October 9, 2013

The Prayer of the Church

This morning I witnessed a stunning pre-dawn sky as I prepared to say Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours so I quickly snapped a photo. The heavens truly do declare the glory of God.

Some people have said that the entire Church prays the same prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours at the same time. Of course, on this spinning globe that's impossible.

It's much more exciting than that.

By the time I prayed on my veranda in Tokyo, Christians in New Zealand and parts of Australia and Russia had already seen the sunrise, and had already prayed the same Psalms that I was praying at that moment.

After I finished my prayers, the Christians in Korea and China and all of Asia would be praying the same Psalms, followed by Christians in Europe and Africa, Greenland, and finally the Americas.

These same Psalms would be prayed all around the globe over a 24 hour period in a sort of prayer marathon or vigil.

And it would start all over again with Morning Prayer followed by the Daytime Prayers, followed by Evening Prayer, followed by Night Prayer, plus the Office of Readings, coming again and again at roughly three hour intervals.

They are also known by their traditional names: Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline and Matins.

So nearly every three hours a new wave of prayer sweeps across the globe. Of course, not everybody follows the exact same time table, so at any given time somebody is praying somewhere.

With the same Psalms and prayers circling the globe in waves, rising to up to heaven all day and all night, there is never a moment when the Church is not praying.

Some will gather in churches or monasteries to pray these prayers together, and others will pray alone at home.

But they are all praying in agreement with the same words because they use the same prayer book called a Breviary which consists mainly of the Psalms, plus Bible readings, hymns and other prayers.

There's also a place for your spontaneous prayers, although the prayers that I manage to think up can never measure up to the ones God has provided in the Bible.

My Japanese Breviary
There was a time when Latin was the common language of the western world, and the Breviary was prayed in Latin only.

But now the Breviary has been translated into many languages, so all the Christians in the world are able combine their voices in the various languages of the world to pray the same prayers to one God.

I have both a Japanese Breviary and some English editions which were published in America and Africa, but the contents are the same, and it goes through all the Psalms every four weeks.

The Liturgy of the Hours is also called the Divine Office, or just the Breviary.

The Liturgy of the Hours is a product of the Catholic Church, which should come as no surprise since the history of the Liturgy of the Hours goes all the way back to the early days when there was no other Church but the Catholic Church.

But its use isn't restricted to Catholics. Protestants and other non-Catholics can also use the Breviary in their personal devotions, and from what I've heard and read on the web, many do.

The Liturgy of the Hours is the Prayer of the Church.

My English (African) Breviary (and yes, those are really my reading glasses and not just a prop)

As you know, most of the Psalms are written as prayers. I can easily offer up the prayers which praise God, but there other prayers for help and deliverance and justice which don't reflect my personal experience at the moment. I can't identify with them personally.

Take for example Psalm 74:

1 Why, O God, have you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger blaze at the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your flock which you claimed long ago,
the tribe you redeemed to be your own possession,
this mountain of Sion where you made your dwelling.

3 Turn your steps to these places that are utterly ruined!
The enemy has laid waste the whole of the holy place.
4 Your foes have made uproar in the midst of your assembly;
they have set up their emblems as tokens there.
5 They have wielded their axes on high,
as at the entrance to a grove of trees.

6 They have broken down all the carvings;
they have struck together with hatchet and pickax.
7 O God, they have set your holy place on fire;
they have razed and profaned the abode of your name.

8 They said in their hearts, "We will utterly crush them;
we will burn every shrine of God in the land."
9 We do not see our emblems, nor is there a prophet;
we have no one to tell us how long it will last.

10 How long, O God, is the enemy to scoff?
Is the foe to insult your name forever?
11 Why, O LORD, do you hold back your hand?
Why do you keep your right hand hidden in your cloak?

12 Yet God is my king from time past,
who bestows salvation through all the land.
13 It was you who divided the sea by your might,
who shattered the heads of the monsters in the sea.

14 It was you who crushed Leviathan's heads,
and gave him as food to the beasts of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and torrents;
it was you who dried up ever-flowing rivers.

16 Yours is the day and yours is the night;
it was you who established the light and the sun.
17 It was you who fixed the bounds of the earth,
you who made both summer and winter.

18 Remember this, O LORD: the enemy scoffed!
A senseless people insulted your name!
19 Do not give the soul of your dove to the beasts,
nor forget the life of your poor ones forever.

20 Look to the covenant; each cave in the land
is a place where violence makes its home.
21 Do not let the oppressed be put to shame;
let the poor and the needy bless your name.

22 Arise, O God, and defend your cause!
Remember how the senseless revile you all the day.
23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the unceasing uproar of those who defy you.

Did you read this entire Psalm, or did your eyes glaze over, as you gradually lost interest? How is anyone supposed to read -- let alone try to pray -- such a long block of text that does not scratch where they itch?

While I can't personally identify with this prayer, it is very relevant to the Body of Christ which cries out to God for help as Christians are murdered and Churches are destroyed in various hostile countries throughout the world, as we have heard in the news lately (as I write these words).

If I can picture the situation or call to mind the images I have seen in the news, then suddenly it becomes much easier to pray these Psalms from the heart and join my voice with the Prayer of the Church.

Suddenly it becomes personal as the Body of Christ prays for its own urgent needs. They become my own prayers as a member of that Body.

There has to be a real power when such fervent, heart-felt prayers are being offered in succession around the globe by the Universal Church. Now I look forward to joining in on those prayers.

It's no wonder the popes have been exhorting us to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The world needs the Church to be praying with one voice and one heart. I hope you will join us.

Perhaps the easiest and fastest way to pray the Liturgy of the Hours is to use a free online version. I have provided links below.

Online versions of the Liturgy of the Hours:

  • Divine Office.org
  • (online official version of the Liturgy of the Hours)

  • iBreviary
  • (online official version of the Liturgy of the Hours)

  • Uiversalis
  • (online unofficial version of the Liturgy of the Hours)

  • Daily Prayer Conference
  • Online Anglican form of the Divine Office for Catholics, especially those who are members of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. If you are in the eastern hempsphere, simply type /tomorrow after the URL to get the data for the next day. Some parts are provided, but you will need a 1928 American Book of Common Prayer or the Concise Edition of the Prayer Book.

Other useful links

Other articles by Russ Stutler:

Psalm 74 is reprinted from The Revised Grail Psalms
Copyright 2010, Conception Abbey/The Grail,
admin. by GIA Publications, Inc., www.giamusic.com
All rights reserved.

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