Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speaking Catholic

I am still struck by the number of times someone will come up to me after mass and say, "I have been catholic my whole life and that was the first time I ever heard someone explain _______." Admittedly, It's not just a Catholic phenomenon friends of other religions have the same problem. We can often know least that which is closest to us. And each faith has its own vocabulary.

We talk about liturgy. Some people use the word as if it only refers to mass. In fact, it refers to all of the various forms of communal prayer done by the Church. The word literally means "the work of the people."

In the First Letter to the Thessolonians we are given a simple command (5:17):

Pray unceasingly!

If you ask your average person about Islam one of few things they might know is that practicing Moslems pray 5 times a day. But if you ask a Catholic, how many times a day we pray? The answers are less certain. Our best kept secret is that the Catholic answer is 6, we call it the Liturgy of the Hours.

The core of the liturgy of the hours is the praying of the psalms, divided up across a four week cycle. To the psalms we add the canticles (other passages of scripture that were written to be sung), as well as daily reading from scripture, invocations of God's blessing on the day in the morning and intercessions for the needs of people at night.

The hinges of our daily prayer are Morning and Evening prayer, following ancient tradition these would mark sunrise and sunset. Night prayer is meant to be our last prayer before we go to sleep, and includes a pause to examine our conscience for the day. Between morning prayer and evening prayer there are the three minor hours. So for example if you prayed morning prayer at 6 AM and evening prayer at 6 PM you could evenly disperse the minor hours at 9, noon, and 3. With night prayer at bedtime.

The most interesting to me is the hour that still somewhat floats, the "Office of Readings." Not only does it include psalms but at its center is a longer reading from scripture and a reading from usually some ancient writer in the Church.

While I not suggesting that every Catholic should run our and buy the four volume set of books with all those ribbons. The idea of pausing at regular intervals in the day to pray is something we should all do.

For those who would like to take the next step there are two apps I would highly recommend: iBreviary and Divine Office. Both apps take the complication out of figuring out how to use the books. Divine Office has an audio component so you can listen instead of read. For the less techie the website is a great resource.

Start by just saying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Then build out.

At every moment of the day somewhere in the world clergy, religious, and lay people are prayer the Liturgy of the Hours and we have been since the earliest centuries of the Church. Join the team.