I had been having trouble over the last year with consistency in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. As a Lay Dominican, I have promised to pray Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer) every day. And while it’s not a promised made under pain of sin, I know that spiritual sloth can be a problem.
This year, I made a Lenten promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with consistency – and to do so out loud and with proper postures of standing and bowing when called for. I had fallen into a bad habit of sitting and reading the prayers silently rather than aloud, but for Lent, I would once again stand, sing, bow, pray. I wouldn’t skimp on it. This alone did wonders for my spiritual life! I found my love of my Lay Dominican vocation returning – it felt less like it was some kind of imposition or interruption of what I wanted to do.
When we realized that my husband would be working from home for the foreseeable future and our daughter would be having her college classes delivered remotely after an extended spring break, we made the family decision to try to pray Lauds and Vespers together. And this has not only helped my spiritual life, but it’s helped with my anxiety that has been growing since the COVID-19 pandemic starting hitting the US harder.
I work at a bank, so I’m deemed an essential worker. This can be a stressful situation. Money is filthy anyway, but now it’s filthy with the added excitement of not knowing if it’s being handed to me by someone who’s carrying a virus. We can add in the fact that my spring allergies are hitting their stride, so every time I cough I practically have a panic attack that I’m sick instead of merely struggling with the trees, which are all trying to kill me with yellow death dust. (And, really, who pays specific attention to how seasonal allergies present after a few years? Did my throat hurt last year? Did I cough because of pollen?)
But the Psalms we pray in the Liturgy of the Hours are such a great comfort in these times, especially when anxiety ramps up and you wonder where God might be while you’re struggling to not give in to the rising panic.
In the Psalms, we can see struggles that mirror our own when we feel desperate and anxious. David laments, asking the Lord “Where are You? Have You forgotten us completely?” We can read that and say to ourselves, “I know what that’s about, David. Me, too.”
My favorite Psalm is Psalm 63. I read it now and think about how I can only visit Jesus through the glass doors of our parish’s vestibule. [photo]The desire to get physically closer when it’s not possible is palpable, and this Psalm almost makes me weep.
O God, You are my God, for You I long;
for You my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for You
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on You in the sanctuary
to see Your strength and Your glory.
For Your love is better than life,
my lips will speak Your praise.
So I will bless You all my life,
in Your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise You with joy.
On my bed I remember You.
On You I muse through the night
for You have been my help;
in the shadow of Your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand holds me fast.
And the Psalms offer strength, too. They were written by people who struggled through famine and invasions and exile. They longed to see God – they longed for Him to come to their rescue. And when we look back, we can see that God answered in the fullness of time. But that timing is not necessarily our timing.
Sometimes we must wait on the Lord. In the meantime, let’s wait in prayer.
Resources for Liturgy of the Hours:
DivineOffice.org is now accepting registrations again in an effort to help people pray together during this pandemic. There are bountiful resources on the history of Liturgy of the Hours and how to pray it. (They also have links for purchasing physical books to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I use the single-volume Christian Prayer.)
Universalis is another online resource with the readings for Mass, as well as Liturgy of the Hours. There is an app available, as well, in formats for Android, iOs, Windows, and Mac OS.
The hymns in the books available for Liturgy of the Hours can be unfamiliar to some of us. I’ve been gathering up as I need it. I might start adding hymns that I’m familiar with, as well, but these are ones that I might have had trouble with at some point (or still have trouble with). And I’ll be honest, there are times when I read the hymn as a poem because I just can’t find any auditory guidance. Here’s my playlist of hymns for Liturgy of the Hours.
Philip Kosloski offers another guide for how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. He talks about using ribbons, but I’ve upped my place-marking game by adding little Post-It tabs to things that get a lot of use. the beginnings of liturgical seasons, the index of hymns, Sunday Week I Lauds (for solemnities), the Antiphons, etc. If I used it a lot, I put a tab on it to find it quicker.
I want to add a final note:
There are actually slight variations on praying the Hours. I learned that the prayers after Psalms were added and not necessarily required. Our Lay Dominican fraternity uses them in community prayer, but I skip them at home. The antiphons before each Psalm and canticle can be repeated, but I didn’t learn it that way. (Exceptions are the Canticle of Zechariah and the Magnificat.)
Which is to say that if you do something for a while and learn you’ve been doing it differently than everyone else, relax. The prayer is important, not the exact execution. An imperfect offering made with our whole hearts is better than the perfect one made in order to look good to everyone who sees you.
Copyright 2020 Christine Johnson