Editors Note: this post is part of a series if posts titled Praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
In previous posts we have discussed why we pray the Liturgy of the Hours and how to do so with greater intention by reflecting on the themes prescribed with the specific psalms, scripture, and prayers that are included. It is now appropriate to examine the particular parts of the liturgy itself along with the significance of each.
Step 1: Silence/Centering
This is not mentioned officially, but is an important part of any time of prayer. It provides an opportunity to foster a sense of God’s presence, especially the Holy Spirit who will guide our prayer. It is also an opportunity to identify an intention for the prayer.
RELATED: Praying with Intention
Step 2: Introduction
The introduction is intended to evokes an awareness of God’s presence and petition the Holy Spirit to be with us as we pray. The introduction often used by Augustinians when prayed in proximity to the Eucharist is “O Sacrament of Love, sign of our unity and bond of our fraternity. Those who long for life have here it’s very source …” as a way to remind us that just as the Eucharist unites us with each other and the Universal Church at Mass, so the presence of the Eucharist now unites us in prayer. This enables us, from the very beginning, to link our prayer with that of the Mass of the day.
Step 3: Hymn
Singing stems to the earliest times of the Liturgy of the Hours. Hymns open our hearts to the praise that is evoked. As with Mass, songs are often chosen based on the liturgical calendar (season, feast, solemnity) and the theme of the psalm/reading.
Step 4: The Psalmody
The Psalmody is the heart of the Liturgy of the Hours. The antiphon which is read before and after each psalm affords an insight into the theme of verses that are contained within each. The antiphon is linked to the liturgical season and/or the Solemnity/Feast that is celebrated that day. In addition, the antiphon often reflects how the Psalm has been fulfilled by Christ.
RELATED: Why Pray the Psalms?
Step 5: The Reading
After petitioning God in the psalms, the Liturgy of the Hours invites us to hear what God has to say to us in response. This is done through a scripture reading which highlights a related biblical theme. The scripture reading for Morning Prayer (Lauds) is usually from the Old Testament and at Evening Prayer (Vespers) from the New Testament. Just as the Old Testament foretells the coming Messiah and the New Testament testifies to how the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ; so at the beginning of our day we are invited to anticipate how Christ will come into our lives in the day ahead, and at the close of the day we are invited to reflect on how how Christ has indeed come.
Step 6: Response
Similar the Responsorial Psalm at Mass, following the scripture reading we are afforded an opportunity to respond. The response will also usually relate closely to the liturgical season and/or any Solemnity/Feast that is celebrated that day.
Step 7: Gospel Canticles
Having petitioned God in the psalms and listened to God’s response in the reading, during Lauds, Vespers, and Compline we are given an opportunity to praise God and express our confidence in Him.
During Morning Prayer (Lauds) we pray the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus) where Zechariah praises God for John the Baptist’s birth and announces his future as the forerunner of the Savior (Luke 1:68-79). We are invited to share the joy of hope that Zechariah professes as we too anticipate how God will work His salvation in our lives in the day ahead.
During Evening Prayer (Vespers) we pray the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat), Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving for our salvation in response to Elizabeth’s greeting (Luke 1:46-55). Our God is a God of surprises, always ready to reveal Himself in new ways. If we have reflected on our day, by Evening Prayer we too will sing with Mary the many ways God has redeemed us.
Durine Night Prayer (Compline) we express confidence in God as we end the day and anticipate another. In this canticle, Simeon tells God that he is now ready to die since he had lived long enough to see the Savior. We too have seen the Savior at work in our day and we find acceptance with any unfinished business if we, like Simeon, know that God has been with us throughout the day.
Step 8: Intercessions
As with the Intercessions at Mass, at Lauds and Vespers we respond to our encounter of God by praying for our needs and the needs of the world. In Morning Prayer the focus is often on petitioning God for help with the day ahead. At Evening Prayer we pray for all the remains unfinished and the needs that remain unmet.
Step 9: Our Father
Having praised and petitioned God in the psalms, our reading, the canticles, and the intercessions, we now begin to close our prayer with an act of surrender to God’s will. The Our Father is ultimately a prayer of surrender as we yield our will to God’s will (thy Kingdom come, thy will be done …) and our weaknesses to God’s mercy (forgive us our trespasses …).
Step 10: Closing Prayer
The closing prayer varies with season and the Solemnity/Feast/Memorial. On Sundays and Solemnities/Feast Days, the prayer is often the same as the opening prayer at Mass, further extending the fruits of the Mass into the hours of the day.
Step 11: Dismissal
As with Mass, we are dismissed to go and carry on with the work we have been called to. If a Priest or Deacon preside over the liturgy, the dismissal contains a blessing as at Mass. If a layperson presides, the dismissal includes an exhortation.
Step 12: Post-Reflection
This step is not officially mentioned. However, having been dismissed to go and carry on with the work we have been called to do, it never hurts to first stop and reflect on what particular theme or lesson or prayer we would like to carry into the next several hours as we await the next opportunity to pause and pray. For example, after reflecting on the theme of Resurrection during Lauds we may want to make a new commitment to gossip less in the day ahead or to recommit ourselves to try our best to perform our work with intention and perseverance.