The General Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours state very clearly that the Liturgy of the Hours is not a “private function,” but “pertains to the whole body of the Church.” As such, it “manifests the Church and has an effect upon it (GIH, 20).” The Sacred Liturgy (which includes the Liturgy of the Hours) is, by nature, public and communal. Because of this, the Second Vatican Council stressed that “whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private (SC, 27).”
Perhaps this is why the council fathers insisted that, “Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours [of the Divine Office], especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts (SC, 100).” After all, when this is done – when the faithful pray the Divine Office together with the priest in the approved form – “then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father (SC, 84).”
The public nature of the Liturgy of the Hours is not a theological abstraction. Of course, if we must pray the Office in private we still give glory to God, derive spiritual benefit for ourselves, and contribute to the salvation of the world. However, the preferred way of celebrating the Office is publically and communally. When the prayer of the Church is offered in this way – by priests gathered with the faithful – the Church is made manifest in a more perfect way and the glory of God is revealed in and through the Body of Christ at prayer.
Over 10 years prior to the council, in the encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII lamented the fact that the public celebration of the Office, which was attended by many of the faithful, had gradually ceased. While he acknowledged that the laity have no obligation to pray the Office (which remains true to this day), he stated that “it is greatly to be desired that they participate in reciting or chanting vespers sung in their own parish on feast days (MD, 150).” He then exhorted the bishops and priests “to see that this pious practice is kept up, and that wherever it has ceased you restore it if possible (Ibid).” Why? Because it would produce “salutary results… and foster the piety of the faithful… and fill their souls with meaning (Ibid).”
This is why, for the past 20 years, St Thomas More House of Prayer has been making a public offering of the Liturgy of the Hours and sharing this richest of treasures with as many as possible. Yet, the desire of our hearts remains to see the Liturgy of the Hours be restored to its rightful place in the parish. The truth is that a parish without a public and communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours is handicapped. Good catechetical programs, fellowship opportunities, and evangelization efforts (as good as these are!) cannot replace the Sacred Liturgy. They will always limp along until they are firmly anchored in the perfect praise and adoration that the Church can render to God, which is done par excellence through her Liturgy.
Whether you are a member of the clergy or a lay person, if you are interested in resources and ideas that could help you make a public offering of the Liturgy of the Hours in your parish, please contact us! We would love to come alongside of you to help this become a reality!
You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 814-676-1910.