By KATHY SCHMUGGE
LEXINGTON — “How powerful is this prayer of the universal Church that we are called to persevere in! How rewarding for those who are faithful to this prayer of the Church,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker about the Liturgy of the Hours during his first vespers service in the Diocese of Charleston. These inspirational words about the Liturgy of the Hours had a rippling effect that ignited a two-part lecture on the subject given by seminarian Chris Danel at Corpus Christi Church. Danel, a convert to the Catholic faith who will be ordained to the priesthood next summer, was an enthusiastic speaker on this topic because the Catholic liturgy contributed to his attraction to the Church.
The event, sponsored by the parish’s Legion of Mary, took place on Aug. 16 and 23. It drew representatives from all the Midland churches as well as visitors from Aiken and Augusta, Ga. Over 60 participants listened to the scholarly presentations, where Danel walked through how to say the office and gave background to its origin and significance. Each session concluded with evening prayer followed by refreshments.
“The vespers homily given by our new Bishop Baker caused me to realize that not only are bishops, priests, deacons and religious required daily to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but that the church invites all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ to pray them,” said Vicky Reese, president of the Corpus Christi Legion of Mary, organizer of the event.
People came to the presentations for reasons ranging from curiosity to a desire to make the office part of their daily routine. Paul Williams, from Good Shepherd Church in Columbia, was searching for a way to enrich his prayer life and thought the Divine Office was what he needed. Cathy Hinen from St. Peter’s has been saying the Liturgy of the Hours since she attended a Holy Week retreat at an Episcopalian monastery in Cambridge, Mass., and wanted to learn more about it.
In the first session, Danel explained the difference between vocal (with the voice), meditative (engaging mind, emotion and desire) and contemplative (“gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus”) prayers and how the liturgical prayer combines all three together. (Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2701-25)
“Liturgy of the Hours is the sanctification of time,” explained Danel, adding that it allows a person to follow time the Lord has given in prayer. Danel went on to associate the rhythmic nature of the prayers to the repetitive play that children enjoy. “When we have a strong experience of prayer, we look for it again and again,” he said, adding that the rhythm comforts and guides.
After making it clear that everyone is invited to say the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office), Danel tackled the main reason people are sometimes reluctant to make the commitment. “It may seem difficult to make time for the Lord in our busy schedules, but instead of prioritizing our scheduling, we need to schedule our priorities,” he said, which the office accomplishes by requiring prayer during set intervals throughout the day. One of the participants, Brian Taylor, a member of Corpus Christi, seemed to echo this sentiment while sharing his personal feelings about the office. “It has changed my life and it seems like I have more time in the day.”
Danel then described the various parts of the liturgy such as Lauds (morning prayer), The Little Hours (prayers throughout the day), Vespers (evening prayer), and Compline (night prayer.) He also went over the evening prayer, teaching through actually saying the prayers with the participants.
As for the history, Danel said that praying the psalms throughout the day is found in the Jewish tradition. Evidence of the Christian practice dates back to the “desert monks” who compiled an abridged version for noncloistered orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. He spoke of the benefits of the office, which has not changed since its beginning, and is the participation in the priesthood of Christ and prayer in unison with the whole Church.
Like the bishop’s homily, Danel’s lecture has already spurred on even more interest in liturgical prayer. Several of the churches in the area have already initiated evening prayer, once a week. Corpus Christi will have the service at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays, Our Lady of the Hill at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and existing prayer groups will enjoy increased membership. All services will be open to anyone who wishes to attend.
Ann Smith, from Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia, now feels motivated to say the Liturgy of the Hours and less intimidated by it. “I feel ready to give it a try.”