Did you know that there is a prayer for families to pray that is even greater than the Rosary? There is: the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. The prayer that most of us think of as the prayer of priests, nuns, monks, and third orders, not families. Yet, the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the Church. And as the domestic church, families are encouraged to pray the Liturgy, too.
Pope St. Paul VI, in his 1974 document Marialis Cultus, declared, "there is no doubt that, after the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, the high point which family prayer can reach, the Rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers in common that the Christian family is invited to recite" (54). In other words, Divine Office is the greatest prayer a family can pray together. The Rosary is the second.
The Liturgy of the Hours can be found in the breviary, a book with the hymns, psalms, readings, and prayers for each canonical hour. The breviary can come in a four-volume set, often used by priests and religious, or the single volume called Christian Prayer, from which more lay people pray. For beginners, I recommend the Shorter Christian Prayer book. It is less complicated, as it does not have all the canonical hours and different saints’ feast days. If you want all the prayers without the complication, consider downloading Laudate, Universalis, Hallow, Divine Office, or iBreviary apps. It doesn’t so much matter from what you pray the Divine Office; just find what works for you and your family!
Altogether, there are seven Hours of prayer with three main Hours: Lauds (morning prayer), Vespers (evening prayer), and Compline (night prayer). As a family, Compline before bedtime is the easiest and shortest prayer to pray. It consists of a psalm, a reading, responsory, Simeon’s canticle (Luke 2:29-32), and a concluding prayer. It takes no more than ten minutes and could become part of family prayer quite easily.
Lauds and Vespers can be prayed in about the same time as a Rosary. They follow the same format, but with some extra psalms and prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer. Some families like to pray Vespers after dinner. Mornings, on the other hand, are just too crazy for any family most days. However, there are apps that have audio of the Liturgy of the Hours, Hallow being the most popular. Parents can listen to morning prayer in the car on the way to work, and the family can pray it together on Sundays on the way to church.
Because the Liturgy of the Hours is in a four-week cycle, we pray the psalms and canticles over and over. As we do so, we begin to remember the verses. The Scriptures we pray become part of us. In times of sorrow or distress, the words rise up from the heart. In times of joy and thanksgiving, praise spills out from the mouth. The words we pray in the Liturgy take on a personal meaning. The Word becomes real in our lives.
After all, Jesus prayed the psalms with His family growing up. When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we pray with the same words used by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph when they prayed. As a matter of fact, when we pray Divine Office, as Saint John Paul II pointed out in his March 28,2001 General Audience, we use the very same words “that for thousands of years have been part of the prayer of Israel and the Church.” We are part of something so much bigger than us and yet so personal to us.
Saint John Paul II, when addressing the Church in Bangkok in 1984, expressed his desire that
"more and more lay persons will be able to share in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the hymn of praise addressed to God by Christ and by the whole church. This prayer of the Church belongs to all the People of God." As followers of Christ, we ought to pray as He did.
Can your family make the time for Liturgy of the Hours? Where in your family schedule can you develop the practice of praying the Divine Office? Perhaps consider making it a family Advent devotion or a New Year’s resolution. Because, as Venerable Patrick Peyton would say, the family that prays together, stays together.