The Liturgy of the Hours
An Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours
The Liturgy of the Hours (or, the Divine Office, as it is sometimes known) is one form of prayer with both traditional and ecumenical dimensions. At its heart stands the word of God, especially as it is expressed in the poetic lines of the Psalter. Rooted in Christianity’s Jewish heritage, the psalms have for centuries provided a language of prayer for every branch of the church. From as early as the Acts of the Apostles, some form of daily Christian prayer has been offered, with God’s word, both read and sung, as its foundation.
Paraclete Press is the publishing house of the Community of Jesus, an abbey in the Benedictine monastic tradition. The community strives to hold in balance the values inherent in work, study and prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours has served to help maintain this balance for countless communities. In his Rule, Benedict called it the Opus Dei, the work of God, and he said that nothing should be preferred to it. It was the liturgical pivot upon which all the rest of the community’s life turned.
Because it is a form of communal prayer which is wedded with the passing of time, the services follow the natural order of our daily lives. Lauds begin the day, causing our first utterances to be those which are offered to the praise of God. At Midday we briefly break from our labors in order to remember that God, not our work, gives meaning to our day and that whatever good we do will have prayer at its source. In the evening we celebrate Vespers, looking back upon the day with thanksgiving, while humbly acknowledging that not all we have done has been to the glory of God. Finally, at Compline, we commend ourselves to God’s care through the night, and pray for the blessing of all the church.
The psalms, hymns, and prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours at the Community of Jesus are sung in Gregorian chant. Through the efforts of its founders and some of its early members, the Community embraced this practice as its own. At first this was done in strict imitation of others, for it was the best way to learn. But, as our own life and mission developed, so also did the need to have a shape and style of prayer which, while preserving tradition, also carried that tradition forward into our present setting.
The use of Gregorian chant was retained, including the use of the Latin for the psalms, hymns and responses. We have found the union of the ancient chant melodies with the Latin text still to be the most effective vehicle for bearing the meaning of the psalms.
Excerpted from The Liturgy of the Hours by the Community of Jesus, copyright 2002