Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Sacred Bookends

We are definitely in the home stretch of our formation journey as Secular Franciscans, as we are nearing the end of our first “Candidacy” year. We are approaching a time when we can make a decision to make our “Permanent Profession”, but another option is to wait one or two more years, if we don’t feel we are ready for that commitment. Regardless, now is an excellent opportunity to reflect on all that we’ve learned and gained over these past three years. One very positive plus in my life has been learning about the Liturgy of the Hours.

We heard a little about the Liturgy of the Hours when we first joined the Catholic Church and were going through R.C.I.A., seven years ago. This set of ancient prayers, also called the Divine Office, are daily prayers that have been part of Church tradition since its earliest times. Early Christians continued the Jewish practice of publicly reciting prayers, consisting of psalms and readings from the Old Testament, at certain hours of the day or night. The Christians added readings of the Gospels, Acts and Epistles. Many brothers and sisters in religious communities still pray these prayers aloud together, but they can also be prayed privately.

The monks of St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire pray the Liturgy of the Hours together.
There are seven “offices of prayer” in the Liturgy of the Hours – Morning, Mid-morning, Midday, Mid-afternoon, Evening and Night, as well as a daily “Office of Readings”, which includes a reading from the great spiritual storehouse of the Church, such as wisdom from the early Church Father or inspirational stories from the lives of the saints. Priests are obligated to pray the entire Divine Office daily, and in 2003 Pope John Paul II published an apostolic letter encouraging all of us laity to also take advantage of this rich and beautiful resource, as “a source of nourishment for personal prayer”.

Secular Franciscans are encouraged to pray Morning and Evening prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours, which, along with the Office of Readings, are called the “major hours”. 

As an evangelical Protestant for most of my life, I don’t have much experience with set, written prayer. My prayer times with God have always been quite unstructured and almost conversational in nature. But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to be “either/or” but “both/and”!  The stirring, ancient words of the Morning and Evening Prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours have become sacred bookends to my day, and they often are a gateway to spontaneous, very personal praise and thanksgiving.

Scripture exhorts us to “pray always”, which seems impossible, but the Liturgy of the Hours helps us to get into the habit of interweaving time with God into our day. It has become a very fruitful addition to my spiritual life, and I encourage those who haven’t encountered it to check it out. The Liturgy of the Hours is a great resource for everyone. I think many of my Protestant friends would appreciate that the prayers are so scriptural.

You might ask, “There should be an app for that!” and I’m happy to report that there is – called Divine Office, available from the App Store. With this app, you can either read or listen to the daily “offices of prayer”.  Sometimes I sit and read them prayerfully, but it’s great to have the option of listening to them while I walk the dogs, or do some knitting, or wash the dishes. Sometimes in the middle of the day, I stop and take a few minutes to listen to one of the “minor hours” (Mid-morning, Midday or Mid-afternoon prayer) which are shorter in length…and the lovely and very short night prayer is great to read in bed before drifting off to sleep!

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