Liturgical Celebrations

Day and Night: Made Holy by the Praises of God (CSL 84)

November 07, 2007


Candle burningThe liturgical reform and renewal sparked by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL) [EspañolFrançais.] promoted a revival of the Divine Office.  In the past, this prayer was considered to be "the prayer of priests and religious."  The book used, called "the breviary," was to be restored to its original purpose; namely, to be the prayer of the entire community of the faithful in which the entire day and night is consecrated. The Church gives us the vision for this prayer:

"...By tradition going back to early Christian times the divine office is so arranged that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of is the very prayer that Christ prayed himself, together with his body, addresses to the Father…" (CSL 84)

The document goes on to state that:

"The purpose of the office is to sanctify the day, the traditional sequence of the hours is to be restored so that once again they may be genuinely related to the hour of the day when they are prayed…"(CSL 88)

The reform established the priority of Lauds (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer) as the two most important times for prayer of the day. They are the two hinges on which the daily office turns, hence they are to be considered as the chief hours and celebrated as such (CSL 89).

From earliest times, this prayer has been part of the liturgical life of the Christian community. A very simple structure was followed – hymn, psalm (Psalm 63 prayed for morning prayer and Psalm 144 prayed for evening prayer), scripture reading and intercessions. This style of praying the prayer became known as the “cathedral office,” with the bishop presiding and the local faith community gathered around him. The monastic model of the prayer was developed by the various communities of women and men who moved into living the monastic way of life, where times of prayer were numerous, praying all 150 psalms over the course of the day.

However, over centuries, the prayer was gradually lost as being central to the prayer life of the Christian community. It became the reserve of monastic communities and then of the ordained clergy. The faithful turned to more devotional styles of prayer – rosary, novenas, and prayers in honour of the saints.

One of the key principles that governed the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours was that the faithful should be able to participate fruitfully:

"Pastors should see to it that the chief hours, especially vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts…the laity are encouraged to recite the divine office with their priests, or among themselves, or even individually…"(CSL 100).

This recommendation of the council was a very positive step toward the achievement of a fuller and more meaningful integration of the laity into the public prayer life of the Church. However, some forty-plus years on, how close are we to implementing this ancient tradition of daily praying this priestly prayer of Christ?

It is the duty of the whole Christian community to continue Christ’s prayer. This prayer expresses the very essence of the Church as a praying community:

"…It belongs to the whole body of the Church, whose life it both expresses and effects. The liturgy stands out most strikingly as an ecclesial celebration when, through the bishop surrounded by his priests, ministers and people, the local church celebrates it…such a celebration is most earnestly recommended…wherever possible the more important hours should be celebrated at the church (in parishes)…" (Lit Doc Series 5: Liturgy of the Hours 9, 20 & 21)

How can this prayer then, become a reality in our parish communities?

In some pastoral situations Eucharist is not celebrated daily. Celebrations of Word with Communion are scheduled at times when Eucharist would have been celebrated. There is a growing interest in introducing Prayer of the Church in place of these “Celebrations of Word” Parishes could take up this challenge to begin praying at least one of the "hours," e.g., Morning Prayer OR Evening Prayer as part of their daily pattern of prayer.

How to begin...

» Provide some form of catechesis to inform the people of the richness of this prayer as a source of nourishment for their prayer life;

» Choose a liturgical season e.g., Advent or Lent – Sunday Evening Prayer or maybe Morning Prayer/Evening Prayer on Fridays of Lent;

» Combine evening prayer with other events in the parish (e.g., meetings of Parish Council, School Board, Youth Ministry Team, St Vincent de Paul Society). Members of these groups would gather for evening prayer before going to their respective meetings.

» Morning Prayer could be offered before people go to work or to school;

» Prepare a simple text following the structure provided:

Gospel Canticle (Zechariah –Morning, Mary – Evening)
Closing Prayer

»  Explore resources that are available:

e.g., Praise God in Song: Ecumenical Daily Prayer by John Allyn Melloh (edited by William G. Storey) (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1979)

Proclaim Praise: Daily Prayer for Parish and Home : An Order of Prayer for Mornings and Evenings for Each Day of the Week, With Midday Prayers and by Gabe Huck (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1995)

O Joyful Light composed by Michael Joncas (North American Liturgy Resources)

Light and Peace composed by David Haas (GIA Publications)

Morning and Evening: A Parish Celebration by Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications)

God of Light be Praised: Music for Evening Prayer by various composers in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy (Chicago: World Library Publications)

Sunday Celebration of the Word and Hours: Ritual Book--Large Edition(Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Pray Without Ceasing: Prayer for Morning & Evening by Joyce Ann Zimmerman and Kathleen Harmon (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993)

» This prayer lends itself to ritual – the use of incense, lighting of candles, blessing with water; bodily gestures e.g., sign of the cross, standing, sitting, bowing.

» The space for the prayer is very important. People need to sit facing each other rather than in the pews with their backs to each other – it helps with the sense of "dialogue."

» Music is integral to the prayer – singing the hymn, the psalms, and the gospel canticle.

The implementation of this prayer will depend on the way it is introduced to the parish community – as an ancient part of our Christian tradition.  Should we not try to unfold the riches of this prayer to the people of God whose birth-right it is in the first place?

Ursula O'Rourke is a Sister of the Good Samaritan in Mitchelton, Queensland, Australia.

Photo credit: Paul Covino

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