Amid Revision, Liturgy of the Hours Remains Important for Laity

Renamed the Abbey Psalms and Canticles, they will appear in the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours that is scheduled to be published in 2022.

(photo: Cropped cover of Daria Sockey's book)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has bought the copyrights to a new translation of the Psalms and canticles from Scripture that will be incorporated into the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH), as well as the readings for Mass.

The translations were produced by the monks of Conception Abbey in Missouri and are known as the Revised Grail Psalter and the Old and New Testament canticles. Now, renamed the Abbey Psalms and Canticles, they will appear in the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours that is scheduled to be published in 2022.

The power and value of the LOTH lies in its ability to provide a way by which Christians can encounter God in prayer on a daily basis. By fostering the habit of prayer, which out of justice God requires according to the First Commandment, the Christian enters with a free will and in the spirit of charity into communion with God.

As a matter of justice, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that prayer cultivates the virtue of religion — the justice due to God: “God’s first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him” (2084), a call which man responds to by “adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him ...” (517).

But as a matter of charity, the Catechism also notes that prayer is also the expression of the “New Covenant” — established in charity through Christ’s death and resurrection. “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father, who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” and takes its specific Christian form as an act of “communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love” (2565).

It is for both reasons — to cultivate the virtue of religion and of charity — that the Church asks the faithful to pray the LOTH.

According to Daria Sockey, a Catholic writer and author of The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, compared the Psalms in the LOTH to the Eucharist in Mass.

“The Psalms are the core, the foundation and the centerpiece of the Liturgy of the Hours,” Sockey said. “Just as the Blessed Sacrament is the ‘source and summit’ of the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, the Psalms might be called the source and summit of the ‘sacrifice of praise,’ which is how the Church characterizes the Liturgy of the Hours.”

The current translation used in the LOTH dates back to 1975. It uses a method of translation known as “dynamic equivalence,” which aims to re-create the original text in the English vernacular. The new translation aims for “formal equivalence,” which is more literal and ensures that nothing gets lost in translation, according to Father Randy Stice, the associate director for the Secretariat of Divine Worship at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The translation was carried out under the guidelines of a 2001 Vatican instruction on translations, Liturgiam Authenticam.

The difference in approaches is evident in comparing Psalm 116:1-2 in the current LOTH and the new translation. In the 1975 edition the verses read, “I love the Lord, for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him.” The new version relies less on paraphrase and rough synonyms: “I love the Lord, for he has heard my voice, my appeal; for he has turned his ear to me whenever I call.”

The new translation comes amid a continued effort by the USCCB to encourage the laity to pray the LOTH and to make it more accessible to them, according to Father Stice.


Reasons to Pray

The reasons the laity should pray the Liturgy of the Hours are legion. In the first place, Father Stice says it is “the official prayer” of the Church. In praying the hours, lay Christians are joining their prayer to that of Christ. They are also praying in harmony with Catholics around the world who are also committed to the LOTH, Father Stice said.

“The LOTH is a gift to the laity — and a great privilege — in so many ways. Here we have the opportunity to pray not simply as private devotion, but as ‘an action of the Church,’” Sockey said. “[H]ere is a way to offer liturgical prayer from the comfort of your home or office — to stay in tune with the liturgical seasons and saint’s feasts, and to do so knowing that you are saying the same Psalms and readings that are being prayed across the globe in homes, monasteries, rectories and the papal household. It’s a way to exercise the common priesthood of all the faithful, which we possess in virtue of being baptized.”

For Father Sebastian Carnazzo, a biblical scholar and pastor of St. Elias the Prophet Melkite Catholic Church in San Jose, California, praying the LOTH ensures that one’s personal prayers are connected to the Mass.

“If the person’s private prayer life on Tuesday isn’t some way related to what was prayed the Sunday before at Mass and what’s going to be prayed the Sunday coming, then the person is completely disconnected from the liturgical life of the Church,” Father Carnazzo said.
According to Father Carnazzo, the laity thus should be relying on liturgical prayer for their main source of daily prayer, which should even take precedence over private devotions. He says this advice is in line with what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says. Paragraph 1073 states, “In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal.” When it comes to forms of piety such as the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary and medals, among others, the Catechism, in Nos. 1674 and 1675, points out that such “expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it,” since, as Vatican II stated, “the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 13 § 3).

