From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of the Lord! — Ps. 113:3
A newly ordained priest friend picked up my breviary and admired it, not for its elegance, but for its “well prayed in” look. The ribbons are tattered, the edges are worn through. Prayer cards, notes and a strand from a shawl knit for a dying friend are scattered through it all.
For a truly prayed in look, he should see my friend Kim’s – taped back together after her infant son, desirous of joining his mother and his Church in prayer, tore several pages out. All the better to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord?”
It’s no surprise my breviary is well worn. It’s nearly the first thing I pick up in the morning and the very last thing I set down at night, saying as I close it, “May the all powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.” So ends night prayer; of all the hours in the Liturgy, my favorite. Not because it is so short, though it is the shortest of the hours, but because of how aware it makes me of the unceasing nature of the Church’s prayer.
I know that even as I set down my work of prayer for the day, I am handing it off to Kim in Chicago, certain that John and Vincent will take up where we both have left off.
I know someone in nearly every time zone around the earth who prays the Hours, our prayers circling the earth like a satellite in permanent orbit. Some of us are canonically bound to the Hours, most of us not.
The Church takes the commandment to pray unceasingly so seriously that she obliges those in Holy Orders to pray the Liturgy of the Hours so that her duty may be “carried out regularly and reliably.” But, as the general instructions for the Liturgy of the Hours point out, it is the duty of the whole Church – not just her deacons, priests and bishops – to pray without ceasing. In some way, we are all bound to the Hours, ordained and lay alike.
It is a sacred undertaking, obliged or not, to pray the Hours. When you pray the psalms in the Hours, you pray them not with your own voice but as the voice of the Church. Even more, praying the psalms in the Church’s name, the general instructions tell us you pray them in the person of Christ Himself.
Taking up the work of prayer in this way is to enter into the mystery of Christ who humbles Himself. To pray with your whole heart the psalms set out for you at each hour, each day, is to agree to rejoice when your own heart is not joyous, to grieve when your life is not full of sorrow. It is to pray whether you are ready to or not. We learn humility when we surrender our prayer so completel to this unceasing round.
No canon bids me to keep the Hours, but I’m bound to it nonetheless. I cannot bear to have any part in stilling the never ending praises, to let Christ’s voice go silent. I lay it down for the night only in the sure knowledge that on the other side of the world someone is picking it up. Kathryn?
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethern ‘neath the western sky
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high
– From the hymn “The day thou gavest us Lord” by Clement Scholefield
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: email@example.com.