The Liturgy of the Hours Isn’t What You Think

Liturgy of HoursChances are you have probably heard of the Liturgy of the Hours, but if the size and cost of a complete four-volume set didn’t ward you off, the dizzying maze of Psalms, antiphons, ribbons, and red-colored directions certainly did.

The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, a new book by Daria Sockey, is for you.

We tend to associate the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, with what priests, monks, and nuns do—not those of us who have jobs, kids, or school. Sockey, a mother of seven and a self-described experienced homeschooler, makes a convincing case for why everyone—yes, everyone—should practice this form of prayer.

Sockey’s liturgical know-how combined with her constant attention to practical questions—complete with easy-to-digest break-out sections for the particularly querulous reader—make this book as informative as it is accessible.

The Liturgy of the Hours, Sockey explains, is the Church’s response to the command to “pray unceasingly.” Indeed, with seven hours, or times of prayer, each with strong doses of prayers, petitions, and Psalms, the Liturgy of the Hours certainly lives up to its name.

But it’s more than simply constant prayer. There is no greater form of prayer outside the Mass, Sockey writes, than the Liturgy of the Hours. And yes, she says that even includes the rosary. It’s an admittedly bold claim, but one that Sockey defends well over the course of her book, drawing upon eminently reliable authorities like the catechism and C. S. Lewis—along with experience from her aptly titled blog, Coffee and Canticles—in making her case.

In a concise 115 pages, Sockey successfully achieves her stated aim of offering readers a forest-and-trees look at the Liturgy of the Hours. The first three chapters provide a crisp bird’s eye view of what the Liturgy of the Hours is, how it developed over the centuries, and why it is relevant to us today. It’s here that novices will find helpful and clear answers to such questions as: What’s the difference between the Liturgy of the Hours and a breviary? Or: What do terms like lauds and matins mean?

The middle section of the book zooms in for the trees, where Sockey breaks down the basic building blocks of an hour and how each hour, in turn, fits into the liturgical day—all the while ensuring readers don’t get lost in the proverbial forest.

In the final section, readers are in for a treat: an honest and wise look into questions that many people probably have but maybe are afraid to ask, such as—How can we faithfully complain to God? Why does God demand so much praise? How do we pray through the ‘violent’ Psalms?

More than simply a how-to-guide, The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, is studded with insightful gems with broad relevance to the devout life. Take this one on making time for prayer:

The opportunity to sanctify time is something we should welcome. Certainly we all value our time. We are always complaining that we do not have enough of it. We are disappointed with ourselves when we realize we’ve been wasting it. We marvel at the swiftness of its passing. We cling to our day planners and calendars as to anchors in a storm. So it makes sense to dedicate this valuable commodity—the fleeting hours of morning, noon, evening, and night—to our Creator.

Ultimately, The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, like its subject matter, has something for everyone. That includes those who are not novices to this form of prayer, but perhaps are seeking a richer understanding of why they do what they do in the Liturgy of the Hours. Even those readers who do not immediately rush out to buy a breviary or log onto to divineoffice.org will find their prayer lives instantly enriched by reflections on the devout life that are universally applicable.

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lindy.ill Lindy Ill

    I guess I wonder why the Rosary is rated as less valuable than the Liturgy of the Hours. I totally understand the importance of Liturgical prayers, don’t get me wrong. But in nearly every Church-approved apparition of the Blessed Mother, Mary said, “Pray the Rosary every day”. She never said, “Pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day”.

    Just wondering.

  • thesockeys@gmail.com

    Our Lady never said “Go to Mass on Sunday” either. The Mass is more valuable than the Rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours is placed next to the Mass in value by the Church. Priests and religious are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, but strongly encouraged to pray the Rosary. But it’s not “either/or”. It’s “in addition” to praying the Rosary. The Popes tell the laity we should pray both.

  • kirk

    There is another Psalter called the “Shorter Christian Prayer” or “The Four Week Psalter of the Liturgy of the Hours”, containing the Morning and Evening prayers and is much easier than the 4-book Psalter, At our parish a few parishioners met to pray these, and we made a “Step by Step” 3×5 card, encased in plastic, listing all the responses for “leader” and “All” from the opening to dismissal. It’s user friendly to either do in group or individually, and only takes about 12-15 minutes twice a day. It’s a beautiful prayer with Psalms and readings for meditation. I highly recommend it for the laity.

