This year, I have discovered great new spiritual disciplines for my daily walk with Jesus. One of the greatest of these is the Liturgy of the Hours. This is a beautiful set of prayers (seven a day, plus the Office of Readings) based heavily in Scripture. Most of it comes straight from Scripture and a repetition of the Glory Be prayer. A print copy is prohibitively expensive, but we use a digital Kindle copy from Universalis. Now, I’m not pretending I do all seven of them (though I am sure that would be an immensely profitable practice!) Currently, my wife and I daily do three of these eight readings:
The Office of Readings
Like all of the other daily prayers, this begins with an introduction (O God, come to our aid. O Lord make haste to help us. Glory be to the Father…) followed by a hymn and a set of Psalms. The Psalms vary, and I haven’t quite worked out the pattern (confusingly, sometimes only part of a Psalm is used.) This is followed by a longer chunk of Scripture – today was II Samuel 18:6-17, 24-19:5. Lately, the Office has us following the story of David. I’m not sure what translation is being used, but I love it. (Turns out, a mix.) It feels contemporary but not trying too hard to be cool and slangy, Message-like (I loathe the Message.)
The verses that were skipped today (18:18-23) give some additional background information, but are not essential to the story. Readings from the Psalms never include the three ‘Imprecatory Psalms’, Psalms 58, 83 & 109, because of their focus on vengeance. This leads to my only caveat: these beautiful readings are not a substitute for Bible reading.
This is followed up by a something from a Church Father or Saint. Today was St. Augustine, titled ‘Whether they like it or not, those who are outside the church are our brothers.’ Augustine was speaking about Christians outside the Church who did not accept Catholics as their brothers. These too are beautifully readable and (as you can see) incredibly pertinent. How often do people take the time to read these things, though we have such a wealth of ancient Christian material available to us?
‘Let us praise the Lord. Thanks be to God.’
Vespers (Evening Prayer)
Vespers is sort of new to my wife and I. Our daughter will be born any day now, and our current dinner time routine is rather haphazard. Having formal family dinners is a great and important tradition of both our families. I remember devotions after dinner being a big part of that. We’d like to establish our own routine, and Vespers seemed like the way to go!
It starts the same as the Office, with a different hymn. After that there are two Psalms and a Canticle from the New Testament. Today’s Canticle is ‘The song of the Redeemed’ from Revelation 4,5. Vespers only has a short reading from the New Testament – in this case three verses from Romans, Romans 3:23-25: ‘All have sinned and forfeited God’s glory, and all are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith.’
This is followed (always) by the Magnificat, Mary’s song from Luke 1:46-55. After this, there’s a series of prayer requests. Today, we pray for our Bishop, persecuted Christians, the sick, lawmakers and the dead… followed (again, always) by the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father. Another smaller set of prayers closes Vespers.
On Sundays, our parish actually celebrates Vespers together with a full choir and all our priests. It is amazingly beautiful! I don’t know if this happens in other parishes, but it is a huge blessing.
Compline (Night Prayer)
Compline was the first part of the Hours that my wife and I began to recite together. When I was working, I would recite the Office by myself and this was all we would have together. Luckily, Compline is just as dynamite as the other parts of the Hours!
The same introduction is followed by a suggested moment for an examination of conscience, which to be perfectly honest we have not been doing. Baby steps! It’s followed up by a hymn and Psalms that are set for the day of the week. (So every Sunday is the same, for instance.) There’s a short reading from Scripture that quickly becomes familiar from ‘the sunset must not find you still angry’ (Ephesians 4: 26-27) to ‘Hear, O Israel…’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
One of the things I appreciate most is reading the Nunc Dimittis every day. This is Simon’s song praising God when as an old man he finally beheld Jesus as a child. (Luke 2:29-32) What a beautiful way to end the day! I am to go in peace for ‘For my eyes have seen your salvation!’
After this is a pair of prayers and then a Marian hymn matched to the liturgical season. Right now is Salve Regina, or ‘Hail Holy Queen’, a song that asks Mary to pray for us and point us to Jesus Christ.
Don’t take my word for it, dive in!
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.