Saturday, August 11, 2012

Daily Liturgical Prayer

Among Roman Catholics, since the reforms of Pope Paul VI that followed the Second Vatican Council, recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours has continued increase in popularity. This has been particularly true among the so-called "laity" of the Church. I remember growing up my mother always encouraged us to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. While I was in college at Franciscan University of Steubenville a vast number of my friends and acquaintances also prayed the Liturgy of the Hours - I myself vacillated between the Roman Liturgy of the Hours and the traditional Franciscan version (yes, there is a difference). While living in Ann Arbor, MI., and preparing for my wedding, all of my friends prayed the Liturgy of the Hours; and in the chapel just up the hall from where I was working Morning Prayer/Matins, Midday Prayer and Vespers were offered daily, usually led by one of the lay people in attendance. Incidentally, it was my time spent involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal that really instilled in me a deep love for the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office.

In the Byzantine tradition it is impossible to celebrate Orthros/Matins/Morning Prayer and Vespers/Evening Prayer on one's own. The services themselves are quite complex and devised in such a way that it really does require at least a small group of people (including at least a "reader") to celebrate (readers are sometimes ordained, but not always). The "Lesser Hours" can be celebrated in private. Monks and nuns will often recite the Lesser Hours alone in their cells. Compline can also be celebrated privately, but is more ideally celebrated as a group. But in our tradition we have devised a series of Morning and Evening prayers that are geared more towards lay people and can be recited either alone or as a group. These prayers are readily available in almost every prayer book. I would recommend the Melkite Publican's Prayer Book available from the Eparchy of Newton's "Sophia Press," or Let Us Pray to the Lord, Vol 1: The Divine Office available from "Eastern Christian Publications." You could also check out The Divine Liturgy: An Anthology for Worship available from the Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky Institute in Ottowa, Canada. Then, of course, there is the perennial classic Byzantine Daily Worship compiled and translated by Archbishop Joseph Raya (a personal hero of mine) and Baron Jose de Vink, available from Alleluia Press.

The Maronite tradition has also sought to re-establish this habit of the daily cycle of prayers by publishing the three-volume Prayer of the Faithful intended for use among the clergy, and the one-volume Eyes of the Heart: A Short Prayer of the Faithful intended for use among busy lay people. I have actually been using this latter volume in my daily prayer life at the moment, and find it quite uplifting.

Why do I mention this? Well, in a recent lecture given to the Orientale Lumen Conference here in D.C., Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. mentioned that in the Patristic literature you will find infinitely more references to the obligation to attend the daily cycle of Morning and Evening Prayers than you will to any sort of obligation to attend Sunday Mass/Liturgy/Qurbono. This he said not to downplay the importance of Sunday Liturgy, but to emphasize the importance of the Church's daily cycle of prayers, particularly for us lay people. It is through this cycle of prayers that we ourselves learn to pray. In his wonderful book, Feast of Faith, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the Church as our Mother and her cycle of prayers as a mother teaching her children to pray. It is only through embracing these prayers and making them our own that we truly learn how to pray.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, especially among Roman Catholics, the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours was seen as the sole property and obligation of the clergy and religious. But the Church has told us that this is not the case, and never has been. While clergy and religious may have a particular obligation to pray the Divine Office because they exercise a role of spiritual leadership within the Church, that does not lessen our own obligation to enter into the Church's daily cycle of prayers and thereby learn to pray truly from our Mother. Indeed, unless I have been wrongly informed, among Coptic Christians of both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, this obligation is taken so seriously that it is considered a "venial sin" for the laity not to pray the Divine Office (known to them as Agpeya) daily. Would that we too would take this "obligation" as seriously.

So for you Roman Catholics out there, get a copy of Christian Prayer, or, if you prefer it, the pre-Vatican II Roman Breviary. Byzantines, follow the prayers that have been given to us in the prayer books, as St. Theophan and other great Byzantine mystics have recommended. The Anthology for Worship is a great source because it provides not only the normal Morning and Evening Prayers, but also the "Lesser Hours" and a great number of selections from other liturgical books. Maronites, the Eparchy of St. Maron's publishing house has either the three-volume Prayer of the Faithful or one-volume Eyes of the Heart readily available. And the Coptic tradition has a number of versions of Agpeya that are also easily available.

Folks, we have few spiritual fathers or mothers these days, especially here in the U.S. Many people are seeking, striving to learn how to pray, but when they get confused or fed up with our Christian tradition, they look to other non-Christian traditions for techniques in meditation, relaxation, centering, or whatever else. If you are confused in your search to learn how to pray, turn to your loving Mother. Christ has taught us, through our Mother, everything we need to know in order to learn to pray. All we need do is pick up a book and listen.


  1. Fabulous! I am a third order Franciscan who has just begun attending a Byzantine church. Looking for answers on how they pray. This blog is exceedingly beneficial!

    1. I take it that you are the newcomer to the forums on Glad to see you there and here. :) Also glad to see a fellow lover of St. Francis and his order. He has been my favorite saint since I was about four years old. I attended Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH., have been to Assisi, and continue to carry a deep love for him, his order, and the theology and spirituality generated by the movement he started. St. Bonaventure is actually one of my all-time favorite Latin/Western theologians (dare I say even above Aquinas... shhh! Don't tell my Dominican spiritual father). I find his theology to be of the same "mystical" variety as Eastern/Byzantine theology.

      As far as prayer books are concerned, I'd strongly encourage you to acquire a copy of either the "Jordanville Prayerbook" or the Melkite "Publican's Prayerbook." They are pretty much the same thing, but the "Publican's Prayerbook" is in a more modern English and utilizes the liturgical translations put out by the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton. It's one of my favorites... Which reminds me, I need to get another copy some time.

    2. Yes, I am new to ByzCath. I wish I had more time to poke around. I picked up a copy of Byzantine Daily Worship. It is exceedingly informative. But doesn't have much that is useful for a lone Franciscan in her own personal cloister. I will take your advice and pick up the Publican's Prayerbook.

  2. Just thought I would mention that it is possible in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition to perform the Daily Cycle on one's own. All that are necessary are 1) understanding the order of each service, and 2) knowing the liturgical tones, and 3) having the right books. I formerly lived in an Orthodox monastery, where the Daily Cycle was performed without a priest (an accidental mimicry of early monasticism, where the priesthood was foreign to monks). We would chant and sing ad hoc, with the occasional scramble for books or flipping through pages at the last minute. Ectenias (Priestly petitions) are replaced with simple "Lord have mercy," while the priestly exclamations are replaced with, "Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us." Everything else is virtually identical.