Davenport’s St. Paul the Apostle students participate in Liturgy of the Hours
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Second-graders in Kirstyn Wilson’s classroom are all ears at 8:15 a.m. as their principal, Julie Delaney, begins an adaptation of Morning Prayer over the intercom at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School.
“O God, come to my assistance,” Delaney begins. “O Lord, make haste to help me,” the children respond while making the sign of the cross.
The antiphonal form of prayer continues for about five minutes, with students throughout the elementary school building responding to Delaney’s lead. She can’t see or hear them from her office, but is confident they are responding in their classrooms.
As part of this ritual, adapted from Morning Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, the students have memorized Psalm 117, the shortest psalm in the Book of Psalms. They pray with Delaney:
“O praise the Lord all you nations,
Acclaim him, all you peoples!
Strong is his love for us;
He is faithful forever.”
The school’s inspiration for mini Morning Prayer is Father Bill Kneemiller, who serves as the parish’s parochial vicar and as chaplain for the school and the Kahl Home in Davenport. When St. Paul the Apostle’s pastor, Father Tony Herold, asked Fr. Kneemiller to serve as the school’s chaplain, “I was thinking of ways to introduce Morning Prayer to the students,” said Fr. Kneemiller. “I thought maybe I could teach them Psalm 117, which is the shortest psalm in the Book of Psalms.”
He shared his thoughts with Delaney, who “on her own initiative, started praying Psalm 117 with the morning announcements. I was happy to see that the teachers were putting it up on their whiteboards,” Fr. Kneemiller said. “Three weeks later, I went into the kindergarten class and said, ‘Hey kids, how many of you know Psalm 117?’ Ninety percent raised their hand and started praying it. The teacher and the assistant were genuinely surprised.”
Together, Fr. Kneemiller and Delaney built on the enthusiasm for Psalm 117 by creating a template for Morning Prayer, following by announcements. “We have always begun the day with prayer and ended the day with prayer,” Delaney said. “We used to have a different prayer each month. Now we have a form of Liturgy of the Hours that we do in the morning as a school. We pray Psalm 117 as part of it.”
One Friday, at the end of his homily during the all-school Mass, Fr. Herold asked the kids if they could pray Psalm 117 together. “The whole school knows it and prays it together,” Fr. Kneemiller said. “One of the goals this Lent is to have the school kids teach this psalm to their parents. If the kindergarten kids can learn and memorize it, why can’t the adults?”
Ultimately, the goal is to encourage families throughout the diocese to make time to pray the official prayer of the church in their homes. To assist with this effort at St. Paul the Apostle, Fr. Kneemiller and some benefactors are making available “Shorter Christian Prayer” books, which contain Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. Fr. Kneemiller purchases the books through Religious Supply Center in Davenport, which has sold nearly 900 of the books in the last year and a half, according to owner Mark Gould. The gold-leaf edition of the book, which Fr. Kneemiller insists on, sells for $20.
“He has a great passion for this particular book. He’s spreading the word and it continues to grow in popularity because of his knowledge of the book and his passion for the book and what it means to him,” Gould said. The prayer book wasn’t quite as popular before Fr. Kneemiller began promoting it diocesan-wide. “He moves them,” Gould continued. “I feel like I’m just the distributor of his word.”
What is Liturgy of the Hours?
Liturgy of the Hours is the official prayer of the Catholic Church for all of God’s people and has its roots in Jewish prayer in the Old Testament. The Jewish people sanctified the day, praising God throughout.
In Christianity, this antiphonal form of prayer — which can be prayed by two alternating groups, two individuals, or alone — consists of antiphons, psalms, canticles, prayers and intercessions. Before the Second Vatican Council, Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, was prayed by clergy and religious. Even today, deacons and priests at their ordination promise to pray Liturgy of the Hours. The council fathers declared Liturgy of the Hours to be the universal prayer for all the faithful.
The two pivotal hours are morning and evening prayers, making this form of prayer a great way to start and end the day. Liturgy of the Hours doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Night Prayer, for example, can be prayed in five minutes. That’s how Father Bill Kneemiller of the Diocese of Davenport encourages families and individuals to get started with praying Liturgy of the Hours.
Morning Prayer @ St. Paul’s (Audio)