Confessions of a Liturgical Pray-er

In roaming the Catholic blogosphere I've discovered a lot of discussion among lay folk concerning a form of prayer called 'The Liturgy of the Hours' or 'The Divine Office'. I'm presuming that you have a general knowledge of what this form of prayer is. There are many very fine websites devoted to this topic. Click here for an very detailed online tutorial.

I've listened through posts and comments as many have described the travails they've experienced in trying to sustain The Divine Office. Many have tried and quickly given up. Others have continued for a time and have been overwhelmed by its demands and had to quit. I want to make some comments on what it is that has helped me to sustain my commitment in praying the Divine Office for over two decades. Hopefully, someone will get some helpful tips on how to approach this as a layperson.

In addition to my own personal experience, I have been helping others to discern if this prayer is for them, as well as giving some guidance on its implementation. This has been primarily through my role in Fraternity Life as a Secular Franciscan. I have been Minister, Council member or Formation Director for the majority of those years and this is one topic that each and every member must address.

So why do so many lay people start with good intentions and quickly fall away? Here are a few reasons that I'd like to point out and then explore:

  • Not rightly distinguishing between personal and liturgical prayer.
  • Insufficiently developed personal prayer life or personal relationship with the Lord.
  • Overly rigorous about the rubrics.
  • Not doing this freely for 'love of Jesus and His Church', but rather creating an obligation which does not exist.

Liturgical Prayer as Prayer of the Church: The Divine Office is liturgical and not personal prayer, even when said alone or in private. The root meaning of 'liturgy' or an 'office' is something akin to 'a public work' or a 'duty'. Someone who has fallen away from regular Sunday mass attendance is apt to make a comment such as: "I don't get anything out of the mass". Such a remark will trigger a vignette playing in my head that sounds something like this: 'I'm sorry if you don't get anything out of this. This is not about our personal religious experience but rather about our praying WITH and FOR the 'Body of Christ'. This individual has confused the 'public work or duty of liturgy' with their own personal prayer experience.

To use a military analogy, if a young person joins the Army because he wants 'to be all he can be'; well that's fine. But ultimately he or she will come to understand that the goal of their personal development will take a back seat to the overall mission of the Army itself. They are really being asked to participate in a larger mission that could ultimately involve the sacrifice of their lives. Indeed, 'personal development' can and does happen, but this is due to the fact that the soldier is maturing and participating more fully in the larger mission.

And so it is with our participation in any form of liturgy. Hence, the reality of liturgical prayer is that it is the prayer of the Church; not our personal prayer.

Insufficient Personal Prayer Life: Like our unprepared person who 'gets nothing out of Mass': someone who has little or no devotional or prayer life will find it difficult to jump into The Liturgy of the Hours. They are not likely to bear the burden or sacrifice, small as it is, because they haven't formed a mature sense of who Christ is and the mission he has established for his Church. I think this is true for all liturgical prayers: The Mass, Benediction and Eucharistic Adoration, The Divine Office. Each of these liturgical forms of prayer flourishes when the individual 'brings to them' some personal experience in meditation, scripture reading, or other form of private prayer. The disciple moves from being an observer to one who now wants to 'get yoked' with the Lord.

Excessive Rigor and Scrupulous Rubrics: In short, lay people sometimes overstep the mark by transforming their home, a 'Domestic Church', into a 'Domestic Monastery'. [I am speaking here specifically to the lay individual who is participating in private recitation of the Office. Certainly any Religious or Priest is answerable to their own vows, spiritual guidance and/or Religious Superior.] The secular person's life, especially with marriage and family, has huge demands and duties in and of itself. Our response to these demands is where much of our holiness and sanctity is being formed.

These family roles are our true vocation and duties and they rise even above our desire to participate in the liturgical form of prayer. Since the needs of the family are so great the demands of The Divine Office must occasionally yield to the legitimate demands of the family members. All of this is to say that the lay person who frets over missing an occasional prayer session or is not able to say prayers when and how he or she wants, is causing excess burden upon themselves and therefore increasing the chance that the entire undertaking will be dropped.

