By Fr Bill Kneemiller
For The Catholic Messenger
On Sept. 3 I wrote an article promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as not only the “official prayer of the church” but also as one of the greatest treasures of our Catholic faith. This treasure is very accessible for the laity as well as for priests and religious. Recently I discovered a key to help unlock more riches in the Liturgy of the Hours — a CD by Brant Pitre titled “The Jewish Roots of the Liturgy of the Hours” which gives some of the highest teaching of this discipline.
Liturgy of the Hours is a Christian prayer discipline that enriches different periods of our day; the Vatican II documents describe this as “consecrating time.” In my recent deployment to the countries of Kuwait and Jordan I carried the pocketbook travel version of the Liturgy of the Hours, “Shorter Christian Prayer,” with me. It is a wonder and joy to experience the Scriptures becoming part of daily life.
My experience is that the bigger the Bible, or Scripture, the less it is read. Here at the Kahl Home, I find this handy prayer book to be a companion — God’s Word coming alive — while doing a morning or evening walk and especially at the end of meals with residents. As an addition to dessert, I use God’s sweet words to pray a psalm or read a sentence from the New Testament reading for the “Word of the Day.” God’s word is alive today, and can enrich your life too!
Pitre explains why the Catholic Catechism calls this prayer the “Public Prayer of the Church.” At the Temple in Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus it was the Jewish custom to pray with the psalms for Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer. These prayers were the heart of the “perpetual sacrifice” in the Temple. In Acts Chapter 3, the Apostles James and John go up to the Temple at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) to pray. Jesus also regularly prayed the psalms as he quotes from the psalms from the time of his early ministry to his last words on the cross. Scripture author Steve Moyise mentions in his book “Jesus and Scripture” that Jesus quotes the psalms more than any other Old Testament book.
Pitre also mentions a “mysterious convergence” between Jewish Morning and Evening Prayer in the Jerusalem Temple and Jesus’ agony and death on the cross. After Jesus’ resurrection, the early church continued to pray these morning and evening prayers, not as a “perpetual sacrifice,” but as a continual song of praise and adoration for Jesus Christ’s redemption and love poured out for us.
Pitre adds: “Once you understand the biblical roots of this prayer, you will never see the Liturgy of the Hours the same again. Far from being a repetitious duty imposed by the church on her clergy, the Liturgy of the Hours is nothing less than a participation in and extension of the way Jesus himself prayed in his humanity and the way he wishes his Bride to pray with him now, throughout the world, ‘without ceasing’” (1 Thess. 5:17).
This CD by Pitre is 60 minutes long, available from Catholic Productions. It is an excellent way to start a fall parish study group, kick off a mission to introduce parishioners to the Liturgy of the Hours, or as a Lenten study program. If any parishes or parishioners are interested in an Advent or Lenten study program, I received permission from Pitre’s office to print a study guide of his CD, available for only $2 at L.E. Chute Print Co. in Davenport. Pitre’s “Jewish Roots of the Liturgy of the Hours” is available on CD or MP3. Order if from www.catholicproductions.com.
As a bonus: I have a special gift to any family with six or more children. In honor of your family, an anonymous donor is offering a complimentary gold-leaf “Shorter Christian Prayer.” I will personally deliver your order. Just email: firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Fr. Kneemiller.
(Fr. Kneemiller is chaplain at The Kahl Home in Davenport.)