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Implementing the Liturgy of the Hours in the Parish  
Michael R. Prendergast  

Throughout the ages, the Church has remained faithful to "pray always," as Jesus instructed in Luke 18:1 and Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Part of the Church's tradition in carrying out this teaching has been the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. Since the time of the Second Vatican Council, much has been written concerning the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours in cathedral, parish, and domestic church settings. Yet many theologians and liturgists have called the parochial (and domestic) celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer the "forgotten stepchild" of the liturgical reform.

A thirst for God is apparent today. While engaging in issues of the day, from local and global violence to homelessness and unemployment, individuals are seeking more of an understanding of their place in the world. This thirst for God comes first as people begin to experience deeper personal prayer. People want God to speak to them. Still many people only "talk" when they pray to God. However, we need to listen to God in times of silence, in both our personal prayer and at the liturgy. Nevertheless, this is not easy to do in our age of continuous, all-pervading sound.

Although still shy in approaching scripture, people want to experience and pray the word of God. It is the inspired word that helps us to lift our prayer in formulas that we cannot express ourselves. The Liturgy of the Hours is thoroughly the word of God in its use of psalms and canticles.

Beginning in March 2001, Pope John Paul II began a series of audiences during which he encouraged the praying of the psalms, particularly the Liturgy of the Hours. He noted that the laity has learned to value the praying of the Hours. The Holy Father noted that the use of psalmody reflects the varied sentiments of the human heart of "joy, gratitude, thanksgiving, love, tenderness, enthusiasm, but also intense suffering, complaint, pleas for help and for justice, which sometimes lead to anger or imprecation" (Psalms and Canticles: Meditations and Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles of Morning Prayer, Pope John Paul II, Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2004, p. 7). These feelings expressed in the psalms are summed up with the words "praise and lament," the melody that accompanies people of faith on the pilgrim journey.

The Acts of the Apostles (2:46) shows how the early Christian communities lived out the teaching to pray always. Jewish prayer certainly had an influence on the prayer of the early Christians. The Shema, the basic creed of Judaism (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), accompanied by its series of fixed benedictions, was prayed in the morning and the evening. It is important to note that "Christians, like Jews, adopted the custom of praying at fixed times, and that the most important times for public liturgical prayer in both traditions were the beginning and end of each day" (Robert Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, p.11.). These would be natural times for praying in any tradition.

The earliest Church order, the Didache, gives us the Matthean "Our Father" with a concluding doxology and the rubric "pray thus three times a day" (William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1970, p. 3). The writings of the early Church tell us that this pattern of prayer was normative, including hymns and psalms, but do not give much information as to form and content. The early Church Fathers, however, give witness to the eschatological character of Christian prayer at night and the themes of Christ as Light of the World and Sun of Justice in the morning.

The development of the Office in the first three centuries originated in the private devotion of the early Christians. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Hippolytus all give witness to the practice. The morning and evening Hours were obligatory in the eyes of Tertullian and Clement. Hippolytus "enumerates the morning and evening prayers as well as those of terce, sext, and none" (Juan Mateos, "The Origins of the Divine Office," Worship, 41, 1967, p. 479), and thus he harmonized the three hours during the day with the principal moments of the Lord's Passion.

A shift happens in the fourth century with the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Peace of Constantine. This brought to the Church the freedom of cult, and worship became a public activity. In the fourth century we see a development of the Office, with a monastic model and a cathedral model.

Without going into the history of the development of the Office, we will look briefly at the similarities and differences of Monastic Hours and Cathedral Hours.

Only monks attended the lengthy prayer of the Monastic Office. The monks sat quietly as a representative of the community read text or prayers in their name, with a variety of texts read from day to day. Psalms were prayed in their entirety, (for example, if Evening Prayer ended with Psalm 12, Compline would begin with Psalm 13), while a certain number of psalms were read at each hour. Most of the celebration was recited. Rarely were members of the greater Church present. The liturgy was filled with quiet and introspection while the monks reflected on the texts of the Hours.

In contrast, the bishop usually presided at the Cathedral Office that the local Church celebrated at which presbyters and deacons gathered. The relatively brief services were filled with music and gesture, with nearly identical texts from day-to-day. The text corresponded to the hours of the day (for example Psalm 63 in the morning), and much ceremony and symbolism filled the liturgy. The members of the gathered Church expressed praise, thanksgiving, and petition that would correspond to morning, evening, or nighttime hours.

