The Way of Beauty Putting on Christ: A Plan for Lent

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The festive days of Christmas have given way to the forty days of Lenten asceticism. During this time, the liturgy arouses in us the desire to accompany Christ to Calvary and beyond Calvary, to the Empty Tomb. The heart of Christianity looks directly into the eye of our souls: Christ suffered his passion and death out of love pro me and pro nobis-for me and for us.  This redemptive love has no precedent, no analogy, no metaphor-a love entirely unique.

Putting On Christ

Frequently, children who desire to imitate a sports figure wear a T-shirt or jacket with the figure's name on it.  Children are proud to wear the clothing marked with their hero's name.  It is their badge of honor.  

St. Paul gives us a similar image, that of putting on Christ, of wearing the garment of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom 13:14).  In Old Testament times, an initiate identified himself with a god by donning a robe that resembled the one worn by the god.  Putting on the garment also meant that the apprentice imitated the idol.  

In Romans, Paul goes even further.  He suggests that the Christian has already been buried with Christ in the waters of Baptism and rises to new life by putting on not just any new garment but the garment which is Christ.  Christians put on Christ by embracing his entire viewpoint that was opposed to wearing the outlook of the unbaptized.  Wearing new clothes at Easter time is linked to this notion.

In his twelve Baptismal Instructions, St. John Chrysostom waxes eloquent in describing the baptismal robe worn by newly-baptized Christians.  They shine with the beauty of Christ by wearing the baptismal robe, their badge of honor.

Invitation to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours

Lent offers many different ways of putting on Christ.  Catholics are in the habit of giving up something good and legitimate for Lent.  

The Vatican document on the Sacred Liturgy recommends that the laity participate in the public worship of the Church (#102-11). During Lent, many Catholics attend daily Mass. In fact on workdays, churches in business areas of New York City are filled to capacity with worshipers who attend morning or Noon Mass. Those who are homebound and cannot attend Mass avail themselves of following the Liturgy on television. 

A second way is that of praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  

What Is the Liturgy of the Hours?

Formerly known as the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours is the official prayer of the Catholic Church sung or recited every day of the year throughout the day and night.   It was the Rule of St. Benedict that formulated the principle of a complete recitation of the psalter (150 psalms) over the course of a week. 

The Liturgy of the Hours responds to the Lord's command to pray always, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Of course, it was never possible to take these words literally.  Nevertheless, the Church has set aside certain canonical Hours at various times of the day and night: Matins (Office of Readings), Lauds (Morning Prayer), and the Little Hours, prayed from 6 AM to 3 PM. Vespers is prayed in the late afternoon or early evening, and Night Prayer (Compline), the last canonical Hour of the day, prays for peaceful sleep throughout the night. 

The Liturgy of the Hours is no longer intended just for clergy or those in consecrated life. More and more laity are using electronic devices for praying the Hours on their way to and from work. The Hours are available in many convenient formats on one's Desktop, provided each day at Or, the Hours may be listened to or prayed on one's mobile devices:  iPhone, iPad, Android, or Mac at  

Spiritual Rewards of Praying the Hours  

Praying the Hours nourishes Catholic family life. It brings consolation, courage, and a host of other virtues that sanctify the daily grind.

The faithful are encouraged to pray portions of the Hours, if not the entire cycle. The reader may bristle, objecting that this suggestion can become an undue burden for the average Catholic, busy at home raising children, or for the person working long hours.  Here common sense applies. There is no suggestion of shirking one's responsibilities.  Still, the rewards of praying the Hours are immeasurable. If a family is convinced that prayer is the underlying power of strong family life, then parents will find ways to incorporate some part of the Hours in their daily schedule. In prayer, married couples derive the strength of God's grace to live their demanding vocation. God's generosity far surpasses ours.

More in The Way of Beauty

Spiritual Benefits of Praying the Hours

The spiritual benefits of praying the Hours are many. 

First, Jesus prayed the psalms contained in the Liturgy of the Hours. When we pray the Hours, we are praying with Christ and putting on Christ. 

Second, the psalms are a treasury of human emotions. Praying the psalms supports and guides our emotions permitting their expression within the context of prayer. Our emotions are raised to the level of prayer.  The words and expressions of the psalms become ours, and after a short period, the tone and quality of our vocabulary as well.

Third, when we pray the Hours, we unite ourselves with the Catholic Church around the world. While Catholics in the East are praying one Hour, the West is praying another.

Fourth, praying the Hours is an experience in reading profoundly beautiful religious poetry.  

Fifth, when we pray the Hours, we are not only praying in ordinary time, but the ordinary is transformed into sacred time. 

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The Benedictine rhythm of prayer, work, and rest offers the family a rewarding liturgical life of beauty, piety, and learning.  

Pre-Cana Experience

The practice of praying the Hours should be encouraged at Pre-Cana instructions so that couples will make the Hours an integral part of their married life. In fact, it is recommended that shortly before or after their wedding, they make a week's retreat. It takes three to make a marriage.

A Parish Prays Sunday Vespers

Some years ago when I was visiting the Benedictine Abbey of Chur in Switzerland, the Abbey church was filled to capacity for solemn Vespers on a Sunday evening. From the procession of monks into the sanctuary to the end of the service, the entire Assembly sang the Office of the day with full and enthusiastic voices.  This was an indispensable Sunday prayer that took priority over all other activities.  One of the monks remarked that the townspeople so loved this liturgy that they were wedded to Sunday Vespers.

Great Movements

Great movements are born out of great adversity.  Such was the experiment of the first colonists, and later, of the Civil Rights Movement. Such is the situation in the Church today.  What is needed for a great renewal of the Church?  For a moment, let us imagine a cross section of the Church who, convinced of the power of the psalms in their lives and in the culture, would pray the Hours on a daily basis.  These might include: commuters in New York subways, farmers and ranchers, political leaders and bankers, blue collar workers, the bedridden and the imprisoned, the addicted, the disenfranchised, artists, scientists, physicians and lawyers, media moguls, and last but not least, the stay-at-home mother caring for her family.   Imagine such a renewal!

The Rosary Emerges from the Liturgy of the Hours

The present form of the rosary is traced back to the sixteenth century, even though the fingering of beads can be traced to ancient Eastern traditions. In the eleventh century, 150 Our Fathers were given to an illiterate laity to pray as a substitute for the 150 psalms that were prayed by the monks and nuns.  Called "the poor man's breviary,' the psalms were divided, as was the Psalter, into three sets of fifty. The strings of beads were used to count them. Eventually, the rosary, consisting primarily of Hail Marys, was popularized by the Carthusian Order.  We are no longer illiterate people. 

During Lent, the universal Church immerses itself in salvation history, God's redemptive love for us all. The Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours point to this wondrous mystery.

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