Since men and women are dependent always and everywhere on God for every good thing, they must attend constantly to the work of prayer. Jesus taught his disciples, “they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Christ taught us to be continually at prayer even bestowing upon us a celebration to undertake “in memory of Him.”
Generally, Catholics refer to our fundamental communal prayer as the Mass. The Mass is the celebration, led by a priest, whereby the common bread and wine are changed by the power of God’s grace to the body and blood of Jesus.
In the Latin (i.e. the Western) Church, the Eucharist has become commonly called The Mass, emphasizing the particular way the Eucharist nourishes us on our pilgrim journey. The sacrament sustains us on our mission. At the conclusion of the celebration we are “sent”: ite missa est.
In the East, however, the celebration of the Eucharist is more widely called The Divine Liturgy. Liturgy (leitourgia in the Greek) originally meant a public duty. In Athens, for example, the word described the wealthy citizens’ support of various public services, such as the gymnasium (which in ancient Greece was the center of civic life as well as athletic training) or theater. Thus the word’s non-biblical origin.
Liturgy was used by the translators of the Old Testament in the Septuagint for the ritual service of priests and the worship that took place at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, the word means the public religious duties, rather than the broader public services of Athens.
Today, in the West, liturgy refers to the entire nexus of official public ceremonies, rites, prayers, and sacraments that are offered by the Church. The Eucharist is liturgy, but the Rosary (a devotion) is not.
The Eucharist is the very “sacrament of sacraments.” The divine exchange of graces, the union of God to be experienced in the reception of Holy Communion is completely unlike any other form of worship. Vatican II powerfully calls the Eucharist, “the source and summit of Christian faith.”
At the very heart of the Church’s public prayer, though, we hold dear a second ancient tradition. The first Christians would gather twice daily for the recitation of the psalms, to exchange intercessory prayers, and to pray together the Our Father. Today the Church, which still holds fast to this custom, calls this schedule of public prayer the Liturgy of the Hours.
This is the rhythm of chant that monks and nuns sing in their monasteries, the method of prayer which every priest vows himself to embrace daily. It is also called the Divine Office and the Breviary.
Vatican II called on the lay faithful to embrace more widely this method of prayer. To that end, Magnificat publishes daily adaptations of this prayer for the lay faithful.
Today the Liturgy of the Hours consists largely of the same structure as it has in past ages: the singing of hymns, the recitation of the psalms, excerpts from Sacred Scripture, accounts of the lives of the saints, intercessory prayers, and the Our Father.
Praying the Divine Office has several extraordinary effects:
One of the main effects of any prayer is union. Prayer is the raising up of heart and mind to God. We become joined to Him in our thoughts and words.
As a profoundly ecclesial prayer, the Divine Office unites a believer wherever she is with the universal church. The Liturgy of the Hours is the Church’s prayer. By praising God in the words offered by the Church, we unite our voices in a symphonic harmony. Our voices can be joined in this way wherever we are.
The liturgy here below is a shadow when compared to the liturgy of heaven. The graces of the Church’s prayer have the power to bind us to the rejoicing hymns of the saints above. In the Hours, the Church sings already the songs of celestial glory. Together with the saints above we laud the Divine Majesty, singing already here and now the never-ending anthems of heaven.
CONSECRATION OF TIME
Every believer knows that we cannot literally pray always. We are embodied creatures and those bodies have needs, like sleep. To sleep is not at all the same thing as to pray …
However, we can intentionally consecrate our time to prayer. The portions of the Liturgy of the Hours are divvied up over the course of the day so that the prayers proper to morning ask for graces and the evening prayers offer thanks for blessings received. The regular schedule calls us to stop and rest midday and to surrender our lives to God at night. The Hours has a poetic cadence which will transform the heart of any disciple who commits to praying it.
Some things are ordained by Divine Providence to take place only because believers ask God for them. Intercessory prayer is a true, instrumental, participation in God’s governance of the world. Truly some things will be brought to pass because of the merits of your prayers.
By praying the Hours we approach the Father with the voice of Christ. We pray in His saving name. It is by the graces of His cross that we have been redeemed. With confidence then, let us beg God for the health and salvation of the world!
A final effect of prayer is our own personal sanctification. Proclaiming the saving Word of God, will transform our hearts. To hear God’s Word is to be changed by it. Allowing the ever-new announcement of God’s saving work among us will grant our own hearts grace and render our lives more brilliant witness to His glory.