What is the Liturgy of the Hours?
The Liturgy of the Hours is the public and communal prayer of the Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the first duties of the Bride of Christ.
From the very beginning of the Church, we know that the faithful devoted themselves to prayer at different hours. Continuing the practice of the synagogue, early Christians gathered regularly to pray the Psalms, knowing full well that they had reached their fulfillment in Christ and now shed light on His life, death, and resurrection.
Over time, the praying of the Psalms at particular hours was given more definite shape. They were prayed according to various monastic rules such as the one developed by St Benedict of Nursia. While it was not uncommon for laity to gather for Sunday Vespers to pray the Psalms with their parish priests, over time praying the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) became primarily the work of clergy and religious.
During the Second Vatican Council, however, it was desired that the Divine Office once again become the prayer of the whole people of God. It was thus revised to "take into account the modern conditions in which daily life has to be lived (SC, 88)." It was clear that the council fathers wanted to see a more generous participation in this prayer by all - clergy, religious, and laity.
In the year 2000, in his Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Inuente, St John Paul II expressed his concern for Christians who had become content with a shallow prayer that was unable to fill their whole life. He said that in today's world, such Christians "would be not only mediocre Christians, but 'Christians at risk'." He thus insisted that the Church "become distinguished in the art of prayer" and that greater pastoral care be devoted to "promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as the prayer of the whole people of God."
As successor of St Peter, he would then do his part by devoting Wednesday Audiences for the remainder of his pontificate to catechesis on the psalms prayed by the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Together, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are the font of grace from which the worship of God and the sanctification of man are achieved.
Every time we pray the Hours, our relationship with Christ is deepened as we are joined to His priestly ministry of offering ceaseless praise and adoration to our Father in Heaven while interceding for the salvation of the world.
In and though this prayer, we are also bound to the faithful of every time and place. As it says in the General Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours, "By offering praise to God in the Hours, the Church joins in singing that canticle of praise which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven (16)."
Lastly, when we make the time to pray the Hours, the mystery of Christ which we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist "permeates and transfigures the time of each day (CCC, 1174)." In other words, praying the Liturgy of the Hours takes the graces received in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and extends them to the different hours of the day. It is through our offering of this sacrifice of praise in union with Christ and all His Church that the hours and labors of the day are truly sanctified and become holy.