Like so much in the world, this booklet exists for selfish reasons, but not necessarily bad ones. I struggle to find time to pray and recognized some years ago that, though I would like to pray regularly, I needed some additional motivation. Given human, communal nature, some healthy peer pressure would suffice in the absence of perfect charity, and so began an effort to organize what good people do naturally: gather and pray.
But pray how and about what? All prayer, especially the "spontaneous" kind, becomes horribly monotonous (if not to the individual then certainly to God). For example, if prayed before each meal by every Christian, Jew and Muslim on the face of the earth, our poor Father in Heaven hears "God, thank you for this food," or words to that effect, several billion times a day. An individual person expresses the same sentiment about 75 thousand times in his own life.
Somewhere along the way, the question must occur to the rational person, "Why do I keep saying the same things over and over?" Some people try to make their prayers more eloquent, more interesting to themselves or to whoever else might be listening, but then what really is the point of such prayers? Is God somehow impressed by our use of language? Is it only some kind of self-affirmation or comfort? "Ah, that was a good prayer."
In any event, the Catholic Church has, from before its very beginning, possessed a source of prayer that is rich, enriching, and virtually inexhaustible. The modern version is called The Liturgy of the Hours, and it is among the Church's best-kept secrets. Based almost exclusively on Sacred Scripture, The Liturgy of the Hours leads one to pray with other Christians in the Spirit, through Christ, to the Father.
Having discovered what to pray, then came the task of learning how to pray it. This is not as easy as one might expect. To begin with, the instruction, called the "General Instruction for The Liturgy of the Hours", is not the most practical guide. Ideally, one would learn to pray The Liturgy of the Hours by regularly praying with other groups, but these are in short supply. Teachers, clear instructions, time and support systems are scarce. Hence this book.
That said, it must be admitted that this project has necessary grown well beyond its original concept and led unexpectedly to an entirely new section on simple chants (sometimes called "plain chant" or "plainsong"). Instruction on how to chant and the Church's modern view of chanted prayer are all but non-existent. As it turns out, chant plays a much more important role in prayer than one might imagine.
Because The Liturgy of the Hours is entirely optional for the layperson, the reader is encouraged to take what is useful and adapt it to his schedule. Finally, though the text draws almost exclusively upon Catholic sources, The Liturgy of the Hours lends itself readily to ecumenical prayer groups. Even those Christians who would not naturally refer to themselves as Catholic will find within The Liturgy of the Hours an inspiring and moving font of prayer.
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