The days before Christmas found people rushing to buy “perfect” gifts. A variety of advertisements and news reports displayed store shelves that sought to satisfy with overflowing abundance. Many shoppers even tried to complete the task by clicking from the comfort of a home computer. Flushed with determination, and maybe the best of intentions, perhaps you found that the quest for a perfect gift transformed into a necessity to impress this Christmas season, and you may have entertained the thought that to give from the heart meant spending beyond your financial means.
A perfect gift, however, isn’t a good or service purchased in a store or online. It is one, rather, which always brings harmony to the most discordant voice, warms the coldest heart, and shines light into the darkest soul. It is prayer.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of prayer as “the life of the new heart” which “ought to animate us at every moment” (2697). The Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH, also called the Divine Office) can help us establish important rhythms of prayer in our daily lives. When practiced fully and faithfully, the LOTH becomes a gift that can make all the difference in our lives, and one we can even re-gift to others.
Priests, deacons and consecrated religious pray the Divine Office daily as one of their primary duties. But, like all prayer, the hymns, psalms, readings from Sacred Scripture, and intercessions contained in the LOTH are a call open to all to “participate according to their own place in the Church” and “the circumstances of their lives” (CCC, 1175). The LOTH is never an exclusive club but an inclusive invitation for all faithful to celebrate together in common prayer.
The true treasures of the Divine Office always confirm this very point. I’ve prayed the LOTH for the past three years. Even though I almost always recite it privately and periodically, it grants me an indescribable inner peace each and every time. Its structure may suggest a path toward routine boredom, but its sustained rhythm comes to “integrate the prayer of the psalms into the age of the Church, expressing the symbolism of the time of the day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated” (CCC, 1177). The profits from praying the LOTH proceed from the continued relevance of its wisdom to our time and position in life, the regularity with which it allows us to adore and worship God, as well its reliability in reflecting the rich teachings and traditions of the Church. We find security in knowing that we pray together with countless others, in a single voice pronounced with a diversity of dialects, across continents and generations.
St. Paul challenges us to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17) and “at every opportunity in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18). Accept the challenges in faith proposed by Paul by discovering or rediscovering the Liturgy of the Hours in the days ahead. Find a perfect gift of prayer, share what you’ve found with others, and together praise and glorify in God in the highest.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.