Published: February 9, 2008
By Tara Little
When Betty Franzetti joins her Little Rock parish for morning prayer and Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, unites with his fellow monks at Subiaco Abbey to pray evening prayer, they are not only participating in the official prayer of the Catholic Church, they are carrying on a tradition that goes back to the time of the Apostles.
The Scriptures reveal the first Christian community devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of the bread and to prayer "with one accord." (Acts 2:42-44; 1:14).
From the example of the Apostles, who prayed throughout the day at fixed times, (Acts 3:1) the Church gradually assigned communal prayers to the hours of the day.
Today, the Liturgy of the Hours remains the official cycle for daily prayer in the Church. This prayer of the Scriptures, primarily the Psalms, offers continual praise and petition to God, consecrating time itself to him.
"It starts with the recognition that because everything belongs to God, time itself belongs to God," Father Erik Pohlmeier, pastor of St. John and St. Mary churches in Hot Springs, said. "To actually interrupt the day with prayer is a concrete expression of what you believe."
The Catechism of Catholic Church explains that liturgy is participation by the people of God in "the work of God." (1069) In the Liturgy of the Hours "Christ himself ‘continues his priestly work through his Church.’" (1174)
The Rule of St. Benedict demands, "Let nothing be put before the work of God," Abbot Kodell said.
He and the other religious at Subiaco organize their work around praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Regardless of their task, when they hear the abbey’s bell ringing, they stop and come together for prayer.
Like the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours unites Catholics around the world.
"When you are in this type of prayer you are in communion with the whole Church," Abbot Kodell said. "You are praying with the Church and for the Church."
According to the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, ordained clergy, including deacons, are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. Most religious orders do the same while the laity is strongly encouraged. Observing this prayer should be done in a group setting whenever possible.
Unlike private prayer, when clergy and religious pray the Hours, their primary goal is "not their personal growth and spirituality but rather fulfilling their role of interceding for the Church," Father Pohlmeier said.
For Deacon Richard Papini, diocesan director of campus ministry, praying the Hours, also known as "Divine Office," helps him feel connected to the body of Christ.
"There’s something that’s bigger than me looking out for my well-being," he said.
Papini, who also leads the campus ministry for the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, said when he takes his students on mission trips they pray morning and evening prayer together.
Though the Office has different readings than the Mass, both are directed by a chronological cycle following the life of Christ. Beginning with Advent, the cycle goes through Easter and fills in with Ordinary Time, which focuses on Jesus’ public ministry, Father Pohlmeier said.
The Mass readings follow a three-year cycle on Sundays and a two-year cycle on weekdays. The Hours has one cycle that repeats. Within that is a four-week psalter.
"You pray the same Psalms every four weeks," he said. "Within that, options arise because you have the feast days of saints."
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Liturgy of the Hours consists of seven hours, or prayers that mark certain times of day.
"When we say hours, we’re not talking about ‘an hour,’" he said. "When you say I pray these five hours a day, it doesn’t take five hours to do it."
The seven hours are morning prayer, daytime prayer (includes midmorning, midday and midafternoon hours) evening prayer, night prayer and the office of readings.
Only the office of readings can be prayed at any time of the day. The others mark certain times of the day but not a specific time. Morning prayer may be recited any time before noon, for example.
The hours range in length from five to 15 minutes with the office of readings taking the most time to pray.
In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, the terminology, rules and celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours vary.
At Subiaco Abbey, the monks pray these hours in community: morning, midday (noon) and evening prayers and the office of the readings.
Abbot Kodell said praying the Office is fundamental to religious orders, but how and when each prays it differs depending on the mission of the order.
Though laypeople are not required, they are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Father Pohlmeier said though it is a public prayer, the Office can have a personal effect through the Psalms, which cover the whole range of human emotion.
In addition, the role of the laity has evolved since Vatican II.
"Every person, lay people as well as religious, are expected to do their part for the work of the Church," he said.
Franzetti, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said she arranged for morning prayer to be recited before daily Masses at her parish during Lent in 2003.
Today about 25 people regularly attend morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. weekdays. She downloads prayer booklets from the Web site, http://www.ebreviary.com, and prints copies for everyone.
The deacons at Christ the King led morning prayer until Franzetti and other lay parishioners felt confident leading it.
"You get really involved in it and you want to keep praying it," she said. "It sets the mood for the Mass and for the day. If it is a special feast you know before the Mass begins whose feast we’ll be celebrating that day. It is very uplifting to me."
Betty Rolniak, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers, leads morning prayer before 8 a.m. Mass on Mondays at her parish. About 25 people take part. They use the "Shorter Christian Prayer" book, which they have in English and Spanish.
Like at Christ the King, Rolniak said the practice began in 2003.
"Being able to pray with others is a joy," she said. "Since we pray morning prayer together on Mondays only, we hear the same readings often. That is helpful for me since the more times I hear the prayers, the easier it is for me to remember them and apply some aspect of them to my daily life."
Rolniak said she recommends the practice to anyone because it is a good preparation for Mass.
"I also recommend patience as a group gets started."
Father Pohlmeier said Lent is a great time to start praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For the past couple of years, Diocese of Little Rock staff have prayed morning prayer together during Lent.
"The purpose of Lent is to understand better our place before God. And our place before God always is as part of the body of Christ," he said. "One of the ways to overcome selfishness is to realize I am part of something bigger here, not just me personally and how I feel, but the whole work of the Church."
If you have never prayed the Liturgy of the Hours before, it would be best to learn from a mentor rather than attempting to teach yourself, according to several local Catholics. It is complicated and varies from day to day depending on the feast or season being celebrated.
Joining a group at a parish is also advisable because this prayer is designed to be communal.
The prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours is called a breviary. Different versions are available from Catholic Book Publishing based on the prayers included.
· "Shorter Christian Prayer" includes morning and evening prayer and selections from other prayers.
· "Christian Prayer" has morning, evening and night prayers and selections from daytime prayer and the office of readings.
· "Liturgy of the Hours" is the complete four-volume set that includes the four-week cycle for all the hours.
Prices range from $14 to $170.
Father Pohlmeier and Abbot Kodell recommend beginning slowly with morning and evening prayer.
"Later on if they feel a desire to get more into it, to get into a different rhythm, then there’s all kinds of opportunities," Abbot Kodell said.
Father Pohlmeier said the breviary, especially the four-volume set, can be very confusing because the hours are not presented sequentially.
"You have to flip back and forth to different pages," he said.
This confusion could result in giving up on it. Abbot Kodell suggested directing questions to any priest, deacon or religious for guidance. There are also many resources available to guide users.
· The "Saint Joseph Guide for Christian Prayer" (Catholic Book Publishing) is published annually to help line up liturgical dates with the calendar year so it is clear which readings should be prayed on any given day. It generally costs $2.
· "The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians," (Liturgical Press, 1991) by John Brook gives reflections on the Psalms and explains the history of the Liturgy of the Hours. Father Pohlmeier said it is designed to draw lay people into the Office.
· "Lord, Open My Lips: The Liturgy of the Hours As Daily Prayer," (North Bay Books, 2004) by Seth H. Murray offers a concise easy to follow introduction and how-to for the Office.
· The Web site, ebreviary.com, offers the complete Liturgy of the Hours online. Subscribers can download the hours daily with no confusion because each prayer is compiled into a booklet format. Subscriptions range from $30 to $90 annually.
Unlike the breviary, the booklets "are very simple," parishioner Betty Franzetti said. "It’s just a little six-page book and you start at the first psalm and go all the way to the end. There’s no switching back."