Sunday, October 24, 2004

Sanctifying the Day

The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is a wonderful way of sanctifying every part of the day with prayer, used by monks, religious, clergy, and even lay people for many centuries.

Each "Hour" of prayer (except the first) begins in the same way:

God, come to my assistance.
Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

Amen. Alleluia.

A hymn is then sung or recited.

The first "Hour" begins with:

Lord, open my lips
And my mouth will proclaim your praise.

There is then an antiphon, which changes daily, that invites people to prayer, followed by a recitation of Psalm 95 (or an alternate).

Come, let us sing to the Lord
and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.
Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord....

The pillars of the Liturgy of the Hours are Morning Prayer (also known as Lauds) and Evening Prayer (also known as Vespers). Each are structured in the same way:
  • two psalms plus another Scriptural canticle,
  • a short Scripture reading and responsorial verses,
  • a canticle from the Gospel of Luke,
  • prayers for various intentions,
  • the Lord’s prayer,
  • a concluding prayer, and
  • a blessing.

The Gospel Canticle for Morning Prayer is the Canticle of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
he has come to his people and set them free...

The English translation of the Canticle’s closing is particularly beautiful.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The Gospel Canticle for Evening Prayer is the Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Magnificat.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant....

Except for the Gospel Canticles, the psalms and the canticles change daily. A different antiphon, that also changes daily, is recited with each psalm and canticle. The psalms, canticles, readings, and prayers follow regular cycles and are also determined by the seasons of the year (e.g., preparing for Christmas, extending the celebration of Easter) as well as special feasts or memorials that may fall on particular days.

The Daughters of St. Paul have a very nice volume that contains pretty much everything one needs for the recitation of Morning and Evening Prayer: "Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours" available on their website, on Amazon (isn't everything?) and other places. Catholic Book Publishing also has a single volume version.

For the online world, the Monks of Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota have posted a modified version of Morning and Evening Prayer. It is not complete, but easy to follow.

UPDATE - The complete texts for all of the Liturgy of the Hours for each day (U.S. edition) are available at