persecution are prompting Catholics and non-Catholics alike to re-examine their lives in a search for deeper meaning.
Fellowship With God on the Job
“Individuals are seeking more of an understanding of their place in the world,” said Michael Prendergast, liturgical consultant and former director of the Office of Worship in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Mont.
“People want God to speak to them. They want to experience and pray the word of God … and the Liturgy of the Hours is thoroughly the word of God.”
Prendergast and the rest of the Great Falls-Billings pastoral center staff, including Bishop Michael Warfel, would gather at 8 o’clock each morning to pray an abbreviated form of the Hours.
It’s a tradition that has continued since 1998.
“The Liturgy of the Hours fosters a continuity of faith throughout the year,” said Bishop Warfel, who previously served as bishop of Juneau, Alaska.
“Bringing prayer into our workplace helps us to see that we are not just doing a job. It allows us to see our work in the context of Scripture and makes it part of a greater vision of faith.”
Praying alongside bishops and priests might make it easy for one to follow Archbishop Goh’s exhortation to make the workplace “a place of brotherly love.”
But when there is a marked diversity of temperament and spirituality among one’s co-workers, the call may become more of a challenge.
Melissa Knaggs, an editor at Catholics United for the Faith, said, “As laypeople with unique spiritualities and different ways of living out our vocations, it’s helpful to have a unifying structure that gives all of us some common ground to stand on. If each of us were tasked with leading prayer daily, no two people would choose the same format. The Liturgy of the Hours is a real treasure, in that it provides something for everyone.”
Knaggs pointed out that “St. Benedict’s program for his monks was ora et labora (pray and work). To be truly fruitful, our work must be offered as a prayer to God. At the same time, the prayer aspect, in particular our daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, is vital work. We don’t always see the fruits of our labor or our prayer, but we remain diligent all the same. The rest is in God’s hands.”
Young people are also learning the value of praying the Divine Office, but are doing so in another kind of workplace: the college campus.
Joyful Prayer on the Quad
At the University of Notre Dame, students are continuing a tradition begun in 1947, when Father Michael Mathis of the Congregation of Holy Cross first established the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours on the campus. These days, Notre Dame students and staff may participate in vespers and a modified Compline in addition to Morning and Evening Prayer.
According to Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, the students themselves display a convert’s zeal for the Divine Office, “praying the Hours on their own in residence halls and praying Compline in dorm chapels immediately after an evening Mass.”
Continued O’Malley, “There are few things better for our students than participation in the Liturgy of the Hours, whose cycle of Psalms, readings and hymnody functions as a school of prayer.”
“Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is a great Lenten practice,” agreed Marco Cerritelli, a senior at Notre Dame. “Praying it consistently will form you into a true person of prayer.”
It was a desire for consistency in prayer that led Cerritelli and some fellow students to form a prayer group on campus.
As Cerritelli explained, “After some of my friends and I had spontaneously prayed the Liturgy of the Hours together after some dorm Masses, we realized that it would be nice to take it up as a more set and consistent habit. It was really a movement that started up naturally.”
A graduate of the Benedictine-run St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, Cerritelli said that he “learned to appreciate the Liturgy of the Hours by praying it with the monks.”
“The deep faithfulness that they showed to God through their devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours moved me,” he said. “I wanted to take the practice with me to college and introduce my friends to it.”
O’Malley observed that students gain a different kind of education through participation in the “school of prayer” that is the Divine Office.
“By praying the Hours in common,” he said, “the students learn the ascesis [self-discipline] of not letting your speech conquer the speech of your neighbor. Instead, there is a single harmony. Students learn to love God and neighbor alike [more profoundly].”
O’Malley noted that Archbishop Goh’s invitation to pray the Hours is for every Catholic, whether student, teacher, laborer or average “guy in the pew.”
As a “practice that fosters the sanctification of time and space,” said O’Malley, there is none that can compare with the Divine Office.
“Pray every day in the office, in the morning, at noon and in the evening, with the Liturgy of the Hours,” urged Archbishop Goh.
“Without prayer, our work becomes sterile and bland, devoid of joy. No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”
Celeste Behe writes from
Photo courtesy of Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana.
“Coffee and Canticles” blog by Daria Sockey