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Archive for January, 2010

My first contact with the Liturgy of the Hours–or Divine Office–was, well, actually I guess it was my music history class in college.  Medieval music history includes a fair bit of liturgical study.  But I was going to say that my first contact was the annual Goodwill book sale in Washington.  I was an intern at the time and one beautiful fall day the president of my organization was illegally chain smoking in his office and set off the alarms, evacuating our entire building–roughly a quarter-block–onto the street just weeks after 9/11.  My co-workers and I decided to take an early and long lunch break and we headed over to the old Convention Center where tables and tables of books were laid out for browsing.  I’m a bibliophile but I was on a seriously tight budget that semester doing my only unpaid work of college so I resisted temptation throughout the visit.  Just as we were about to leave I spotted a pristine four-volume Liturgy of the Hours for $30.  I hemmed and hawed until my Mormon boss convinced me to buy them.

That weekend I grabbed coffee and the Advent volume to pore over the instructions.  Something in the opening document made me think that lay people shouldn’t pray the Divine Office and I set it aside.  I had only come back to the church a few months before, anyway, and thought I might put my energy into other forms of prayer first.

My beautiful Liturgy set sat, untouched, for about six months.  After college graduation I was spending the summer before graduate school basically getting paid to read.  I was the police dispatcher at a very small, very quiet school.  I had the day shift and not much happened.  I’d read the atrocious Boston newspaper cover-to-cover, do the crossword with the officer on duty, and then read about five hours a day.  My boyfriend (who is now my husband) had seen my Liturgy on my bookshelves and casually mentioned that I might start praying it in all my copious free time.  I did, though it was more out of love for him than any interest on my part.

Later that summer we traveled together for the first time to his homeland (the Midwest) and had the opportunity to pray together every day.  Whenever we could we prayed Morning and Evening Prayer together.  One of my first discoveries was that I’d been on the wrong week all along–did you know that Ordinary Time actually begins after Christmas and then is interrupted for Lent and Easter?  I didn’t, at the time.  I found that praying the Liturgy together was far more interesting and prayerful than praying it alone though I did continue to pray it alone very often over the next year.

After we were married we launched right in to a communal prayer life.  That first year was very idyllic in some ways.  The two of us said Morning and Evening Prayer together every day.  I think we even included Night Prayer and Office of Readings off and on through the year.  We got to Mass together every day, often prayed a Rosary together, and made a Holy Hour together every Sunday.  We still do most of that, in fact–though not always together.  I always felt, though, that I was going to pray the Liturgy kicking and screaming–at least on the inside.  I didn’t really get it.

But over the last six years my appreciation has grown.  We’ve grown more bold about inviting dinner guests and weekend guests to join us in our prayer time.  Truly one of the most extraordinary things about being Catholic is liturgical prayer–these regular forms used by the Universal Church that friends can step in to.  We’ve hosted Sunday Evening Prayer for Evangelical college students when we were dorm parents.  It was a wonderful blessing to introduce young, faithful Christians to a beautiful form of prayer they hadn’t tried before.

And now with three children our prayer time is all the richer for sharing it with our little ones–or sometimes praying it despite them!  Our two older children chime in with their own intercessions at the appropriate moment.  Our musical little daughter tries to sing along when we chant the Magnificat.  Our now five-year-old was an avid signer before he could talk and used to sit on the couch with us listening to the psalms and occasionally signing a word he recognized.  Our littlest right now is such a monkey that I usually station myself on the couch and let him jump and giggle all over and around me while my husband reads the entire office to me from across the room.

Most days we are not as recollected as we would like but during this season of our lives just showing up is an accomplishment.  But somehow, despite all the craziness of our family prayer times, the Liturgy of the Hours has become an important part of our family’s rhythm.  It feels festive to set up seven ribbon markers just to get through Morning Prayer during the Octave of Christmas.  Psalm 63 was always a favorite of mine and now it says, “Feast Day!” to me.  Pulling out my brown volume after Easter seems like a refreshing return to the normalcy and the promise of a long, lovely summer ahead.  Switching to the green book in August reminds me that fall is coming.  Morning and Evening Prayer are the bookends to our family time together.

Next time (no promises about “tomorrow”):  How the heck do you pray liturgically with small children?

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