Liturgy of the Hours series: Part II

By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

If the Liturgy of the Hours is the Prayer of the Church, why for most of Church history was it not widely prayed by the laity? The very simple reason is that for most of Christian history the vast majority of the laity could not read. Clerics could.

If one can’t read it is virtually impossible to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which encompasses 150 psalms as well as other hymns, prayers and responses. Today, with universal education, universal participation in the Liturgy of the Hours is recommended.

“We need to appreciate the Liturgy of the Hours as indeed a celebration of the liturgy itself,” said Father G. Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Worship. “It is a celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Therefore it is redemptive, salvific.

“Because it is an event of Christ, it gives glory to God the Father, and the Spirit helps us to grow in holiness. Therefore, this is why it is a prayer that belongs to every member of the Church.”

As a devotion it is slowly gaining popularity, although communally it is not apt to be prayed or chanted daily by the laity.

The University of Pennsylvania Newman Center incorporates vespers, or Evening Prayer of the liturgy, into the Wednesday evening Holy Hour.

“We get a sizable crowd and 25 or 30 students,” said Newman chaplain Jesuit Father Philip Florio. “I once had 60 students during Holy Week, and it is very moving to see young people praying like this.”

At the archdiocesan Church Ministry Institute, Immaculate Heart Sister Mary Ellen Diehl gives an introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours to directors of religious education and has been doing so for nine years. Because of the time of the program she has them pray Morning Prayer, utilizing a condensed version of the liturgy: Shorter Christian Prayer. It is prayed, not chanted. “We haven’t made the jump to sing it,” she said.

Sister Mary Ellen senses people do want to learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and some parishes pray it mostly through Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, she said.

At Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr, Morning Prayer is celebrated Monday through Saturday.

“It is the Prayer of the Church and is meant to be celebrated in common as much as possible,” said Augustinian Father Dennis McGowan, parochial vicar at the parish. “It seems to speak to people and is a way of connecting people to the larger Church.”

Our Mother of Good Counsel parishioner Mary Ann Schrader was first introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours through the encouragement of her spiritual director.

“It really makes you feel like you are a member of the community, and it is a lovely way to start the day,” she said. In her parish, the Augustinian Fathers, who always prayed the liturgy, invited congregants to join them. Usually led by their pastor, Father James Martinez, the 20 minute after-Mass liturgy is mostly recited rather than sung or chanted, with the two sides of the church alternating in responses.

At another parish, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Southampton, the daily Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours is a tradition of more than 20 years standing, according to parishioner Gerry Ott.

“We pray it together Monday through Friday and do it on our own on weekends,” she said.

Again, although the opening hymn is sung, most of the liturgy is prayed. However, on special occasions, for example Forty Hours, the larger parish congregation might come together for sung Evening Prayer.

“I love the psalms, they are very special, and when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours I feel God’s presence,” Ott said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.