The Liturgy of the Hours also serves as a vital link between the Christians of today and those at the earliest times of the Church, according to Father Carnazzo.

The early Christians, he said, drew upon Jewish traditions, and, in particular, the Psalms as a main source of prayer. Psalm 63 was used as a Morning Prayer, or lauds; Psalm 141 was recited for Evening Prayer, or vespers; and Psalm 51 served as Night Prayer, or Compline, according to Father Carnazzo. (The multiplicity of Psalms and more complicated forms in which the liturgical prayer exists today evolved as a monastic tradition in the Middle Ages.)

Because Catholicism today traces its roots back to the very early Church, Father Carnazzo said, “we would want to in some way be aware of and … model the way of prayer of our great ancestors in the faith.”


Practical Prayer

Praying the LOTH also has two practical advantages. First, the Liturgy of the Hours gives those who desire to pray a structure to follow.

“Having a basic knowledge of this morning and evening prayer helps the modern Christian,” Father Carnazzo said.Second, this form of prayer is not time-consuming. We may or may not be busier today than the early Christian, but still we should have time for liturgical prayer at the key hours, Father Carnazzo said. “Whatever the case may be, every person today still has five minutes in the morning, five minutes before they go to bed, five minutes at sunset,” he told the Register.

But if the prayers in the LOTH are practical, the current four-book form of the LOTH is too complicated for the layman, Father Carnazzo says. He believes it needs to be simplified, pointing to devotional publications like the Magnificat — which are modeled on the LOTH but are shorter and simpler — as steps in the right direction.

Sockey says the LOTH is so important she wonders what Christian wouldn’t want to pray them, adding: “Best of all, you are praying in union with Christ when you do this. The Church documents on the LOTH say explicitly that this is ‘the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his body, addresses to the Father’ (General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, 15). Who wouldn’t want to make the time to do that?”

Register correspondent Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.


How-To: A Brief Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Liturgy of the Hours — which also goes by the name Divine Office and the Work of God — is the daily prayer of the Church, organized into five “canonical” hours dedicated to encountering God through prayer. “The hours are a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ, using Scripture and prayer,” states the USSCB webpage on the Liturgy of the Hours.

Two hours in particular anchor each day’s prayers — Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer — both of which include intercessory prayers and a canticle from the Gospels: The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) for Morning Prayer and the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) for Evening Prayer.

The five hours of the Divine Office are as follows:

  • Office of Readings: According to Universalis, a website devoted to facilitating the Liturgy of the Hours, the Office of Readings was created after the 1970 reform of the Liturgy of the Hours. This hour is ideally prayed along with Morning Prayer but may be prayed at any time during the day, whenever most convenient, as a way to further enrich one’s faith life through meditation on passages from Scripture and the works of Catholic spiritual writers (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours [GILH], 55).
  • Morning Prayer: This hour is designed to sanctify the morning or first part of a Christian’s day, and, as the USCCB website notes, it recalls for Christians the resurrection of Jesus. The USCCB website quotes St. Basil in summing up the importance of these first fruits of our day: “It is said in the morning in order that the first stirrings of our mind and will may be consecrated to God and that we may take nothing in hand until we have been gladdened by the thought of God …”
  • Daytime Prayer: This hour, which can be prayed at midmorning, midday or midafternoon, helps Christians sanctify the passage of time throughout the day. The three times during which this hour can be prayed commemorate “the events of the Lord’s passion and of the first preaching of the Gospel” (GILH, 74-75).
  • Evening Prayer: Like Morning Prayer, this hour provides Christians an opportunity to sanctify a specific moment — in this case, the day’s end. By reflecting on and giving thanks to God for what we have received during the day, Christians who pray Evening Prayer offer their final daily sacrifice of praise while also commemorating, as the USCCB website notes, “the true evening sacrifice that our Savior the Lord entrusted to the apostles” at the Last Supper.
  • Night Prayer: The ultimate prayer of the day, this hour is said in the moments before laying one’s head down to sleep. The prayer is characterized by a spirit of confidence in and dependence upon God that every Christian should possess. Indeed, Night Prayer includes as a responsory the final words of Christ: “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

— Stephen Beale

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