Liturgy and Contemplation

The student brothers of the Western Dominican Province have produced a beautiful short film on the public prayer of the Church – the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, is the offical, public prayer of the Church.  As the psalmist wrote, “Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119:164), there are seven times, or hours, in a day that are designated as part of the Divine Office; priests and religious are obliged to pray at least part of the Divine Office daily.  All seven hours are prayed by cloistered monastics.

The current hours, or times of prayer, are: the Office of Readings (often prayed in the middle of the night or very early morning by monks and nuns, but may be prayed anytime), Lauds (Morning Prayer), Terce (Midmorning Prayer), Sext (Midday Prayer), None (Midafternoon Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer), and Compline (Night Prayer). 

The Liturgy of the Hours, as its name describes, is liturgy of the Church, that is public prayer of the Church, just as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  And the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist are closely connected: “To the different hours of the day, the liturgy of the hours extends the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the eucharistic mystery, ‘the center and high point in the whole life of the Christian community.’  The liturgy of the hours is in turn an excellent preparation for the celebration of the eucharist itself, for it inspires and deepens in a fitting way the dispositions necessary for the fruitful celebration of the eucharist: faith, hope, love, devotion, and the spirit of self-denial.”  (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, para. 12).

For monastics, coming to the choir and praying the Divine Office in community is one of the two primary places community is formed and strengthened.  Arguments and disagreements arise in community life, but in silence and prayer of the liturgy, friendships can be restored.  Fr. Thomas Philippe, OP tells us in “The Contemplative Life”, “We experience the joy of being once again one in heart and soul, the joy of harmonizing our intelligence, our heart, and even our voice with those of others.  The really great exercises of the common life do not take place in the recreation room but in the choir and refectory [monastic dining room].  Indeed there is no greater exercise of common life than prayer together.”  Because of this, he continues, “we should come…with a twofold attitude: (1) love for God and for the brothers and sisters with whom we are to share our gift, and (2) humility that is open to receive from them.  We all have to receive from one another.”  

The liturgy is also the great apostolic moment for monastic life.  Liturgy has been described as the means by which the spouse of Christ, the Church, honors and draws attention to the gems of the sacraments He has given her.  The Church, in her wisdom, has given us a framework by which we may bring glory and honor to God and draw attention to the sacraments, while being careful the garments of the liturgy do not conceal, or divert attention away from, the riches they are meant to display.  Most of the life of a cloistered monastic is hidden from the public.  But the public may share in the prayer and contemplation of the monastery by entering the public chapel; the cloistered community has a unique opportunity to cherish and celebrate the liturgy in such a way that the entire community gathered may be enveloped by the divine. 

Each item, each sacred vessel, each action, is meant to point us to the Truth present in the sacraments, as are the words spoken by the priest and the faithful.  The silence, which is God’s speech, should be allowed to permeate the liturgy.  The unison of chant and the sounds of polyphony should take proper place and time and echo the sounds of heaven.  The hymns and psalms of the Divine Office, the short readings planted in our hearts for meditation throughout the day, the intercessions offered for all people…these are all gifts by which we may be surrounded by the sacred and participate in the communion of saints. 

While the laity are not obliged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, many find praying at least Lauds and Vespers a beautiful way to sanctify their day and come together as a Christian community.  Others add additional hours, such as the Office of Readings or Compline, as they are led by the Holy Spirit and are able in the course of their day.  As the Church’s public prayer, it is meant to be prayed with the Christian community.  If it is not prayed in public at your parish, check your nearby monastery or religious community; often many of them pray certain hours (usually Lauds and/or Vespers) publically.  For example, the Dominican friars at my parish pray Lauds and Vespers publically during the week and all are welcome to join.

However, if you cannot find a place or time where you are able to join in praying with others, don’t let that stop you from praying with your family, or even on your own.  Whether you pray with others or alone, you’ll need a copy of the prayers.  The complete set is a four-volume breviary (which can be overwhelming for those just getting started).  If you are only interested in praying Lauds and/or Vespers, a Shorter Christian Prayer will suffice.  There are also some wonderful apps, such as iBreviary, Universalis, and Divine Office, that allow you to bring a Breviary (the book containing the psalms, readings and prayers for the Divine Office), wherever you go on your smart phone or tablet; they have the added benefit of telling you which psalms and readings to pray each day.  Finally, a periodical, such as the Magnificat, provides prayers and readings for morning and evening, as well as daily Mass readings, other meditations and information about the saints.

On a related note, the music selected for the above video is from the hour of Compline as chanted by the Dominicans, and was recorded by friars assigned here (Holy Family Cathedral, Anchorage, Alaska) last year.  The CD, Frozen Friars and Friends, is wonderful and well worth checking out!


  1. What a beautiful way to start and end our days. I have often wished I could have become a contemplative nun myself, and I admire your fortitude in persuing this lovely calling from God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: