I have already posted a couple of times (here and here) about the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH). Today I intend to discuss how to incorporate the LOH into your daily prayer life, particularly if you are a busy layperson. This discussion, in fact, is intended for people who are not under obligation to pray the LOH; those who are under obligation will need to consult their superiors as to how to pray the Office. For the rest of us, however, there are a wide variety of ways it can be used.
Before we begin, let’s consider some of the major ways in which the Liturgy can enhance your prayer life: by structuring your day around a schedule of times set aside for prayer, you “consecrate time”, and can remain more conscious of being close to God throughout the day; you also unite yourself more closely to the Universal Church by participating in the same liturgical celebration that is being prayed around the world; you can also become more familiar with Holy Scripture, especially if you include the Office of Readings in your routine, which also includes extensive readings from the works and lives of the saints.
It’s a good idea to keep those ends in mind as you begin. Also, as is the case when beginning a physical exercise program, it’s best not to attempt to do too much too soon: once you have established the routine of regular prayer, it won’t be too hard to expand it, but if it seems impossible at the outset, it will soon be abandoned. For this reason I suggest concentrating first on the practice of praying at set times, even if it’s just a brief prayer. For instance, you might decide to commit yourself to praying every day in the morning, at noon, and between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. You may only say an Our Father, or a Hail Mary (or, if you’re really ambitious, both, followed by a “Glory Be”), but you will have already begun the sanctification of your day.
Once you have become used to praying at regular times, you can expand your repertoire. You may wish to add favorite prayers; when I first started, I used to pray “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”[link] every morning. You may wish to try an easier variation of the Divine Office, such as Magnificat [link], a publication modelled on the LOH, but which contains only morning and evening prayer, and some spiritual readings to take the place of the Office of Readings. The prayer hours look very much like the LOH but are shorter, and since there are fewer of them, the psalms are most often not the same as the ones in that day’s LOH. Nonetheless, when you use a substitute like Magnificat you are still praying the Divine Office along with the Church; I have even been told (although I have not verified it) that in some religious communities it can be used in the place of the regular Liturgy. This would not be unprecedented: the Church has often made similar allowances in the past, most notably in the case of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary [link] (which also became a popular devotion among the laity).
You may eventually decide that you wish to participate as directly as possible in the daily prayer of the Universal Church by praying the official Liturgy of the Hours. Fortunately, there are a lot of options here. Those of us who are not bound by obligation can use as little or as much of the Liturgy as we like. Morning and Evening Prayers, the “hinges” of the LOH, are the most important, and I recommend starting there. If you can’t pray them in their entirety, you may wish to say only the Gospel Canticle from each hour (the Benedictus in the morning, the Magnificat in the evening) or the Canticle and one of the Psalms. The Office of Readings also has a lot to offer: if you pray this office, over time you’ll discover that you can find your way around large parts of the Bible, and you’ll be much better acquainted with St. Augustine and many other great Christian Saints; since the current plan of the LOH was adopted, it can be prayed at any time of day. There is also Night Prayer, which is fairly short, and always I found it a beautiful way to end the day. I read somewhere years ago that you can also combine some elements of the LOH with other prayer routines, particularly family prayer. We include the Nunc Dimittis and the closing prayers from Night Prayer in our family devotions before retiring.
Fortunately, it is easy to find resources today. Using books (none of which are really complete, except the four-volume set) can be complicated, since some parts of the Liturgy follow a four week cycle, others are tied to the liturgical season, others to particular feast days, and so on. A website like Divineoffice.com figures all that out for you. Please refer to my earlier post [here] to see what resources are available.In future posts I Intend to reflect on some of the particular hours and my experiences with them. In the meanwhile, I encourage you to explore the spiritual treasures contained in the Liturgy of the Hours