The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILOH) tells us that "the purpose of the Office is to sanctify the day and all human activity" (A. M. Roguet, The Liturgy of the Hours: The General Instruction with Commentary, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1971, p. 21). However, Christ has made all time sacred. Indeed, "all liturgy is beyond time" (Taft, 359). The Liturgy of the Hours is the public worship of Christ, the communal celebration of praise and thanksgiving of the Church at prayer. The Holy Spirit is always the active transforming agent at work when the Church gathers for prayer.

The presence of Christ in the Church's prayer is a celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Jesuit Robert Taft adamantly points out that both the Hours and the Eucharist take their meaning alone from the Paschal Mystery of salvation in Christ. In the liturgy, Christ prays in us, the gathered Church. The celebration of "the Liturgy of the Hours . . . is no more, no less, than a common celebration of what we are or rather what we have become and are ever becoming in Christ" (Taft, p. 347).

The observance of the Hours is communal worship and, therefore, should be seen as such. Private recitation by clerics is certainly not seen as the ideal celebration of the Hours, because liturgy is meant to be communal. The Liturgy of the Hours is no longer referred to as the Breviary. The Second Vatican Council discarded this term. The Liturgy of the Hours, which is for the whole Church, demands communal celebrations that include bishops, priests, deacons, ministers, and the faithful together. The obligation of bishops, priests, and deacons to pray the Hours is linked to their duty to assure the celebration of this liturgy by local communities, particularly on Sundays and solemnities.

In the liturgy we celebrate God's coming into our lives. Liturgy is "first and foremost an activity of God in Christ" (Taft, p. 341). An important element of the liturgy is that it must be visible to the entire Church. Therefore, "what is needed is a visible presence of prayer in the Church that manifests the Church as the praying community of Christ" (J. D. Crichton, The Once and Future Liturgy, New York, Paulist Press, 1977, p. 124). Liturgy, then, is anamnesis, the very remembering of the saving mystery of Christ. Unless we do this anamnesis together, we are not who we proclaim ourselves to be as members of the body of Christ.

The Liturgy of the Hours is, simply put, a common celebration of both who we are as created in the divine image and likeness and of our growing in that image and likeness. The traditional way of celebrating the Cathedral Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, along with the Eucharist, is the chief way in which the Church lives out its liturgy.

Light is the main symbol used in the celebration of the Hours. We begin our day as Jesus did with prayer. We renew our lives in Christ, the "Sun of Justice." Our day is then a celebration of praise and thanksgiving for this light. In the evening hours we seek forgiveness for our sins during the day and ask for protection through the coming night. We give thanks to Christ the Light of the World, the light that no darkness can extinguish.

The Hours are also a celebration of the eschatological proclamation that we have received in Christ. The liturgy calls us to live out what we celebrate; otherwise, our liturgies are empty and void. In liturgy we celebrate, in ritual, the saving gift of Jesus the Christ. The whole dynamic of liturgical anamnesis and thankful praise is summed up in the words of the Canticle of Mary: "The almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name!" (Luke 1:49).

The history and theology of the Hours illustrate that they are public liturgies that belong to the whole body of Christ. Whether celebrated in a large cathedral, parish church, chapel, living room, or meeting room, it is the gathering of the Church at prayer on earth.


Even though William Storey's classic articles on the Liturgy of the Hours appeared in Worship more than 20 years ago, his words ring true today: "By and large the office is not regarded as liturgy in any normal sense of the word. It has not been experienced as such . . . . Little is expected of the Liturgy of the Hours because it is still unknown as a public, cultic, ecclesial event . . . . The Liturgy of the Hours as a cathedral or parish celebration is a non-entity" (William G. Story, "Parish Worship: The Liturgy of the Hours," Worship, 49, p. 3).

Cathedral parishes as the mother churches of the diocese are meant to be the model for all diocesan liturgical life. This is why the ecclesial celebration of the Hours "is best seen and especially recommended when it is performed—with the bishop surrounded by his priests and ministers—by the local church" (Roguet, p. 25).

If the cathedral church is to be a model, the cathedral will be the place where liturgy is celebrated in its fullest sense. Therefore, "the theological and liturgical thrust of the Liturgy of the Hours should be a model and ideal for the way in which all Catholic Christians pray" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Church at Prayer, A Holy Temple of the Lord: A Pastoral Statement Commemorating the Twentieth Anniversary of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, p. 17).