Freely for the Love of Jesus and his Church: Sadly, some people do Sunday mass liturgy because they 'fear hell' if they don't. Others respond to a sense of obligation. But love of Jesus and his Church is the greatest motivator and that's the only reason to take up this liturgical form of prayer. Finally, be wary of making commitments such as 'I'm doing this for the rest of my life' without due consideration. I find that lay people do best by practicing this prayer freely until they arrive at the point where 'missing the prayer' hurts. Then they will discover they have been 'called to the liturgy'. [Note: Professed Seculars such as myself have in fact made 'promises', but not vows and thus should strive to do what they have promised on the day of their public profession.]

Afterthoughts: Should we pray the one volume – the four volume set – some subscription format like 'Magnificat' – or a shortened version like Little Office of the BVM? Yes, yes, yes, yes…whatever works for you. I use the one volume edition called 'Christian Prayer'. (It's old and soft like a broken in baseball glove.) I feel entirely free to sit relaxed with a cup of coffee or even a glass of wine in the evening and participate in the Liturgy of the Hours. My morning prayer can be anytime from wake up to mid-afternoon. My evening prayer is anytime from late afternoon until bedtime. I try to find a quiet place to pray. This could drive me from room to room depending on where others are. My favorite place is outside in the yard when the weather cooperates.

Morning prayers are easiest as I now have the luxury of 7 am mass followed by rosary with the 'rosary ladies' followed by The Divine Office in front of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a few quiet moments alone with the Lord. This is the ideal of course and is only a recent development in the last year. If my schedule changes I'll have to give it up. Ironically, if I do miss an occasional Office it's most likely to be Sunday morning when the whole routine is changed and others are running around. So go figure.

Oh, one more thing. If you really want to see the fruit of this manner of prayer in Franciscan flavor, take a look at this short Breviary meditation by clicking here.


Little Scribe said...

This is an excellent writing on liturgical prayer. Thanks for sharing your insights. I will pass your post along to my Franciscan community and would like to link to it from my blog.

Barb, sfo said...

Thank you, Tausign!

Our Fraternity enjoys Liturgy of the Hours in common when we meet and encourages all members to pray it daily. It is a beautiful part of the liturgical prayer of the church.

Evelyn said...

Thanks for this great piece! I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who finds wine and Evening Prayer a lovely combination.

Seriously, though, you're right on about taking the rubric too seriously. If I don't give myself permission to skip a lot of the optional page-turning for memorials, etc., I get frustrated and unsure of how to do it just right, and then it becomes reading instead of praying.

Evelyn said...

So today is the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Pastor and Doctor. What I actually did was pray from the psalter p867 and use the canticle antiphon and closing prayer from the proper (is it the proper?) on p1075. But I see that there is the common of doctors on 1434, which uses in large part the common of pastors on 1422, each of which has its own antiphons and such. Just out of curiosity, what is one "supposed" to do, if one can tolerate unlimited page turning?


Tausign said...


If you are using 'Christian Prayer' one volume, then look at page 37. This 'Format of the Offices' is brief and a great cheat sheet.

To answer your curiosity I am guided by 'Memorials' 1b)second stroph--'otherwise they MAY be taken from the Commons OR the current weekday' [Emphasis added]

I prayed it exactly the way you did. Everything from the 'commom' prayer (current weekday) except what is given in 'proper' prayers on page 1075.

Beginners and Newbees could just stick with the common prayers until they acquire more familiarity and proficiency.

Evelyn said...

Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

thank you I have learned so much.

I find it odd that my fraternity prints out the prayers and readings from the Christian Prayer for our meetings instead of just using the book.

One of the council members told me when I asked why "we" couldn't be taught how to pray it, (I already knew how) instead of wasting all the paper it took to copy it for every meeting said, "Marilyn, not everyone is as smart as you."

Tausign said...

I suspect the fact that The Divine Office is being 'printed out' is that most members have not adopted the spirit of taking up 'the work or duty' of liturgical prayer. (We did this in my Fraternity for some time until we had a 'critical mass' of people who were willing to pray the LOTH...that might simply be where your Fraternity is at.)

But when someone makes a profession to SFO that's part of their promise to the Church. There are other ways to satisfy this 'duty' of course...who isn't smart enought to figure out the 'Twelve Our Fathers'. You might ask if the Council is encouraging the 12OF's for those who can't or won't do The Divine Office. (If members are doing that, then fine.)

Again, most often what's lacking is an appreciation for the distinction between liturgical and personal prayer.

Peace and all good.

Liturgy said...

I am delighted to read this insightful post.
I encourage liturgical spirituality at
especially the Liturgy of the Hours:
A great discipline to start in Lent