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Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours (Part 1)

October 4, 2006

On this first post, I attempt to provide a short summary of the meaning of the prayer of the Church and each one of the canonical hours. Please stay tuned for an extended description of each one of the hours and how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Commandment to Pray

The Gospels show us how Jesus on many occasions commanded us to pray (Mt 5:44, 7:7, 26:41, Mk 13:33, 14:38, Lk 6:28, 10:2, 11:9, 22:40,46). This prayer has to be perseverant (Lk 18:1) and unceasing (Heb 15:15), thus the importance of sanctifying our work throughout the day and pausing to pray at specific hours of the day with the whole Church. Priests, religious, and the laity are all called to participate in the prayer of the Church.

There are specific hours of the day that the Church has dedicated for prayer. Every single one of the hours symbolizes the mysteries of Christ’s life. The most important prayers of the Church are the Morning Prayer (Lauds) and the Evening Prayer (Vespers), which are to be prayed in community, if possible. The “little” hours are those hours in between lauds and vespers (mid-morning, mid-day, and mid-afternoon), which we can pray alone and are meant to be pauses throughout our work day. Night prayer (compline) is to be prayed right before we go to sleep where we do a short examination of conscience and give thanks to God for our day. The night watch (vigils) prayed in the middle of the night is the most ancient of the Office of the Hours and it is currently practiced primarily by monks.

The Hours

Vigils – The Night Watch
12:00 AM – 5:30 AM

The Agony in the Garden: This prayer done in the middle of the night is usually prayed by monks and for obvious reasons it can be difficult for some of us to do if we need to get up early the next morning to go to work. The idea of waiting prayerfully through the night for dawn is beautiful, because we “watch and pray” as Jesus asked his disciples that night at the garden (Mt 26:38). You may not get up at 3 AM to pray, but think of the many times you have not been able to sleep, because you are waiting for a loved one to come back, or for a diagnosis, or for a cure, or for an answer… All of these are vigils and we are in solidarity with all those who suffer and patiently wait through the night for the day to come.

Part 2: Lauds – Morning Prayer

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