By Fr. Bill Kneemiller
For The Catholic Messenger
Pope Paul VI mentions in the preface to the four-volume “Liturgy of the Hours” that one of the key values of praying the Liturgy the Hours, the “official prayer of the church,” is that it consecrates time. Since we are all called to live a holy life, we need to enter into holy time by assisting the church in its work of praying morning, daytime, evening and night prayers.
The Liturgy of the Hours is a liturgical set of prayers, based on the Book of Psalms. Morning and evening prayers are considered the hinge hours and consist of a set of three psalms or two psalms and a canticle (song-like Scripture), followed by a New Testament reading, intercessions, the Canticle of Zachariah or the Canticle of Mary and a concluding prayer. Night prayer is the shortest of the hours, consisting in normally one psalm and intercessions. We join our prayers to the universal church around the world, praying the psalms of praise to God our Father as we continue our praise from daily Mass.
Imagine a pocket-book-sized, gold-leaf version of the official prayer of the church. Enter “Shorter Christian Prayer.” I carry this little book everywhere as a reminder of my promise given at ordination to pray the hours, and as a Scripture companion. The gold-leafed pages remind me of Psalm 19:10: “The word of God, received by faith, is more precious than gold.”
The Liturgy of the Hours has a number of practical uses in the parish: I use the pocket-sized books often for home visits and for sacramental prep. The best part of the home visit is when we pray together at the end and conclude with night prayer. I always use the LOH when doing marriage prep because it is a reminder that families need to pray together. For the Scripture reading, when I ask the bride or groom to do it, I sense that one partner is really proud of the other leading them in a liturgical prayer. Also, the real power of this liturgy is that we are uniting our prayers with that of the universal prayer of the church.
The other consistent use I get from “Shorter Christian Prayer” is to carry it with me, especially on errands or waiting for appointments, when I have time to nibble away at one of the hours. In that relaxed mode, the Scriptures often come alive and God’s word is like the living water that springs anew. I have a theory that the larger the Bible, the less we read it. Over the years I have come to appreciate that the rhythm of morning and evening prayers with the psalms are not primarily an obligation or spiritual discipline, but are divine words that invite us to recall God’s presence and infinite love for us.
Praying Liturgy of the Hours is doable for all, even people with a full-time job. It’s like anything else that’s valuable, like exercise. You make time for it.
These last few days I’ve been on military orders — working 40 to 60 hours a week. I made a solemn promise to pray Liturgy of the Hours, even if it’s squeezing it in with my chaplain assistant who is a Pentecostal Christian. He loves the Scriptures! God’s word is part of what we do. It enriches what we do.
(Editor’s note: Fr. Bill Kneemiller has been ordered to active duty until April 2016. He is training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and will be stationed in Kuwait and travel to other countries in the Middle East where the military is stationed.)