Five reasons to pray the Liturgy of the Hours

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When you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, you pray in unison with the whole church. (Photo: Carol Schuck Scheiber)

ENGAGING your spiritual life can be hard. Routines are difficult to start and usually more difficult to maintain. If you find yourself struggling in your prayer life or looking for something more, the Liturgy of the Hours might be your answer.

The built-in schedule within the pages of the Liturgy of the Hours puts you in a position to pray at the same appointed times every day. Routines can be an essential part of growth in many areas of life, and the spiritual life is no exception. The Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office) provides routine and much more.

The Liturgy of the Hours is one of the oldest forms of prayer in the church. It was cultivated by the Desert Fathers and Mothers, early Christians who withdrew to the desert to pray. Later, Saint Benedict helped develop the Liturgy of the Hours in the sixth century. From the earliest institution of this practice, the Liturgy of the Hours has served as means of encountering Christ throughout the day. Following the words of Saint Paul to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), the church has divided the Liturgy of the Hours into five segments, or “hours,” of prayer. These hours include the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. For laypeople whose lives are not organized according to this schedule, it is sufficient and honorable to pray Morning or Evening Prayer or both.

Here are five reasons to pray this prayer at the beginning and end of the day.

1) The church encourages it!

In the Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum Concilium (Sacred Council), the church declared, “And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.” This humble recommendation should be contemplated by everyone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Liturgy of the Hours “is the very prayer which Christ Himself together with His Body addresses the Father.”

The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office or the Work of God (Opus Dei), is the daily prayer of the church, marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer. The Hours are a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ, using scripture and prayer.
—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The first time I prayed the Liturgy of Hours I was in a small chapel with about 10 people in college. I woke up early one morning after seeing a sign in my dorm’s hallway stating the time and place to meet to pray.

Someone handed me a thick prayer book with ribbons. For the next 15 minutes the most beautiful thing happened. Though I was completely lost and not on the right page the entire time, I felt part of a community; I felt the unitive power of prayer. I felt part of something great and beautiful.
—Claire Couche,

In other words, the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the church “so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.” Members of the clergy and religious communities are encouraged or required to pray it. That means that when you pray the Divine Office, you are praying in communion with devoted laity, as well as the pope, bishops, priests, deacons, brothers, sisters, nuns, etc.

2) It provides a foundation for your prayer life.

A common stumbling block to prayer is the absence of a routine. The Liturgy of the Hours is perfect, because it provides you with a prayer schedule for the day. Morning and Evening Prayer offer a consistent means of sanctifying your day, by praising God in the morning and thanking God in the evening. This built-in routine can be a building block for the rest of your spiritual life.

3) It immerses your prayer in scripture.

Saint Jerome once said, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” In scripture you encounter Jesus Christ who is the Word made flesh. The whole of the Christian life is oriented toward an encounter with Jesus and union with him. The Liturgy of the Hours is saturated in scripture.

By praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you immerse your prayer life in the Psalms and readings from the Old and New Testaments, improving your knowledge of scripture and Christ.

4) It follows the liturgical year.

Christians have many celebrations throughout the liturgical year, and the Liturgy of the Hours is designed to be part of all of them. Each season of the church focuses intentionally on specific moments in the life of Christ and salvation history. The Liturgy of the Hours provides you with a means of prayerfully contemplating these events.

5) It’s great for travel.

When you travel, your normal prayer schedule is thrown out the window and replaced by spontaneity and chaos. Prayer often becomes an afterthought. The Liturgy of the Hours is what can hold your prayer life together during these joyfully uprooted times. When silent prayer is hard to come by, the Liturgy of the Hours provides solace amid a noisy environment. The format of the Liturgy of the Hours enables you to remain prayerful even in a busy setting. There are even phone apps for carrying this prayer on the go.

Prayerfully contemplate adding this practice to your prayer life. It is a wonderful way to build and maintain a prayer routine that will draw you closer to Christ. The saints are witness to this! 

A version of this article first appeared on Reprinted with permission.

Related:, “8 questions and answers to your prayers.

Matthew Petesch
By Matthew Petesch, who works in law in Helena, Montana.




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