Nov 10, 2008

Retreat Talk on Liturgy of the Hours

Retreat Talk on Liturgy of the Hours

Given to Men’s Retreat for the University of Dallas, Nov 8, 2008. Given at the Casa Divin Maestro Retreat Centre, Lake Albano.

“This liturgy of the hours or divine office, is principally a prayer of praise and petition. Indeed, it is the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ.” (GILH, 1:2)


Those of you who know anything about Muslims would know that they are very faithful in turning to the Lord throughout the day, much better than we are. If any of you have ever visited a Muslim country you will have surely heard the call to prayer about 5 times a day over the large outdoor speakers, and they most likely woke you up very early in the morning. I know in the US and in some other countries, Muslims have caused some difficulties in the work place because they want to take time out from work to pray.


But where did this idea of prayer throughout the day come from?

In fact it is not a Muslim, nor even a Christian idea. But the idea of turning to the Lord throughout the day is found in the Old Testament. King David says: "Seven times a day I praise you" (Ps. 119:164), as well as, "the just man meditates on the law day and night" (Ps. 1:2).


In the New Testament St Paul told the Thessalonians that they should “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5.11)  But is it normal for Catholics to pray without ceasing?

In Australia the Church unfortunately struggles to get Catholics to Mass on a weekly or even monthly basis, let alone people praying without ceasing. In some parts of the US I have been told that a similar situation exists.


In the early Church, daily prayer was considered an integral part of being of Christian. In the Eastern monastic tradition, they have the custom of praying during every breath that one takes. For the Eastern Christians, they will often pray the Jesus prayer, while going about their daily business: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”


Turning to the Lord throughout the day is not new.

By the end of the fifth century, what we know as the Liturgy of the Hours was being formalised in monasteries all over Europe and the Middle East. These evolved to seven hours of structure prayer: today known as:

1. Matins (or the Office of Readings)  2. Morning Prayer, Mid-Morning, Midday and Mid-afternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer,


The liturgy of the hours, like all other liturgical services, such as the Mass and the Sacraments, is not a private matter but belongs to the whole Church. It is in fact the public prayer of the Church, even when a person is praying it by themselves.

The different hours “extend the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the Eucharistic mystery, "the source and summit of the Christian life.” Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vat II.

The liturgy of the hours is an excellent preparation for the celebration of Mass, because it inspires and deepens the dispositions necessary to receive Jesus: it strengthens faith, deepens hope, and fills us with love and devotion for the things of God, and gives us a spirit of self-denial.

For the same reason, the Divine Office continues to help us draw fruit from the Eucharistic Celebration throughout the day.

Is the Liturgy of the Hours for everyone?
Yes, all should pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Priests, deacons and religious promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day with and for the Church, but the Divine Office is open to everyone.


Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, thought that the Liturgy of the Hours was a key part of renewing the Church in the Third Millennium. He spent the last few years of his life teaching on the Psalms at his weekly general audience and he warmly invited the laity to join in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. In fact he also granted a plenary indulgence to those who pray Evening or Night Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. (This evening, at the conclusion of Evening Prayer we will pray the prayers for the intention of the Holy Father, in order to receive the Plenary Indulgence, which is granted under the normal circumstances – communion on the same day and confession within 7 days.)


So what is the Liturgy of the Hours?

Most hours involve, as you may have noticed, a hymn, 2 to 3 psalms from the Old Testament, often a canticle from the NT, and short reading and response from Scripture, then we all stand. At morning, evening, and night prayer we stand to recite a Gospel canticle – Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis.

What's the difference between liturgical prayer and private prayer?
Liturgical prayer is the official prayer of the Church. Examples of liturgical prayer are the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the other sacraments. The liturgy is the prayer of the whole Church, the very voice of Jesus Christ praying to the Father. Whereever you are in the world, when you pray the Liturgy of the Hours and say "O God come to my assistance," you are transported before the throne of the Father and are placed in communion with all of the saints and angels.


Another feature of the Liturgy is that it is the approved prayer by the Holy Father and the Bishops throughout the world. In fact, Monsignor Fucinaro (are revered Chaplain) works for the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation which oversees the Liturgy and the Prayer of the Church.

Private prayer, though absolutely vital to the spiritual life, does not have this status. The role of private prayer is important because it makes our faith personal. Ultimately, though, it is to support and lead to liturgical prayer.

Many in the Church today pray the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet as their personal prayer, but this is not the Liturgy, nor is it the Official Public Prayer of the Church.


In fact, the Rosary itself developed out of the custom of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For many hundreds of years, the Liturgy of the Hours consisted of singing all 150 psalms in one day. When priests and religious became mobile and went on mission to different places, it was difficult to be able to complete all 150 psalms, especially before the advent of the printing press. So as a replacement when clergy were absent from the monastery or religious house, they were permitted to pray what has become known as the “Rosary” which consisted of 150 psalms in a day. This practice of praying the Rosary as a necessary replacement for the 150 Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours quickly spread to the fields and workshops of Europe, and before the Church knew it, the Rosary had become the focus of daily prayer for the peasant and working class. However, the Church has always intended that the faithful actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Especially now with the ease of publication and the simplification of the Liturgy of the Hours, it has become very possible and do-able for all the laity to pray at least morning and evening prayer.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of devotions, private prayer and the importance of the liturgy.

