Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Liturgy of the Hours: Daytime Prayer Sanctifies Our Labors

     It is fitting, in a way, that this post on Daytime prayer comes so long after my other pieces on the Liturgy of the Hours, because Daytime Prayer (actually the three separate hours of Midmorning Prayer, Terce, Midday Prayer, Sext, and Midafternoon Prayer, None) is the most overlooked part of the Divine Office.  Without it, however, we do not enjoy the fullest experience of the daily Liturgy.
     As I mentioned above, Daytime prayer has traditionally contained three separate prayer hours, whose names come from the old Roman mode of designating time by counting the hours after dawn: Terce at the third hour (tertius is “third” in Latin), approximately 9:00 A.M., Sext at Noon, the sixth hour (in Latin sextus), and None from the Latin nonus, ninth, at that hour of the day (around 3:00 p.m.).   These hours are less prominent than the others in the overall scheme of the Liturgy, and so are considerably shorter: just three relatively short psalmodies (with their antiphons), a brief scripture reading (no more than one or two verses) and a closing prayer.
     Their brevity is appropriate because they fall inside the period of the day when most of us are the busiest with our worldly occupations, and longer prayers are more likely to be omitted altogether.  Not only that, we can pray only one hour on a given day and still not miss any of the psalms in the cycle, because we follow the usual four-week cycle for only one of the three hours; most days we can choose at which of the three hours to pray the cyclical psalmody, and if we also pray one or both of the other two there are designated psalms (called the Complementary Psalmody) that are the same every day.  Even the busiest layperson can normally find time to pray one of these brief hours during the day, and even many of those under obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours are not required to pray all three. We should take the ease and flexibility of Daytime Prayer as an indication, not of its insignificance, but of how important it is, since the Church is so concerned that we observe at least part of the Divine Office in the midst of our working day.

     And that is a great part of the value of these prayer hours.  It is possible to pray all the other hours before work in the morning and after were finished in the morning, leaving the greater part of our day, the part that most occupies us mentally and physically, untouched by our sacred project of “sanctifying time”.  The very fact of interrupting the normal flow of things, even briefly, to turn our thoughts to God, and to pray with the sacred scriptures, draws together our fuller prayers in the morning and the evening to cover the whole day.
     We also find an emphasis in the psalms and prayers of Daytime Prayer that helps us to put whatever we do throughout the day into an “eternal” perspective.  We see many images of work, harvest, and, at None, the home life to which we are about to return.  Many of the psalms also emphasize God’s grace, mercy, and involvement in our lives.  For instance, the Complementary Psalmody for Midday Prayer includes Psalm 125, which begins:

            Those who put their trust in the Lord
            Are like Mount Zion, that cannot be shaken,
            That stands forever. . .   

The concluding prayer often directs our attention to the divine perspective on that particular part of our working day.  At the end of Terce on Monday of Week I, for instance, we pray:

            God our Father,
            work is your gift to us,
            a call to reach new heights
            by using our talents for the good of all.
            Guide us as we work and teach us to live
            in the spirit that has made us your sons and daughters,
            in the love that has made us brothers and sisters.

Then at Sext:

            Yours in the harvest
            and Yours is the vineyard:
            You assign the task
            and pay a wage that is just.
            help us to meet this day’s responsibilities,
            and let nothing separate us from your love.

Finally, None’s  prayer begins:

            You call us to worship You
            At the hour when the apostles went to pray in the temple . . .

As the last prayer on Monday connects the hour of the day with that hour in Salvation History, so the prayers for Friday of Week I give us an almost hourly recapitulation of the events of Good Friday.  The pray for Midmorning begins:

            Lord Jesus Christ,
            at this hour you led out
            to die on the cross
            for the salvation of the world . . .  

Then at Midday Prayer:

            Lord Jesus Christ,
            At noon, when darkness covered all the earth,
            You mounted the wood of the cross . . .

And finally, the prater at Midafternoon begins:

            Lord Jesus Christ,
            You brought the repentant thief
            From the suffering of the cross
            To the joy of your kingdom . . .

     No discussion of Daytime prayer would be complete for me if I didn’t mention two of my favorite psalms, 127 and 128, which we find in Midafternoon Complementary Psalmody.  Both help us look at the work day that is nearing completion in the context of God’s abundance and mercy, and remind us that He rewards those who rely upon Him.  Psalm 127  begins with an image of a house under construction to represent our need for God’s help: “If the Lord does not build the house/In vain do its builders labor” ; the last half of the psalm depicts God’s abundant blessings, as represented by our children:

            Truly sons are a gift from the Lord,
            A blessing, the fruit of the womb.
            Indeed the sons of youth
            Are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.

Psalm 128, the final Psalm of Daytime Prayer, beautifully encapsulates the whole day of work by pointing to its end, in which we see the whole chain of love and abundance, in which our “yes” to God’s love for us finds fruitfulness in our work under His care, which is reflected in the fruitfulness of our wife, who is compared to a flourishing vine, and that abundance is in turn passed on to our children and our children’s children.  I can think of no better closing for this essay than to reproduce Psalm 128 in full:

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!

By the labor of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper;
the wife like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
Your children like shoots of the olive,
around the your table.
Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children
in a happy Jerusalem!

On Israel, peace!