Praying with the Church: The Divine Office

Oh, how skeptical and dismissive I was—and oh, how many slices of humble pie I get to eat, while my mother watches! When she started praying the Divine Office years ago, I thought that she must: 1) have too much free time, 2) think that “normal” Catholic devotions aren’t good enough for her, or 3) be pleasantly but completely crazy. None of this turned out to be true, of course–and, partially due to her example, in time I came to appreciate the beauty of this ancient prayer myself!

The Divine Office, now often referred to as “The Liturgy of the Hours”, is the ongoing prayer of the Church: made up of a cycle psalms, hymns, and prayers, priests and religious must pray it, as part of their vocations, several times a day. (Praying the Divine Office is what the book known as a Breviary is used for.) Popes, including Pope Benedict XVI very recently, have encouraged lay people to pray some of the Divine Office too, specifically the “hours” of Lauds, Vespers, and Compline.

For a long time my mother used the standard American version of the Divine Office that was translated by the ICEL and published in the 1970s. That surprised me. (By now I am sure you know about the feelings churning through my heart whenever I type “1970s.”) But she had learned enough about the changes to the liturgical calendar, the faulty/ugly translations of prayers and Scripture verses published, and tragic omissions made to the texts of the Mass and Divine Office in those times to know that when after a while something just didn’t feel right as she prayed throughout the day, she knew shouldn’t give up on praying, she should just give up on that 40-something year-old edition. Eventually she realized that she wanted something much more reverent and beautiful than the current incarnation of the Breviary, and after a long search she found the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Little Offices are just what they sound like: a similar cycle of prayers and psalms that lay people can perhaps more easily fit into their busy schedules. They are also hundreds of years old, and have been approved and encouraged for devotional use by the Church since time immemorial.

Praying with the Church: The Divine Office

But since last Spring when I finished reading that Great Amazing Marvelous Wonderful Book that is all about deepening home devotions with a prayer corner/home altar, I decided I wanted to pray from the “official” Office, the “big one,” because I wanted to pray with the Church, to be part of the ongoing universal prayer constantly going up to God. I have chosen just one of the “hours” to pray, though: I have simply been praying Lauds in the morning. Because I want to pray with the older form of the Divine Office (which is still approved for Catholics to use, even today!), I use an app which connects to this site: http://divinumofficium.com. I’m so glad to have been encouraged to start doing this by my mother and by authors Clayton and Lawler.

Praying Lauds takes about 15-20 minutes right after I wake up. It sets up my day in a beautiful way—one of my favorite things about it is that it reminds me whose feast day it is and gets me praying for his/her intercession from the earliest moments I am awake. “Mindfulness” is a buzzword in our culture today, and I agree that being mindful of the right things is essential to a good life. Praying Lauds keeps me mindful throughout the day of God’s goodness, of His holy saints who are interceding for us, and of our blessed duty to seek Him in everything we do throughout our day. As an example of the beautiful inspiration I am talking about, here is the hymn from Lauds this morning, as it is October 15 today, the feast of St. Theresa of Avila:

Behold the blessed morning,
When, like a snow-white dove,
Thy soul arose, Theresa,
To join the choirs above.

The Bridegroom calls: “From Carmel
Come, sister, unto me,
Partake the Lamb’s high nuptials;
Thy crown awaiteth thee.”

O Jesus, tender Bridegroom
By holy virgin throngs
Be evermore surrounded,
Be praised in endless songs.
Amen.

It’s funny: since I started praying from the Divine Office every day, now it really makes sense to me that we have all kinds of traditions to celebrate our dear Saints. After all, the Church is literally ALL DAY praying and mentally/spiritually celebrating the life of the particular saint of each day in the current life of the Church here on earth! These holy ones are very much alive in Heaven, and through the Divine Office and the Mass we are constantly reminded of their thought and active prayer for us day by day.

What a gift it is that the monasteries have prayed this way for hundreds and hundreds of years, developing prayers and hymns and praising God with psalms, so that generations upon generations of Catholics flourished in a culture of prayer based on these riches. Don’t miss out on this treasure! Whether you are single, or you have been blessed with a very large family, or are anything in between, I recommend connecting your daily prayer to the cycle of the Divine Office. You will, like me, be surprised by what it will do for your spiritual life!  

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