A Layman’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours
By Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV
EWTN Publishing, 2019
99 pages; $14.95
EWTN Item: 80756
To order: ewtnrc.com or (800) 854-6316
The Liturgy of the Hours — that sleeping giant among the laity — is starting to wake up for Catholics in the pews, says Franciscan Father Timothy Gallagher, author of A Layman’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours. “This prayer belongs to you,” he writes, addressing the laity. “It is not just for priests and religious. And it can bless your life, your vocation, your family, and your engagement with the world, in ways you never imagined.”
A Denver-based priest, Father Gallagher is the author of seven bestselling books on the theology and spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and host of EWTN’s series on the Liturgy of the Hours for Lay People. More recently, he has become part of a movement wherein laypeople are adopting the rhythm of Catholic prayer to their day. Using the Liturgy of the Hours as its framework, this movement breathes through the history of the Church and continues today, although for a time, it became mostly the domain of monastic communities. However, vestiges of it remained alive within the laity, especially in the practice of Sunday evening vespers in parishes.
The Liturgy of the Hours goes by several names: the Divine Office, God’s Work, the prayers of breviary. In any case, this daily regimen of prayer developed by the Church is a vehicle for advancing in the spiritual life. For this reason, it has often proven life-changing for the baptized, according to Father Gallagher.
“I believe that this regular praying of the Liturgy of the Hours and daily Mass have done the most in remaking my mind and my heart as a Catholic,” he writes, quoting one young woman who made the Liturgy of the Hours a part of her life. In fact, Father Gallagher’s book is full of such testimony.
“The reason I pray it is because it gives me joy,” the author writes, quoting a college professor. “The Liturgy of the Hours is a part of the Catholic life which is for me the greatest joy on earth.”
But what is the Liturgy of the Hours and how is it prayed? The Hours are a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ, using Scripture and prayer, especially the Psalms. “The psalms, the 150 prayers in the Old Testament, are the real basis of the Liturgy of the Hours,” Father Gallagher explains. “Now if we go no further than this, if we just stop to reflect on the fact that Jesus Himself prayed the psalms, how could we not want to pray the psalms too?” He notes that with Jesus as our model, the Liturgy of the Hours is a powerful invitation to let the Psalms, in which we encounter every kind of prayer (petition, thanksgiving, lamentation, praise, etc.), nourish our lives.
Early documents testify to the practice of praying the Psalms throughout the early Church. From this arose the Liturgy of the Hours that we have today, inviting the faithful to five opportunities for prayer throughout the day: morning, daytime, evening, night and a more meditative time for the Office of Readings that can be prayed at any time.
“These five times of prayer are named ‘Hours’ not because each requires an hour of prayer, but because they build prayer into the cosmic hours of the day as they unfold,” Father Gallagher writes.
The prayer times range from five to 10 minutes to 15 to 20 minutes.
The prayers for each day are different, and each day’s prayer contains themes that intone the seasons of the Church. While the Mass is still seen as the pinnacle and most unifying prayer of the Church, Father Gallagher explains that it is complemented through the Liturgy of the Hours, which fill each day with spiritual fruitfulness.
Father Gallagher started praying the Liturgy of the Hours almost five decades ago.
Father Gallagher writes that his understanding was enriched as he learned more. “Jesus Christ, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven,” he writes. “For Christ continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. The Church does this, not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the Divine Office.”
Father Gallagher notes that people often think it is too hard to incorporate these prayers into their busy lives and explains that it is acceptable to pray only a part of it and as specific circumstances allow. “The starting point is Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, often called the ‘hinge’ Hours,” he writes. (At the end of the book, Father Gallagher includes a listing of options for laypeople to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours through the growing options available in books and digital versions.)
According to Father Gallagher, the key to benefiting from the Liturgy of the Hours is to find what works best and to just get started, so that God can bless our lives as we enter into a deeper relationship with him.
“When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours,” Father Gallagher writes, “this is what it becomes: a friend, a daily companion, a way to encounter God and the ebb and flow of life.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North dakota.