Saturday, February 24, 2007

religion: the hourly regimen of prayers that monks have followed for centuries is spreading beyond monasteries

From St. Benedict's Parish website.

By John Rivera
Baltimore Sun Staff

*O Lord, open my lips

And my mouth shall declare your praise. *

For centuries, monks have mouthed these words as they begin their daily
regimen of prayer in the pre-dawn hours. The Liturgy of the Hours --
Psalms and prayers recited at set hours -- fixed the rhythm of their
day, from rising to rest.

Also called the Divine Office, the prayers have for the most part been
the preserve of Roman Catholic priests, deacons, nuns and brothers.

But the Office is being discovered by Catholic lay people, such as those
who gather every day for Morning Prayer at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer
parish in Rosedale, or for Evening Prayer at * St. Benedict parish* in
Southwest Baltimore.

Protestants say they, too, are finding spiritual inspiration in coming
together -- or in seeking solitude -- to recite the prayers known by
Latin titles such as Lauds, Vespers or Compline.

For the average person, picking up a breviary, the prayerbook used in
the Office, is a daunting experience. A half dozen colored ribbons mark
the sections one must flip between during the prayer's various parts.

In response to the increasing popularity of the Divine Office, about a
half dozen books have recently been published or are soon to hit print.
The cyber world is weighing in, too, with such Internet sites as and springing up.

"I think there is a clear need, there's a hunger for Christian
spirituality, Christian spiritual discipline," said Phyllis Tickle, the
Publisher's Weekly religion editor who is compiling her own breviary,
"The Divine Hours." Her first volume, "Prayers for Summertime," was
released last month.

"We've gone from the ooey gooey to the importing to Christianity of
disciplines from other faiths," said Tickle, whose watch alarm reminds
her three times a day to pick up her prayer book. "Now, we have stumbled
on the fact that some Christians would like to know what their spiritual
traditions are."

Bonnie Shannonhouse has been traveling the world for six years to teach
the Liturgy of the Hours to Protestant women -- Anglicans like herself,
but also mainline Protestants, evangelicals, Pentecostals and

"When I discovered [the Hours], it pained me that the Protestants threw
the baby out with the bath water at the Reformation," said Shannonhouse
of North Baltimore.

She has written two versions of the Hours for lay people, which she
calls "The Lost Coin" series, after Jesus' parable in the Gospels about
the person who rejoices on a precious find. The Hours offer a bridge
between what she calls the liturgical churches, such as Catholics and
Anglicans, and the non-liturgical, evangelical Christians.

"We've lost a spiritual coin in our Christian hearts, and we rejoice
because it is now found," she said. "It's breaking down barriers and
prejudices and hatreds that have existed for the last 500 years."

Robert Benson, who was raised in the Nazarene Church, later became a
Methodist and now worships as an Episcopalian, has prayed the Hours
since he was introduced to them a decade ago.

"Because of my evangelical background, all I knew about prayer was the
kind of extemporaneous, conversational prayer that's most common, almost
exclusively used in evangelical settings," said Benson, who has written
his own simplified Office, "Venite, a Book of Daily Prayer."

"I didn't know anything about corporate prayer, daily prayer, monastic
prayer," he said. "This was prayer that was not dependent on my
eloquence or my spiritual depth at a given point in time. It required
simply faithfulness, not always an easy thing to do."

The benefit to praying at fixed hours is that "it keeps our focus on God
during the day," said Etta Patton, who says morning prayer at St.
Clement Mary Hofbauer and evening prayer by herself. "You take that time
to stop the busyness of the day, all the distractions."

The practice of the Office is rooted in the Jewish tradition of fixed
hours of prayer and receives its Christian inspiration from St. Paul's
admonition to "pray without ceasing."

By the fourth century, monastic communities had set apart specific parts
of the day for prayer, and between the fifth and the ninth centuries,
the Office developed its form of eight hours: Matins and Lauds in the
early morning; the Little Hours during the day of Prime (the first hour,
before dawn); Terce (the third hour, 9 a.m.), Sext (the sixth hour,
noon) and None (the ninth hour, 3 p.m.); and the evening and night
prayers of Vespers and Compline.

Though monks can devote their entire day to prayer, the Christian in the
world usually chooses a portion of the Office: just morning prayer or
Vespers, or maybe just the Little Hours of Terce, Sext and None (Prime
has been dropped).

Although the Office can include prayers, hymns and religious readings,
the recitation of the Psalms is at its heart. They are recited or sung
and are done in an antiphonal style, with one side of the congregation
taking one strophe or stanza while the other listens, and then reversing

Dale Dombrosky discovered the Office when she stopped at * St. Benedict's*
in 1990. "I was going through a particularly hard time in my life, and
the Psalms really spoke to me. Sometimes, they express praise, sometimes
petition, sometimes anger. It's like a real conversation with God," she

"To me, this was a healing for me, to be able to speak to the Lord like
that," she said. "That's how I came back to the church. Really, the
Liturgy of the Hours has been a saving prayer for me."

Many who recite the Office have a sense of participating in a cosmic
wave of prayer. "It's not just us here. People around the world are
saying these same prayers," said Nancy Cappellini, who often drives from
her Owings Mills home to morning prayer at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in

"You feel like you're in union with the whole church."

Originally published on Apr 12 2000

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