"Bless the Lord, O my soul: and let all that is within me bless his holy name."
The Liturgy of the Hours is a combination of hymns, psalms, readings, and prayers that are divided into seven canonical hours for the recitation of the Church. With the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours makes up one of the fundamental prayers of the Catholic Church. The prayers follow a Liturgical Calendar including the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time as well as feasts and holy days. Although it has undergone various changes throughout the years, the Liturgy of the Hours maintains its historic form that has been recited by priests, religious, and laity for centuries.
The Liturgy of the Hours is usually divided into: The Proper of Seasons, The Ordinary, The Psalter, The Proper of Saints, and The Commons. They also generally contain indexes and instructions for recitation. The seven canonical hours of prayer are: The Office of Readings (first hour-sometimes recited at midnight), Lauds (morning prayer), Terce (midmorning prayer), Sext (midday prayer), None (midafternoon prayer), Vespers (evening prayer), and Compline (night prayer). Each hour differs slightly from the next... although the little hours (terce, sext, and none) are very similar... but generally the prayer proceeds in this way:
Invitatory: "Lord, open my lips-and my mouth shall proclaim your praise" (first hour or morning hour).
Opening: "God, come to my assistance-Lord make haste to help me".
Canticle (Lauds, Vespers, and Compline)
Intercessions (Lauds and Vespers)
Prayer and Dismissal
This prayer, although sometimes adapted to suit the schedules of individuals and religious orders, is recited around the world and is certainly very pleasing to God. Most contemplatives are bound by vow to observe this prayer. In many monasteries all seven hours are faithfully observed, causing the life of prayer and work to flourish together while neither is neglected.
There are many blessings to be obtained through this prayer, but I will focus now on what it does for one's personal life. First of all, the observance of these hours which causes us to leave our work and study and go pray at certain times during the day gives us a sense of security and responsibility while centering our attention on God. It also gives us a sense of beauty and prayer in our lifestyles. In addition to this the set prayers and scripture teach us how to pray and how to meditate on God's word. No one can complain that they do not know how to praise God, or how to petition properly, when they have the Liturgy of the Hours within their reach.
The Liturgy of the Hours is certainly the prayer of the Church. The petitions reach Christ's heart and the graces obtained spread throughout the Mystical Body of Christ to all its members. The praise offered to God is offered on behalf of the Church and for each individual. Indeed, religious pray for those who will not pray in a very real and practical way. The Liturgy of the Hours also very efficiently implores the help of the saints in heaven and petitions for the freedom of the suffering in purgatory.
This prayer is also very practical, and each hour has its own special function. For instance, Lauds praises God for the opening of the day and Compline prepares for death. One who has prayed the Liturgy of the Hours a number of times will also notice that there is a great deal of wisdom contained in it. The prayer begins by calling down God's grace and asking His help. As it proceeds it uses the ancient prayers of the psalms to offer God thanksgiving, praise, repentance, petitions, etc. The readings from scripture bring God's word to our minds at appropriate times and offer reflections from various saints for proper meditation. In the ending prayer, the name of Jesus is invoked, a name which is never refused by God the Father. The observance of the Liturgical Year is also helpful because, in offering seasons of feasting or fasting or rejoicing or repentance it coincides with our changing human nature and assists our growth throughout the year.
Many religious communities chant the office in what is called the Gregorian Chant. This has many benefits... but I have noticed some things particularly. If you have ever had the opportunity to listen to a community of monks or nuns chant the office, you know that it is beautiful. The chanting strikes cords in the heart which dispose us to receive the goodness of God. If you have joined in this chant, you know that in doing so the words not only pass before your eyes, but are received by thought, voice, and ear as well. In this way the scripture "comes alive and is imprinted in our hearts." Gregorian Chant is not easy... it takes time and practice and commitment to master... and this adds effort into our prayer. It also joins us together in prayer, giving us a sense of communion in praise and ultimately helping us to love our neighbor.
Because the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer of the Church and, together with the Eucharist, makes up part of the center of prayer in the Mystical Body of Christ, the benefits of this are greater than we could ever know. Even religious bound to absolute poverty are permitted to own a Breviary (The Liturgy of the Hours). Mine has become my most precious possession, and many saints have said the same. Through the words of scripture and liturgical prayer God Himself hears and speaks to us.