Word on Fire Brings the Liturgy of the Hours to Laity With Innovative Monthly Booklets
BOOK PICK: Word on Fire Catholic Ministries’ ‘Liturgy of the Hours’
The Liturgy of the Hours
Booklets published monthly; June 2022 edition reviewed
Word on Fire, 2022
696 pages, softcover; $7 (founder’s discount)
To order: wordonfire.org/pray/
What did St. Paul VI call “the high point which family prayer can reach?” The answer may surprise you: It’s not praying the Rosary together as a family, as beautiful and venerable a private devotion that is. It’s praying together the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.
The Liturgy of the Hours is the Church’s own public prayer, which goes all the way back to the early Christians praying in the Temple. In this ancient form of prayer, the Second Vatican Council teaches, we join the Lord Jesus Christ in his “canticle of divine praise” to the Father.
In fact, the Council enthusiastically called for pastors to celebrate it in common in the parishes and for the laity to pray the Divine Office “either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.” St. Paul VI even went so far as to declare, “No avenue should be left unexplored to ensure that this clear and practical recommendation finds within Christian families growing and joyful acceptance.”
However, 50 years after Sacrosanctum Concilium, most Catholics have never heard of the Liturgy of the Hours or prayed it in church, let alone as a family. What happened?
The Council’s grand vision for the Roman Rite’s Liturgy of the Hours has not translated into a liturgical reform that works effectively for 99% of the Catholic Church. The Liturgy of the Hours, published in four complex, hard-to-navigate volumes, has a steep learning curve that creates barriers for widespread uptake in families and parishes. One also imagines parish clergy, who are required to pray the Divine Office, breaking into cold sweats at the thought of teaching it to their parish, given how long it took them during seminary.
Thankfully, Word on Fire Catholic Ministries has developed a breakthrough solution for families and parishes: a monthly, subscription-based Liturgy of the Hours. Starting with the first booklet in June, Catholics can pray each day the two chief “hours” of Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers), “the two hinges on which the daily office turns,” as the Council teaches, as well as Night Prayer (Compline) before bedtime. As the booklet’s “Introduction” explains, Morning and Evening Prayer each take no more than 15 minutes, while Compline takes 5-10 minutes.
The booklet’s “Introduction” also provides a beautiful, concise catechesis on the Liturgy of the Hours with references to the Council’s teaching. It explains why these are the highest forms of prayer after the Mass and how the Divine Office keeps your day centered on God and helps you grow like the saints in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Straightforward and Easy to Use
Word on Fire’s Liturgy of the Hours monthly booklets make praying the Divine Office straightforward and easy, whether at home or at church. Ordinarily in each volume of the Liturgy of the Hours, you’d have to determine what the Church is celebrating — a solemnity, a feast, a memorial or a ferial (ordinary) day — and then place your ribbons at the appropriate places. But Word on Fire’s booklet already has each day figured out. All you have to do is turn to the calendar day, start praying, and turn the page as you go. You do not need any ribbons, although a bookmark helps to mark your place after you turn to pray the hymn of the day.
This model has some tradeoffs in order to make the Liturgy of the Hours widely accessible to laity as a cost-effective monthly. There are no Daytime Prayer offices, and the Office of Readings is omitted. And when it comes to optional memorials, where there’s a choice of celebrating either the memorial of a saint or the ferial day, Word on Fire makes the ferial day the default selection. This eliminates the imposition of arbitrary preferences, such as choosing St. Columba’s memorial over St. Ephrem’s memorial on June 9. But Word on Fire also defaults to the ferial day on calendar days that have only one optional memorial, such as First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church on June 30. That becomes more obvious in the March booklet: Because St. Patrick’s Day is an optional memorial, March 17 would be just a Lenten ferial day.
Word on Fire does a tremendous job of presenting beautiful hymns with memorable tunes drawn from the English and Latin patrimony. All the melodies, whether the tune is in poetic English or Latin, are perfect for singing by oneself or in a group without accompaniment.
Each monthly booklet also comes in a portable, lightweight size. The booklet lies flat in one’s hand, and the pages are beautifully laid out on thin Bible-weight paper, with instructions in red and prayers in black, printed in elegant, easy-to-read type.
Making Public Liturgies Accessible
Overall, the model makes it easy for people to pray and also for parishes to organize regular public liturgies of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, particularly on Sundays, solemnities and important feasts. And because laypeople can lead the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours can be prayed together even if a priest is not available to lead them. That’s great news for the family, as Mom and Dad can lead these prayers.
The “Introduction” offers helpful advice: Start slow, and build from there. For families, I would add that flexibility is key. If you’re pressed for time, you might pray just the “Opening Prayers,” the “Hymn” and “Concluding Prayers.” If you’ve got the time, and attention spans permit, you might do more, or even the whole thing.
The monthly cost of a Word on Fire Liturgy of the Hours subscription starts out at a very reasonable, discounted $7/month. While the cost is likely to go up, especially with inflation pressures, I hope Word on Fire can keep the price down as long as possible for widespread adoption.
Some parishes may feel a subscription model is not sustainable in the long term. However, parishes should think of Word on Fire’s Liturgy of the Hours monthly booklets as part of a longer strategy with respect to the Divine Office. Once laity have experience praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and know what to look for, many of them will have the confidence to transition to using books like Christian Prayer, which also have Morning, Evening and Night Prayer.
Ultimately, Word on Fire’s Liturgy of the Hours is a stopgap solution for a much bigger problem: namely, that the post-conciliar reform of the Divine Office effectively got in the way of the widespread adoption the Council Fathers envisioned. Ironically, nearly 500 years ago, Cardinal Francisco Quiñones, a Franciscan, produced a single-volume Divine Office under Pope Clement VII that had the potential to fulfill what the Council Fathers envisioned. The 100 editions printed between 1536 and 1566 testify to its popularity. But Cardinal Quiñones died before the Council of Trent, and his rival became Pope Paul IV, who decided to quash it.
Certainly, the pope could one day order a new reform of the Liturgy of the Hours, taking cues from Cardinal Quiñones’ vision. But the urgency for such a project requires a wider embrace of the Liturgy of the Hours by the laity, despite existing challenges. Until then, Word on Fire’s Liturgy of the Hours is an excellent way to encourage the faithful to embrace and pray the Liturgy of the Hours in their homes and churches — just as the Council and Pope St. Paul VI intended.