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Musical Musings: Liturgy

The Liturgy of the Hours

by Fr. Steven J. Lopes

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Fr. Steven Lopes, the author, and of Mr. Jeff Grace, Managing Editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. It appeared in the April 2004 edition of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

In an imaginative style so characteristic of one of the 20th century's greatest authors, J.R.R. Tolkien begins The Silmarillion with his own re-telling of the creation story in mythological terms. In it, God "sings" the world into existence. The divine note resonates throughout the cosmos giving it form and eventually calling on creation itself to join in the song. Gradually, the melody increases in complexity and texture as other voices join in, creating a rich and vibrant harmony that stills the seas of chaos.1

"Christ ... introduced into the world of our exile that hymn of praise which is sung in the heavenly places throughout all ages."2 In light of this citation from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours casts our participation in the prayer of the Hours as a participation in the dynamic of self-giving love and total receptivity in the heart of the Trinity.

The image hints at a rich theology that undergirds this "official" prayer of the Church. But this theological foundation is often enough left unexplored. Unfortunately, the introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours for those in formation for the priesthood or religious life often comes solely in the form of an external obligation. Because the promise to pray the Hours comes with ordination or religious profession, the prayer is reduced to a "task" to be learned and an expectation to be observed.

The revision of the prayer of the Hours following the Second Vatican Council was a monumental task, but one that has born much fruit in a renewed appreciation of the ancient beauty and modern relevance of the prayer. Now more than ever, Catholics, both individually and in community, are turning to the wisdom of the Liturgy of the Hours as a support for their own spiritual growth and as a means of situating their own prayer experience within that of the larger Church.

The following are thematic reflections which highlight some of the theological and spiritual moorings which, taken together, situate the Liturgy of the Hours within the whole context of the life and prayer of the Church. Whether one has been praying the Hours for many decades or is encountering it for the first time, understanding the internal logic of the prayer and its theological foundations can foster an appreciation of the power, beauty, and formative influence of the Church's Liturgy. Indeed, alongside the celebration of the Eucharist, personal prayer, and a life of active discipleship, the Liturgy of the Hours constitutes an integral component of the spiritual life.

The Litury of the Hours as Trinitarian Prayer

Let us return briefly to J.R.R. Tolkien's image of the divine hymn. It is a powerful metaphor for the outpouring and return of divine love, one that the Council Fathers pick up and apply to Christ. Christ introduces us to the hymn and enables us to respond to its inviting melody. In taking up Christ's celestial hymn as our own, we enter into the cooperative dynamic of the Trinity itself. The Father is the origin of the hymn, pouring himself out in the creation of the world and all it holds. But creation turns away from the Father's outpoured love and is unable to respond to the Father's initiative. In Christ, the only Son of God, the Father finds the full reception of his love and its complete return. As our Mediator and Priest, Christ presents to the Father a hymn of praise "in the name of all and for the good of all,"3 the full and perfect echo of the divine hymn.

Again and again, the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours highlights the intimate bond between the prayer of Christ and our prayer of the Liturgy. Ultimately, this unity of prayer is a work of the Holy Spirit, poured forth in love from the Father and the Son in order to conform us into Christ's body. With imperceptible groaning, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for us and unifying our prayer into a single hymn. Because of the work of the Spirit joining us to Christ and our prayer to his, the riches of the Head flow to the members, and our voices can join with his in loving response to our heavenly Father.

Whether prayed in common or in the quiet of one's room, the Liturgy of the Hours is first and foremost Trinitarian prayer. It is liturgy in the truest sense, in that the prayer itself flows from the life and love of the Trinity and invites our response-the pouring out of ourselves in prayer for the Church and for the world. As we turn ourselves to the work of praying for the world, we mirror the generative love of our Creator. The hymn that echoes throughout the cosmos before the foundation of the world now returns to the Father as a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. It is a hymn that echoes in the Church, never ceasing to be fruitful as it unites the many into one resonant voice.

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Part 2: The Sanctification of Time

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