The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours is a rich liturgical tradition in the Catholic Church that dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Throughout the years, this sacred tradition has undergone several changes and adaptations in order to better fit the needs of the time, but in essence has remained utterly the same. In this short reflection, I would like to concentrate on one of these unchanging aspects that I find to be very beautiful, but also very urgent to be lived in our present time: precisely, its nature of being a prayer of the universal Church; a prayer that not only expresses the unity that we live as Catholics, but also deepens this unity that the Lord so earnestly prayed for before his death: “that they may be one, as we also are”.
“Public and common prayer by the people of God is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church”. Ever since the early Church, individual Christians began to devote themselves to this duty, doing so at fixed times throughout the day, as this was also a common custom amongst the Jews. These early Christians longed to follow the example of the Lord Jesus, who often spent long periods in prayer, and they looked to obey the words of St. Paul who encouraged the early Church to “pray without ceasing”. Little by little, such prayer took the form of a set cycle of hours that sought to sanctify the entire day that became known as the Liturgy of the Hours.
In praying the Liturgy of the Hours, one enters into a deeper union with Jesus Christ, and in this, enters more deeply into the unity of the entire Body of Christ, the Church. For indeed “all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ’s spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church their Mother”. Whether one is a bishop, priest or deacon, all of whom have the obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or a layperson who is under no obligation, those who pray this prayer of the Church live out and express the very nature of the Church as a community. It is in this way that Catholics from all over the world can unite in prayer and look together in the same direction towards Christ, celebrating his true presence among us, while at the same time awaiting his Second Coming.
One of the great expressions of this unity that one can live with the entire Body of Christ through the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours is by praying the Psalms with our hearts open to the various attitudes and emotions that these poems of praise express. For “those who pray the psalms in the liturgy of the hours do so not so much in their own name as in the name of the entire Body of Christ. This consideration does away with the problem of a possible discrepancy between personal feelings and the sentiments a psalm is expressing”. This means that even when one prays the Liturgy of the Hours alone, he is indeed praying in union with all those who throughout the world pray the same prayer, and because of this can open himself to the experience and to the feelings that others might be living.
What practical implications does this have? Let us suppose that you are praying the Liturgy of the Hours alone and one of the psalms is a psalm that speaks of persecution and of fear that the psalmist has of his persecutors. If we are encouraged in the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours to open ourselves, and in a way unite ourselves, to the attitudes and emotions that the psalms express, then you might ask yourself “how am I supposed to be interiorly in tune with an experience that I have never had”? Or if you are praying a psalm in which the psalmist expresses feelings of sadness or pain, but at that very moment you are experiencing great joy, what are you supposed to do? It is precisely in these moments when you have the chance to look beyond yourself towards the entire Body of Christ and enter into a particular union of attitudes and emotions with your brethren elsewhere who might be experiencing what the Psalm expresses. How beautiful it is to consider the fact that as we pray the Liturgy of the Hours and come across a Psalm of persecution, for example, we can spiritually unite ourselves with, and pray for our Catholic brothers and sisters from other parts of the world that are persecuted because of their faith. God will surely look upon our prayers and offer the fruits for those who are most in need.
Finally, I would like to simply mention the fact that, while the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer that can be prayed individually, it is a prayer better suited for praying with others. The Church teaches that “celebration in common (…) expresses more clearly the ecclesial nature of the liturgy of the hours; it makes for active participation by all, in a way suited to each one’s condition, through the acclamations, dialogue, alternating psalmody, and similar elements”. When a group gathers to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, this is already, in and of itself, a manifestation of the communion of the Church, and at the same time, it contributes to the strengthening of this very same communion.
The Lord Jesus asked his Father that we “may be one, as we also are”, and he has given us the liturgy as a primary means of attaining this communion. Let us therefore lift up our hearts and our minds to him who is perfect Communion, and ask that his Plan be fulfilled in us as we continue on this pilgrimage towards our eternal home.
© 2016 – Craig Kinneberg para el Centro de Estudios Católicos – CEC
 Jn. 17:11
 General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 1.
 1 Thess. 5:16
 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 85.
 General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 108.
 Ibid., n. 33.
 Jn. 17:11
- The Liturgy of the Hours: The Prayer of the Church - Septiembre 26, 2016
- The Church as a Sacrament in the Lumen Gentium - Abril 23, 2013