“These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They "should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.” CCC 1675 [179]


So the Rosary in fact emerges from the Liturgy of the Hours and should in fact lead the faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours.


So if we are to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, how should we pray the psalms during the Liturgy of the Hours?

Fr Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal explains beautifully how we should pray when reciting the psalms.

a.       he says we should make a special act of reverence – because these are the words of God.

b.      We need to LISTEN – we are dealing with poetry and there are many ways we can listen to the psalms.

He suggest 4 ways or meanings we can listen for and pray with during the Office. He adds that Scriptural Exegesis and Biblical Studies, although important, do not negate these 4 spiritual meanings.

1.      The Simple Literal Meaning

This is when we try to read a psalm as if it directly applies to us. An example would be Psalm 139 which can be useful for a personal examination of conscience.

“O Lord you search me and you know me, You know my resting and my rising; you discern my purpose from afar. You mark where I walk or lie down, all my ways lie open to you.”

2.      The Allegorical Sense.

Those who have studied any literature would know that allegory is a very common literary tool. Allegory is a device to indicate that the principal subject is described in a symbolic way. The reader is left the creative task of applying what is said of one to the other. This opens the mind to imagination and even more to intuition. In the OT there is a great deal of allegory which prefigures and points to Christ and events in the NT.

Eg. Psalm 30 points to Christ:

“To you O Lord, I cried; to my God I made appeal. What profit would my death be, my going into the grave? Can dust give you praise or proclaim your truth? The Lord listened and had pity. The Lord came to my help.


Fr Groeschel says: “The liturgy abounds with allegories of all kinds and it is not the purpose of the one who listens at prayer to speculate about their degree of literal accuracy. It is to our advantage to let the psalm or sacred song open our mind to rich images, new thoughts and shade of meaning, and opportunities to place ourselves imaginatively in the biblical situation.”

3.      The Conversion Sense – or the Tropological Sense.

This provides an opportunity for daily conversion or turning to God and away from evil influences.

a.      The need for daily repentance.

Unfortunately many Christians today are unaware of a need for conversion until they find themselves deeply enmeshed in sin.

Pope John Paul II said to the Bishops and Priest of the Church: that “being converted means returning to the very grace of our vocation. Being converted means continually “giving an account” before the Lord of our hearts about our service, our zeal and our fidelity.” 

b.      The Scriptural Prayer of Repentance

The Psalms call us to conversion. Often in the psalms there are reminders that the people of God were in trouble in the first place because they had been unfaithful to the covenant with God.


Through reading the psalms: each of us should be able to recognise that we “have often surrendered to or eagerly embraced the vicious tendencies without our minds and heart.” In short, some of the psalms remind us that the enemy is not our there – we are the enemy of God.

“The psalms do not get us off the hook for our evil actions but they remind us of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the midst of our struggles.”

This often leads the sinner to a consolation that we are not alone. We are not the only person who has sinned. They should also remind us of what God has done for you and each one of us.

Eg. Psalm 32:

“Happy the man whose offence is forgiven, who sin is remitted. O happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no guile… So let every good man pray to you in time of need.”

4.      The Anagogical Sense – suggests a transcendent experience

For a brief time we join the choirs of heaven to participate in the joy of the saints to which we are called. We rejoice as if we were already in our heavenly home.”

These psalms call us to feelings of joy, thanksgiving, exultation, which unfortunately people rarely experience in the ordinary routine of life.

But the most important element of these types of psalms, they give us HOPE.


Eg. Ps 47 – “All peoples, clap your hands, cry to God with shouts of joy! For the Lord, the most High, we must fear, great King over all the earth… Our inheritance, our glory is from Him, given to Jacob out of love.”

Through the psalms we should have a profound conviction of faith in the transcendent meaning of life. Through these psalms we learn the message that “what we do in life echoes to all eternity” as Marcus Aurelius said famously in the Gladiator Movie.


In Summary:

3 main points to remember when reading and praying the psalms.

1. Never read or listen to Scripture as if it were some other book.

God is praying with us, and even if we think we don’t hear the message, God is working on our souls. Cardinal Newman said that the Words of God must never be treated like the words of men. We need reverence, attention and prayer.

2. Read and pray intelligently.

Make use of you life experience and the studies you have done in other subject areas. Also make use of commentaries and explanations on the Scriptures. The Scriptures are living and we bring ourselves to the Word of God during the Liturgy of the Hours.

3. The words of Scripture must always be heard in the context of the Church. The Word of God will not be active and will not guide you to do evil, but often the devil can confuse our thoughts and take us towards using a passage to justify something else.

Eg. Story of drug addict who justifies his drug use based upon Genesis 2: the Lord gave all seed-bearing plants for man to eat.”


In Conclusion:

The Liturgy of the Hours is:

1.      The public prayer of the Church

2.      Structured so that we are called to prayer throughout the day

3.      We don’t pray alone, but we are praying with the choirs of angels and saints and with the whole Church.

4.      We don’t only pray for ourselves, but we pray for the Church and the whole world.


In Conclusion for praying with scripture:

4 senses:

1.      Literal meaning

2.      Allegorical sense – symbol for something else.

3.      Conversion Sense

4.      Transcendent Sense


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