Diocesan and cathedral liturgists must work with the principles set forth in the official liturgical books. This is a challenging task when it comes to the Liturgy of the Hours as "the liturgical library provided for us contradicts the principles set forth in the General Instruction, because the new set of books is still essentially a monastic breviary while the Instruction itself has as its primary demand the restoration of a cathedral Office" (William Storey, "The Liturgy of the Hours: Cathedral versus Monastery," Christians at Prayer, ed. John Gallen, SJ, University of Notre Dame Press, 1977, pp. 74-75).

Many cathedral parishes celebrate Morning and Evening Prayer each day. This was the case while I was serving at St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, in the early 1990s. When we were faced with the Gulf War in 1991, the cathedral was ready to welcome the community. While 15 to 50 people usually gathered daily for Evening Prayer, the day our nation went to war, the cathedral was filled with several hundred people desiring to gather for prayer. The parish already had something in place, the Liturgy of the Hours. In Seattle, Washington, people know that when local, national, or world tragedy strikes, St. James Cathedral will be open for prayer. Most often the model for the prayer is based on the Liturgy of the Hours.

The celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer is an important element in the liturgical life of each parish community. The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours in the parish church must be seen as an ecclesial liturgy with both clergy and laity celebrating together as a community of prayer. When this happens, "the Church is the community of those whom God has called and who by prayer and worship answer him. Fittingly, therefore, the first pictorial representation we have of the Church in the catacombs of Saint Priscilla in Rome, pictures her as a matron, with arms outstretched in prayer: ecclesia orans, or, the praying Church" (Godfrey Diekman, OSB, "The Church as a Community of Prayer," Pastoral Music in Practice, eds. Virgil C. Funk and Gabe Huck, The Pastoral Press and Liturgy Training Publications, 1981, p. 43).

The Liturgy of the Hours in any parish community is an exercise of baptismal ministry, the Church standing together with arms outstretched. The spiritual potential of the celebration of the Hours is great. The element of praise alone has the ability to sweep us up into the mystery of Christ so that we can be his very presence in the world. The Hours give voice to the praise of God in creation and unite us with the prayer of Christ. This praise is a "school of prayer" (Taft, p. 367) for the Church and, as such, it is a prayer that is self-transcending, doxological, and prophetic. The Liturgy of the Hours is a celebration of the Trinity—psalmody that is both praise and lament, and prayer that moves the community to acts of justice. To encounter and be encountered by the God of creation, taking on our lips Mary's prayer, "be it done unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38), moves us from an attitude of individualism.

When celebrating the Hours, the parish community enters into the rhythm of the liturgical year and experiences more fully the Paschal Mystery. This is why the mandate of the General Instruction is so important: "Pastors of souls should see to it that the faithful are invited and helped by requisite instruction to celebrate the chief Hours in common, especially on Sundays and feasts" (Roguet, p. 25).

The most common practice for celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours in parish communities today seems to be during the major seasons. Many communities gather for the celebration of Sunday Evening Prayer during the Advent and Christmas seasons or the Lent/Triduum/Easter seasons. In addition, many communities, especially those without resident priests, gather to celebrate Morning or Evening Prayer.

Pastoral practice must take into consideration the human needs of modern Christians. When we attempt to restore the Liturgy of the Hours, we must adapt to the demands placed upon the fabric of the human family. This attempt is what the bishops called for when they said: "more realistic efforts must be made to adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to the actual situations which prevail in parishes" (NCCB, p. 18).

Celebrations of the Hours that are lengthy and fail to engage the hearts of the faithful through symbol, gesture, ritual, and song may hinder the process. The celebration of the Hours can provide a healing rhythm for people caught in the frenzied pace of twenty-first century living. The music and liturgical symbols of light and incense can carry us beyond the present into the Paschal Mystery. The restoration of the ancient Cathedral Office would help satisfy this need in the Church today.

If Morning and Evening Prayer are to be introduced to the community, it should follow the basic structure of the ancient Cathedral Office and include hymnody, psalmody, a reading, canticle, intercessions, and the Lord's Prayer. Other elements can be included such as the prayer of thanksgiving and the Service of Light. The ritual action, (prayer and ceremonial), the symbols of light, incense, and water as well as posture, gesture, movement, and silence are all used and focused on the primary symbol—that of the gathered assembly. The prayer, posture, gesture, movement, and silence all become the living action of the assembly. It is important that the first taste of Morning and Evening Prayer be a good experience. Careful preparation and celebration of these liturgies is essential. The communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours can take a community beyond itself and aid in the realization that God is in the world among them as flesh and blood. At the Liturgy of the Hours, we are celebrating the reign of God—the tension between our lives and God's will for humanity.

