An Invitation To A Liturgical Prayer

Ronald Rolheiser
May 6, 2024
Reproduced with Permission

We are all priests from our baptism, and with that comes an invitation, namely, to pray for the world as a priest through the prayer of Christ and the Church. What does that mean exactly?

Everyone who is baptized as a Christian is baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priesthood is given to all baptized Christians and is not just the prerogative and responsibility of those who are officially ordained for ministry, and with this comes an invitation to all adult Christians.

This invitation is something very concrete. We don't have to think about what we are meant to do or invent something. Rather, we are invited to join in a practice that began in the early apostolic community and has come down to us today, that is, the practice of daily praying two sets of prayers out of a ritual set of prayers that are variously called: The Divine Office of the Church, The Liturgy of the Hours, The Canonical Hours, or The Breviary. Since the time of the earliest Christian monastics, these prayers have been a key element in the prayer of the Church, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

There are eight such sets of prayers, each meant to be said at a different time of day and linked to the mood and light of the hour. The eight sets of these prayers are: Lauds (prayed as morning prayer); Prime and Terce (prayed at various times during the morning); Sext (prayed at noon); None (prayed mid-afternoon); Vespers (prayed as the workday ends); Compline (prayed as a night prayer); and Vigils (prayed sometime during the night). Note the appropriateness of the name, The Liturgy of the Hours.

While there are eight sets of these prayers, only monks and nuns inside contemplative orders pray all eight of these. Priests, deacons, men and women in religious orders that are fully engaged in ministry, Protestant and Evangelical ministers, and laity who pray these "hours", normally pray only two of them, Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer).

And these prayers need to be distinguished from our private prayers. These are not private meditations, but are what is called public prayer, liturgical prayer, the Church's prayer, the prayer of Christ for the world. Ideally, they are meant to be prayed, indeed celebrated communally, but they are still the public prayer of the Church even when they are prayed alone. The intent in praying them is to join the official prayer of the Church and pray a prayer that is being prayed at that same hour by thousands (perhaps millions) of Christians around the world who, as the Body of Christ, are praying Christ's priestly prayer for the world.

Moreover, since these are the prayers of the Church, and not our own prayer, we are not free to change them or substitute other prayers for them according to our temperament, piety, or theological taste. These prayers don't have to be personally meaningful to us each day. We are praying as priests, offering prayer for the world, and that is deeply meaningful in itself, independent of whether it is affectively meaningful to us on a given day or even during a whole period of our lives. Fulfilling a responsibility isn't always affectively meaningful. In praying these prayers, we are assuming one of our responsibilities as adult Christians, that is, to pray with the Church, through Christ, for the world.

The two hours (Lauds and Vespers) that we are invited to pray each day follow a simple structure: three psalms, a short scriptural reading, an ancient Christian hymn (the Benedictus or the Magnificat), a short series of petitions, the Lord's Prayer, and a concluding prayer.

So, this is the invitation: as an adult Christian, as a priest from your baptism, as a woman or man concerned for the world and the Church, I invite you to join thousands and thousands of Christians around the world and each day pray the Church's morning prayer (Lauds) and the Church's evening prayer (Vespers). Then, like Christ, as a priest, you will be offering sacrifice for the world. Subsequently, when you watch the world news and feel discouraged and helpless in the face of all that isn't right in the world and ask yourself, what can I do? Well, you will be doing something that's very real, praying with Christ and the Church for the world.

Where do you find these prayers, Lauds and Vespers? Books containing them can be purchased from almost any religious publishing house, Catholic or Protestant. Indeed, they need not even be purchased. Today they are available (free) online. Simply engage your search engine and type in The Liturgy of the Hours or ibreviary and you will find them.

In praying these prayers each day, whether alone or (ideally) with others, you will be assuming a special power and a responsibility given to you in your baptism and will be giving an important gift to the world. And you will never again have to struggle with the question, how should I pray today?