“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)
This quote from Scripture has puzzled Christians over the centuries. What does it mean to pray unceasingly? It is unrealistic to think it would mean constant words addressed to God. Instead, we have come to understand it as living in a continual awareness and acknowledgement of the presence of God in our lives; living according to the will of God, revealed by living immersed in God.
The Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminded us: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” God is reaching out to us in every moment of the day, in every part of our being and in every detail of the world around us. How do we then reach back? To help us achieve this mindful and unceasing prayerful attitude, Church tradition has given us the official public prayer form called the Liturgy of the Hours. We know this prayer best through its history in the life of religious communities of nuns, monks and priests. With the reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council, this prayer form is restored for the laity also. The intention of Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, is to extend the oneness we share in Christ and we celebrate at Mass into various hours of each day.
Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictine sister, has written a beautiful book on the Liturgy of the Hours called “Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day.” She wrote, “Seven times during the day you are invited to reflect on the wondrous gift of being.” She warns, “Our being is often crowded out by our doing.” She recommends that we “live in a way that is kind to your soul.” (p. 14-15)
Sister Macrina points out that Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, suggested that “our work is our love made visible.” To pray unceasingly as we work is to live by a God-consciousness, to become love made visible. “Our work enables us to bring grace and beauty to our world. For this reason, we need to learn how to work from the heart.” (p. 24)
Participating in the Liturgy of the Hours can teach us how to work from the heart, how to rejoice always and pray without ceasing. Today’s form of the Office marks the following seven moments in the day:
> Matins: The dark hours of morning
> Lauds: The morning daw
> Terce: Mid-morning
> Sext: Noon-day’s peak sunlight
> None: Mid-afternoo
> Vespers: Evening dusk
> Compline: Nighttime darkness
When we participate in this liturgy, we become more mindful of the presence of God as we live and work. Acknowledging God at these various moments of the day, connects us with a communion of Christians throughout the history who embodied these prayers in their time on earth. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and spiritual writer, has referred to these hours as: “The ancient art of returning again and again to the great now that is beyond time.” That “now” connects us with a oneness and wholeness that has gone before us, is now and will continue through all time.
It is not practical to think that parishes can provide public prayer at each of these hours. Yet, there are many opportunities throughout the liturgical year when the Liturgy of the Hours can be used as our public prayer. Some parishes gather either occasionally or regularly for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer or Night Prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours does not require a priest to preside, so lay people could take leadership in providing these prayer opportunities and in presiding. Here are a few possible times to consider:
> Morning prayer could be the ritual on weekday mornings in the parish, especially when no priest is present for morning Mass.
> Each evening in the parish, before various meetings start, could begin with evening prayer in church.
> Night prayer could be a closing prayer to evening meetings in the parish
> The Triduum could include morning prayer on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday; night prayer on Holy Thursday at the Altar of Repose; evening or night prayer to complete the prayer times on Good Friday.
The tradition of the church includes just two forms of liturgy: The Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. We often say that our liturgy has transformative powers. Charged with God’s presence, it has the power to change us and to change the world. Both liturgies continually form us in God’s love. The Liturgy of the Hours helps us to extend that love into every day and every detail of our lives. To strive to pray without ceasing and work from the heart, gives rise to an attitude that speaks the Word of God without ever using words. It transforms our days and the lives of those around us.
“To affect the quality of the day is the highest of arts,” said Henry David Thoreau.