  • James Stagg

    If you have not yet found the web-site divineoffice.org, you are missing a treasure…albeit a somewhat hidden one. Check out their apps for smartphones. A delight to use, especially praying with the audio.

    I have used the single-volume Daughters of St. Paul “Christian Prayer – The Liturgy of the Hours” for about 25 years…..yes, the book has been re-bound twice. My wife has the large-print “Christian Prayer – Liturgy of the Hours” single volume published by Catholic Book Publishing; I find mine easier to use, but both are cheaper alternatives to the four-volume set, and contain prayers for all the Hours not found in the Morning-Evening Prayer book, which also lacks the prayers for saints’ days and major feastdays.

    Go for it! You actually can learn much by reading the early Fathers of the Church in the Office of Readings. But, try the web-site first. No cost, and you don’t have to turn pages.

  • http://www.DSDOConnor.com/ Daniel O’Connor

    Beautiful!

    Certainly debatable as to just what is the greatest prayer after the Mass. Blessed Alan de la Roche was apparently told by Our Lady that it is the Rosary. I do personally believe it is more imperative for the laity to pray the Rosary every day than the Liturgy of the Hours. On the other hand, I so direly believe that the laity should be praying both each day! Morning, Evening, and Night prayer are a good start.

  • Laura

    Actually, it is not debatable. The Church teaches that the second highest form of Liturgy in the Church is Liturgy of the Hours. Our Blessed Mother gave the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary to Bl. Alan de la Roche. She did not contradict the Church by saying it is the second highest form of prayer.

  • http://www.DSDOConnor.com/ Daniel O’Connor

    Peace, Laura.

    Please cite the Magisterial document that makes the claim you assert.

    In Christ, through Mary,
    Daniel

  • anniem

    It is SO EASY to pray the Divine Office with downloadable and FREE resources, such as
    LAUDATE. My hubby & I have prayed Lit. of Hours for more than 30 years-together. He does most of the Hours while I do EP with him. Being a permanent deacon for 34 years, he was told it was mandatory. Now I’ve read that this requirement is only for transitional deacons, but it has been a real blessing. More and more lay people who are now praying the Divine Office.

  • level

    Google “Universalis” where the Liturgy of the Hours is laid out with all the content for a particular hour/date. It can also easily be downloaded on the ebook reader or with an app

    to a tablet. I carry either one or the other with me, it is so convenient. It certainly has been an enriching experience for me. God Bless.

  • Francis Junior

    I along with the Chancel Choir St. John the Evangelist in Boise Idaho, and many others have been praying the Divine Office for many years, How do you suppose that you could know what I or anyone else think? Your comments are highly insulting and inflammatory. I think that you should apologize and exit this forum until you have made amends for you slovenly writing and thinking. You are a disgrace to the whole church.

  • PA Observer

    The Liturgy of the Hours is part of the Mass. If you read the Church’s explanation on the Divine Office, you will see that all the liturgical prayers in the Hours draw from the Mass and return to the Mass. Not even our dear Holy Mother’s Rosary can compete with that. But next to the Mass (including the Lit of Hours), the Rosary is urged as the best by the Church herself. The history of the Rosary shows the strength of our Lady’s protection, it has saved the faith where no sacraments have been available, and is promised to do so again in tribulations to come. It is a contemplative prayer, and so introduces even the simplest of Christians into that meaty, full approach to prayer, based on our own knowledge of the Faith, and the Bible, and deepens it. It makes personal Mary’s love and protection and the channel of God’s grace that she is, the most direct to God Himself, and brings it into our own life of Faith. The Rosary makes the full family life of God and His salvation personal to us, and presents the fruits of our Lady’s virtue into our own souls, mind and body. Her apparitions have been urging its use because our growth in interior grace is the best foil to the demon’s influence in times of trouble and deceit. She who gave the moral and spiritual formation to her Son is especially powerful and adept at doing the same for our souls.