Many musical resources abound for implementing the celebration of the Hours. I will mention only a few here, "Praise God in Song" (various), "Light and Peace" (Haas), and "Holden Evening Prayer" (Haugen) from GIA publications, Chicago, Illinois, giamusic.com; "Lord, Open My Lips" (Consiglio) and "O Joyful Light" (Joncas), Oregon Catholic Press, Portland Oregon, ocp.org; "God of Light be Praised" (various) and "Jesus When the Sun Goes Down" (Janco), World Library Publications, Schiller Park, Illinois, wlp.jspaluch.com; "Pray Without Ceasing" (various), The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, litpress.org; and the "Mundelein Psalter" (Martins), Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, Illinois, LTP.org.

In addition to the official four-volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours or the one-volume Christian Prayer, both available from Catholic Book publishing, the following belong in parish libraries: An Everyday Book of Hours and A Seasonal Book of Hours, both by William G. Storey and available from LTP. LTP has additional resources for praying the hours of the day and the seasons.

Domestic Church and the Workplace
The Church, in her wisdom, knows the importance of common prayer even when groups of two or three gather. We have often heard the phrase, "the family that prays together, stays together," but we could also say that the family that prays together builds Church. This is why "it is fitting that the family, as the domestic sanctuary of the church, should not only offer common prayer to God but also say certain parts of the Liturgy of the Hours, in this way uniting themselves more closely to the Church" (Roguet, p. 26).

Especially beneficial would be the celebration of Sunday Morning Prayer in households or neighborhoods in the domestic Church. This is an excellent way for people to prepare for their gathering at the local Church for Sunday Eucharist. Also, coworkers can gather to pray the Hours in the work place. By using a resource such as Proclaim Praise: Daily Prayer for Parish and Home (LTP), which includes abbreviated forms of celebrations for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer, and by using seasonal hymns and psalms provided in the parish bulletin, the domestic Church and the those in the work place will have the basic material necessary for celebrating the Hours in homes and neighborhoods. For the Liturgy of the Hours to fully take root in our parishes, renewed emphasis must be placed upon prayer in households and small groups. Prayer must be recognized for its power and its revolutionary stance of dependence on the living God. The prayer of the domestic Church should lead to liturgical prayer within the larger community. The liturgy itself is the very living out of our life, by which we are being transformed into living out our Christian life. The domestic Church is the first place to be Christ for others.

Both GIA and OCP have recently released settings of the Hours for the commuter and people on the go. My Morning Prayer and My Evening Prayer (various) are from GIA and Morning and Evening (Walker/Freeburg) is from OCP.

The celebration of the Hours, whether in the cathedral, parish, or domestic Church celebrations should closely follow the principle of progressive solemnity in which all Sundays, solemnities, and feast days are celebrated with a variety of music and ministers. Attention to the selection of common psalms for these celebrations—especially Psalms 51, 63, 95, and 150 for Morning Prayer and Psalm 141, 121, and 117 for Evening Prayer—help the assembly to experience the themes of praise, repentance, thanksgiving, justice, protection, sorrow, strength, and wisdom that are found in the psalms. A musical setting of the Canticles of Zechariah and Mary can be chosen for each of the major seasons of the liturgical year. Special care must be taken to allow for a period of sacred, shared silence in all celebrations of the Hours.

The Church as tender mother must reach out and embrace this "forgotten stepchild" of the liturgical movement. The Liturgy of the Hours is the communal prayer that will fill people's hunger for devotional and Scriptural experiences, it is the prayer that can sustain the life of many within the faith community, and it is the way the Church has traditionally marked the hours of the day and the seasons of the year with prayer. No one (catechumens, non-Catholics, alienated Catholics) is excluded from participation in the Liturgy of the Hours, and the leadership for the Liturgy of the Hours is not limited to ordained ministers. Therefore, bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral ministers, and laity must form themselves with an appreciation for the Liturgy of the Hours so that the whole Church can be a visible presence of Christ at prayer.

Michael Prendergast
is a liturgical consultant and pastoral musician in Portland, Oregon. The former liturgy specialist at Oregon Catholic Press has more than 30 years experience as a musician and liturgist. His MTS is from Mount Angel Seminary, St. Benedict, Oregon, and his MA in liturgical studies is from St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota.
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