Before I went to Mass this morning, I saw a glimpse of Pope Benedict beginning the Palm Sunday liturgy in Rome. St. Peter's Square seemed overflowing with clergy and lay people packed into the Square.
Yesterday a woman came into our centre asking for The Liturgy of the Hours. "What does liturgy mean anyway?" she asked as I lead her to the area where we have books to assist in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The Greek origin of liturgy comes from the words "letus ergon" meaning work of the people. The Roman Catholic Church has only two "official" liturgical prayers or forms of worship: the Mass or the "celebration of the Eucharist," and the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is really a way of sanctifying the hours or time of each day. Morning prayer, which is also called Lauds, and Evening Prayer, or Vespers, are the "hinges" or mainstays of the hours. Monks, priests and many nuns (that is vowed religious women) pledge to pray this form of prayer every day. Lay people are strongly encouraged to pray the hours, especially morning, evening and night prayer.
In some communities the prayers are sung. They can be put to music because the prayers are from the Psalms which were written to be sung at temple worship by the Jewish people. Yesterday someone was surprised that we pray with prayers from "the Old Testament," or, as it is often referred to: "the Hebrew Bible." Usually morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours is a form of praise and thanksgiving to God expressed in two Psalms and a canticle. By a canticle we mean a prayer taken from another book of the Bible, Isaiah, for example. Then there is a short reading from Scripture followed by a few lines of response. Then an antiphon, a line or two giving a theme, is recited before we pray the "canticle," Zechariah's words praising God from Luke's Gospel. Then the antiphon is repeated, and an intercessory prayer follows which presents needs of the church and the world. All our prayer intentions are gathered up as we pray the Lord's Prayer and a concluding prayer which sums up that "hour" of prayer for the day. Before we leave the place of prayer we end with an invocation: "May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen."
Sometimes the psalms used are those of "lament." In a psalm of lament the writer or original pray-er is complaining to God, at times even asking God to wreak havoc on "my enemies." Yet in the same psalm of complaint, the writer usually never fails to interject praises to God for all the good he has done in the past. The "enemy" in those psalms can be our own unruly inclinations, our stubbornness, our faults and sins, our temptations. Even though the words were written a few thousand years ago, the emotions we feel today can be transferred into the words we pray from those psalms of lament and praise.
When someone prays the Liturgy of the Hours he or she can be confident that he is praying with the whole church. We are praying with the same Word of God that Jesus used. In fact, among the last words Jesus spoke on the cross were, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" from Psalm 22. At first it looks like a terrible lament: God forsaking his loved one. Then the psalm returns to the fact that God does deliver his beloved: "You who fear the Lord, give praise!...For God has not spurned or disdained the misery of the poor." In Jesus' case, God the Father allowed him to suffer for us, but he vindicated him through the power of the resurrection.
There are many translations of the Psalms available. But, for the Liturgy of the Hours, an official translation is chosen so people can pray easily together. To find a copy of he liturgy of the Hours, check out the Daughters of St. Paul website: www.pauline.org.
Best regards for a peace-filled and blessed Holy Week.
Let's pray today too for youth, since Pope Benedict addressed young people today. It's become a tradition initiated by John Paul II that the Pope give a talk to youth every Palm Sunday.
Sister Mary Peter