About two weeks ago, I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office), an official set of prayers to be recited at certain hours of the day. The Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Mass, comprises the public prayer of the Church. Clergy and religious are bound to pray the Hours, and the laity are highly encouraged to do so.
My mom occasionally has encouraged me to pray the Office, like she does. Recently, a deacon also suggested I do so. I thought, “Well, maybe God wants this,” and gave it a try, using DivineOffice.org.
Immediately, things clicked. I felt—feel, I might say—such deep peace when praying the Office, the kind of peace that signals you’re on the right track. The prayers and readings of the Office are nourishing in my soul in a deeper way, providing me substantial food for meditation in bite-sized pieces.
But something else has struck me about the Office. In prayer, it is easy to focus on ourselves. We ask for favors, thank God for things He’s done, and beg His pardon for our sins. How much time, though, do we devote to praising Him?
Enter St. Augustine. While praying the Office recently, I encountered a reading drawn from one of his Discourses on the Psalms in which he addresses this subject, stating: “Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now.”
“Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God….” This is exactly what the Office is doing for me. It draws me outside of myself and helps me focus on praising God. It doesn’t matter how I feel when I begin, how conscious of my sins and defects I am, how I’m focused on my pressing need to improve, etc. All that can wait. For now, the priority is praising God.
But what about when our period of prayer is over and we go on with our daily activities? What then? Here is Augustine’s answer:
“We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go on our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other’s voices, so do God’s ears hear our thoughts.”
As we look forward to celebrating Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi this June, perhaps we might focus more on praising God during our periods of prayer and, indeed, throughout all the hours of each day. If you’ve never prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, you might also give it a try. Maybe pray just morning or evening prayer for the month of June and see what you think. I do recommend starting out online or with a breviary app. (The deacon mentioned above recommended iBreviary to me.) The physical set of books is costly and you’d definitely want a priest or someone else to show you how to pray with them—it is not intuitive.
Whatever the case, let your thoughts turn on the praise of God.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.