  • Carol

    I approached a priest once regarding whether it is the daily rosary or the daily Liturgy of the Hours that takes precedence for lay people. His reply was that both are truly beneficial to the individual and for the church; however, he stated that from his perspective, it is more important for lay people not to miss saying their daily rosary. As for those with religious vocations, the Liturgy of the Hours is of greatest importance. There is no problem with striving for both every day; however it is attending daily Mass that is, of course, the greatest value of all, should we as laypeople be free and capable of attending.
    cabw

  • http://www.facebook.com/wilhelmina.vredenburg Wilhelmina Vredenburg

    The rosery,is the greatist weapon,again st evil,we should pray,2 or three aday,if posible,heaven will reward us..

  • http://www.facebook.com/wilhelmina.vredenburg Wilhelmina Vredenburg

    well done,your priest told you what is right,our priest is like him,holy mass should be first,the rosery,reading the bible, evvery day,fasting,,and confession every month.I am sure he is verry close to our heavenlyMother.,And the world,ls going to need priest like him.Any prayer after the rosery,is welcome in heaven.Chaplet of divine mercy ,is powerfull,we are needing his mercy,more than ever.God bless.

  • Deacon David

    Anniem, The requirement to pray the Divine Office is in force for all clergy. The Bishop may waive certain hours for permanent deacons because of their secular work responsibilities. In most dioceses this means permanent deacons are required to pray morning (lauds) and evening (vespers) prayers. The requirement is in the rite of ordination and among the promises made by the new deacons. In most places these promises are reinforced at the annual Mass of Recommitment during Lent. Pax.

  • Ted

    The 15 promises of the Rosary are clear and its power over evil is incredible. It is even believed that someday it will be the Blessed Mother herself that will chain Satan in Hell with the power of the Holy Rosary. the Holy Rosary is also a sacramental which means that one receives Grace by using it. Don’t forget Blessed JP II introduced an additional mystery to the Holy Rosary – I am certain for good reason! He is a saint. Don’t underestimate the value of the Holy Rosary – if you get distracted while praying it offer it up & it will become even more efficacious. The Liturgy of the Hours if vital for the church but so is the Holy Rosary which even the poor and illiterate can pray daily and do!

  • http://www.facebook.com/deaconlen Deacon Len Long

    You are right on ! He must have a great devotion to Our Lady !

  • Maccabeus

    Let us not forget the wonderful iPhone app (also available on Android smartphones) for the Liturgy of the Hours, called “Divine Office.” It makes praying the Liturgy of the Hours effortless, as it provides the entire Office day to day, so there is no fussing with ribbons or page numbers. If you don’t want to spend money on this app (worth every penny in my opinion), there is a free app called iBreviary, which also includes the entire daily Office, and a host of other prayers. I use both, but I find Divine Office more reliable.

  • Jerry Flesh

    It is obvious that the intent of the article is to reach the readers who have refrained from approaching The Liturgy of the Hours due to their perception that the Hours are complex, time consuming, etc. It is wonderful that you and your friends know better, and have been praying them for years. I’m sure Mr. Beale would agree.

  • JoyInTheLord

    I believe it’s more of practical wisdom than rating it ‘less valuable’, as all prayers rise like incense to God. Rosary is pray-able even when one is doing mundane tasks like driving in the highway, or folding the laundry. One can’t do those things when s/he is praying the Hours. I guess the important thing is one prays, one tries to be in union with God.

    I used to pray part of the Hours together with my wife. Unfortunately, I lost the book in a pilgrimage. This post makes me think of getting one again, or at least, do the Divine Office online.

    And yes, my heart throbs when I pray the Hours.

  • Athanasius

    The Liturgy of the Hours is superior to the Rosary in that it is, like the Mass, the public prayer of the Church. The problem with recommending it to lay people is that the English translation of the Psalms it horrendous. The Grail Psalter and the New Grail Psalter (which will be used in a couple of years) are sterilized forms of the Psalms, the translation is so bad it makes the New American translation look good (it is not). I don’t know how anybody can get anything out those translations of the Psalms and let me note, I pray Office of Readings, Matins, Daytime prayer, Lauds and Compline. It is a cross to use the present translations. But a rosary can be easily carried around by lay people and can be prayed when waiting in line at the grocery store, stuck in rush-hour traffic, at the doctor’s office, or whenever. In the end it’s all about how much love we put in our prayers. A person can still attend daily Mass, pray the Divine Office and the daily Rosary but do so with little love, hence it will do them little good.

