The Liturgy of the Hours
by Cardinal Marini, the Master of Ceremonies for Pope Francis.
The liturgical section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), in the paragraph dedicated to “When is the liturgy celebrated?”, gives a certain space to the “Divine Office,” today called “Liturgy of the Hours” (LoH). The LoH is an integral part of the divine worship of the Church, not a simple appendage of the sacraments. It is Sacred Liturgy in the true and proper sense.
Christ was first in giving the example of incessant prayer, day and night (cf. Matthew 14:23; Mark 2:35; Hebrews 5:7). The Lord then recommended that we pray always, without ever getting tired (cf. Luke 18:1). Faithful to the words and the example of her Founder (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18), since the apostolic age the Church has developed her own daily prayer according to an ordered rhythm which covers the entire day, assuming in a new way the liturgical practices of the Temple of Jerusalem. It is certain that the two main canonical hours (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer) have been drawn also in relation to the two daily sacrifices of the Temple: the morning one and the evening one. Also the prayers of Terce [Midmorning], Sext [Midday] and None [Midafternoon] correspond to as many moments of prayer of the Judaic practice. On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles were gathered in prayer at the Third Hour (cf. Acts 2:15). Saint Peter had the vision of the sheet descending from heaven, while he was at prayer on a terrace towards the Sixth Hour. On another occasion, Peter and John were going up to the Temple to pray at the Ninth Hour (cf. Acts 3:1). And let us not forget that Paul and Silas, locked in prison, prayed singing hymns to God towards midnight (cf. Acts 16:25).
The LoH, being essentially Christocentric, is profoundly ecclesial. This implies that, in as much as public worship of the Church, the LoH is removed from the will of the individual and is regulated by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Moreover, it represents an ecclesial reading of Sacred Scripture, because the Psalms and the biblical readings are interpreted by texts of the Fathers, of the Doctors and of the Councils, as well as by the liturgical prayers composed by the Church herself (cf. CCC, 1177). In as much as public worship, the LoH h also has a visible and not just an interior component. It is the union of prayer and gestures. If it is true that “the mind must harmonize with the voice” (cf. CCC, 1176), it is also true that worship is not celebrated only with the mind, but also with the body (cf. S.Th., II-II, 81, 7). That is why the Liturgy provides songs, verbal expressions, gestures, bows, prostrations, genuflections, use of incense, vestments, etc. This is applied also to the Divine Office. Moreover, the ecclesial character of the LoH makes it so that by its very nature “it is destined to become the prayer of the whole people of God” (CCC, 1175). In this connection, if it remains true that the Office belongs above all to the sacred Ministers and to the Religious – and to them the Church entrusts it in particular – it always involves the whole Church: the lay faithful (in as much as it is possible for them to participate in it), the souls in Purgatory, the Blessed and the Angels in their diverse ranks. Singing the praises of God, the earthly Church joins herself to the heavenly and prepares to reach her. Thus, the LoH “is truly the voice of the Bride herself who speaks to her Spouse, in fact it is the prayer of Christ, with his Body, to the Father” (SC, n. 84, quoted in CCC, 1174).