By Corey Close
As my ordination to the diaconate approaches, I wanted to reflect more upon the promises I shall undertake. A few months ago I wrote about the promise of celibacy, but there are two more promises that help define what occurs when one enters the diaconate: obedience and praying the liturgy of the hours.
This month I would like to focus on the promise of praying the liturgy of the hours. First, one may wonder, “What exactly is the liturgy of the hours?” Well, it consists mainly of the 150 psalms of the Old Testament, and over the course of a four-week period we as priests and deacons pray through all 150 of them. Five “hours” are to be prayed each day: morning, day, evening, night and what is called the Office of Readings.
Each “hour” takes between five to 15 minutes to pray, and includes a few Scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments as well. I had never heard of liturgy of the hours before entering seminary. In the years leading up, I had greatly desired to pray more, but didn’t know how. When I finally arrived at seminary and was taught this “prayer of the Church,” I felt an immediate connection and something in my head clicked. I remember distinctly holding the book in my hands as a sense of awe and wonder took hold of me, and I realized that my prayers had been answered. “This is it.” I thought, “This is what I’ve been waiting and searching for.”
In a few months I taught myself how to pray all the hours, and have prayed them ever since. One of the questions the bishop will ask me, along with the other men to be ordained to the diaconate in Rome this October, will be: “Are you resolved to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world?”
With joy I am prepared to say, “I am.” I look forward to praying this “prayer of the Church” for myself and for the people of God as a priest. But one may wonder, what caused me to fall so in love with this prayer?
First, I feel that in many ways it has taught me how to pray. When you enter the psalms in prayer, you are entering the very history of our faith; it’s like entering a river that has flowed for thousands of years. The psalms were originally written between 1000 and 500 BC by our Jewish forefathers, and would have been one of the main ways that Jesus expressed himself in prayer. In fact, many of Jesus’ comments throughout the Gospels are either direct quotes or allusions to the psalms. The liturgy of the hours as we know it today largely took shape during the Middle Ages when Benedictine monks came together seven times a day (taken from Psalm 119) to pray the psalms. This was modified into our current form for diocesan priests who pray five times a day. When you pray the psalms, you enter a history of prayer.
Further, the more you pray them, the more the psalms become the very air you breathe, taking you through the range of human emotions. From praising the Lord for his goodness, to petitioning him for help in time of crisis, to having doubts in faith due to evil in the world, to expressing sorrow for sin, the psalms encompass every emotion. Every Friday becomes a little Good Friday as we pray Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.”
Every Sunday becomes a little Easter as we recall the Lord’s resurrection in Psalm 118, “This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad!”
One more aspect makes the liturgy of the hours truly great. While most of you will never take a promise to celibacy or obedience (other than doing whatever your wife tells you), you can pray the liturgy of the hours. A one-volume set exists that contains morning, evening and night prayer and provides an awesome way to grow in prayer. I highly recommend to anyone reading this column — who has ever wished for more fruitful prayer — to look into this great and historic “prayer of the Church.”
(Corey Close will be a fourth-year seminarian for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome this fall.)