  • June Quinn

    It is available on line at http://divineoffice.org/ Listen and read along, I use it daily

  • anthony aguirre

    True, brother, Blessed Alan de la Roche did say this. Consider that Our Lady told him this, for our benefit, at a time when most of the laity could not read or afford to own books, or even a Holy Bible for that matter. Perhaps, after the Mass, Our Lady was simply referring to personal prayer. Even today, while most Catholics know what the Mass and what the Rosary are, most I suspect have no idea what the terms Divine Office or Litury of the Hours refer to.

  • Osita

    In my parish, some of the parishioners gather in the chapel every morning to say the Morning prayers from the divine office. This is done before the morning mass, hence it is convenient for those who attend morning masses to start 30 minutes or so earlier. I suggest this practice in your various parishes. Ours is usually supported by a priest, deacon or seminarian.

  • peacebwu12

    This is an excellent debate, though I suspect some of us are called to be especially consistent with one or another form of prayer in our daily life. As such, I do not believe either the LOTH or the Rosary are obligatory by Church doctrine; therefore, I look to Christ Jesus for ways I am to grow in faith, hope, and charity. For me, I understand and adore the power of the Rosary, but God has simply brought the LOTH to me as essential to my current state. I am open to Him saying, “Now pray the Rosary daily” or “Now the Rosary is essential,” though I must leave it up to Him as I am in His Hands. Praying just one a day leaves me more open to play with my kids, love my wife, or visit my elderly neighbor (though much of the time I’d rather be praying!). We must be open to His Will, which is comprehensively good for us in our growth and development in the faith, and not beat ourselves up too much if we cannot do everything we will!

  • kirk

    Personally, I’m not really impressed with whether it is better for lay persons to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Rosary, any other prayer, or all at the same time. The important thing is that we pray, and not find it a source of pride as to which is best or if all of them is best of all. If one person says, “I’m closer to God because I pray the Rosary”, another says “I’m better because I pray the Liturgy of the Hours”, while another says, “Well, I pray both – so mine is superior.” Prayer is not something that makes us better or worse than another, but is a conversation between the self and God. I love the Liturgy of the Hours, but as a convert I’ve never quite gotten the hang of the Rosary. Does that make me less prayerful than one who does both? I don’t think so.
    An acquaintance of mine once told me how proud he was that every day he went swimming, and with each lap of the pool he prayed the Memorare – sometimes up to 40 times. It didn’t make him any kinder to his neighbors, but okay if that’s what helps him.

    Recently, I purchased a little book for 50 cents, “On Prayer” at a used book store, written by Karl Rahner, SJ, published in 1958. That’s over 50 years ago, but what a powerful message about the importance of prayer as vital conversation with God, and so appropriate in our times. If you want to read something that can change your life – get it and read only a little at a time, meditate on it, and let the message sink into your soul. But, my prayer is a very personal thing, not compared to another’s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lauretta.sesock Lauretta Robbins Sesock

    I was told many years ago that the Rosary was given so that those who did not have the access to or capacity for the LOTH to pray in a way appropriate for their station in life. Is that no longer how the Rosary is understood?

    Both are beautiful forms of prayer and I think that the factor determining which is “better” for laity to pray depends on the personality of the individual. I tend to be more faithful to the LOTH but I know others who are very faithful to their daily Rosary. I think God is very pleased with both!

  • James Ignatius McAuley

    You are all silly. Learn your history — The rosary is nothing more than a form of the psalter for the laity – 150 psalms = 150 hail marys (joyful, sorrowful, and glorious). The core of the Liturgy of the Hours is the psalter, meaning the psalms. Before it was called the LOTH it was called the Roman Breviary. I suggest The Breviary Explained by Pius Parsch. If you study the History of the Little Office of Our Lady, you will see its clear relationship to the rosary. While the rosary is not presently understood as liturgical prayer, but as devotional, it has its roots in liturgical prayer. In any event, Jesus prayed the psalms, as did his mother. Read the gospels – the reference to praying a hymn after the last supper – that is a reference to the gradual pslams said at the end of the passover liturgy.

  • James Ignatius McAuley

    Buy Daria’s book! It is a good starter, and you can’t beat the psalms.

    Daria – I was able to pray along with Pope Francis the special Jesuit propers for April 22 — since it is less than $20.00, I highly recommend the Jesuit supplement to the LOTH.

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