In the past six months, much of our daily structure has been stripped away from us or radically altered. A year ago, a typical day in the life of a Brown or RISD student might include walking across campus for class, working out in the gym, grabbing dinner on Thayer, going to club meetings, and spending time with groups of friends. Now - especially during Quiet Period - all of those activities have become virtual and solitary.
It becomes even more necessary, then, to add some structure into our days. Research tells us that routines help us to alleviate anxiety and stress, develop creativity and productivity, and make time for what matters most.
Now, we can structure our day in many ways, and use many different things to create routines - exercise, meals, class, standing meetings, habits like reading or painting. But I want to encourage you not only to structure your day with something, but to sanctify your entire day by structuring it with prayer.
There are many ways that we can use prayer to structure our days - by praying the Angelus three times a day, by reciting the rosary or reading Scripture at certain times, or by just remembering to turn to God at specific times each day. But I want to put forth the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the “Divine Office” or “Breviary”) - a set of prayers marking different hours of the day with Psalms and Canticles from Scripture - as a particularly powerful way for all of us (lay and ordained!), to unite our entire day with the mystery of Christ and with the entire Church.
Uniting with the mystery of Christ
The Catechism tells us that “The mystery of Christ, his Incarnation and Passover, which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours,” and is "so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God." (1174)
A well-ordered life is one that is centered around God, and one in which all activities flow from and back to our relationship with God. The Liturgy of the Hours flows from and connects us with the Eucharistic Liturgy, unites our whole day with the mystery of Christ celebrated in the Eucharist, and reminds us of the presence of God in our lives continually throughout the day.
Private & Public
These prayers, though they may feel private, are also inherently communal. Especially if you are praying them alone in your dorm room, it can feel like you are having a private moment with God - and undoubtedly you are. But you are also participating in a very public action, in a prayer of the entire Church. All clergy and religious around the world pray at least some of the Liturgy of the Hours daily. Even in our private prayer, we know that this is a liturgy of the whole church, and we can feel the strength of that the deeper we get into this form of praying.
As the Catechism tells us: “In this ‘public prayer of the Church,’ the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized...The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God” (1174-1175).
What if praying the Psalms feels boring?
In many ways, reciting words written by someone else feels impersonal. In choosing to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the psalms you are praying will not necessarily resonate with how you are feeling. It might become frustrating to read words about feeling desolate and abandoned when you are actually feeling joyful and loved, or to read psalms about triumph when you feel beaten down by life. But this teaches us that:
Prayer is beyond ourselves; it is about more than how we are feeling, or what is going on in our lives.
We are a part of the universal church. Even if I am not personally feeling distressed, if I am praying with a very distressed-sounding psalm, I can unite myself with those around the world who are feeling this way, and remember that I am part of the larger Body of Christ.
We don’t necessarily need to “feel something” or have profound insights every time we pray. It takes the pressure off, and helps us to know that we are praising God and growing closer to God even if we don’t feel anything (or, if what we’re feeling is boredom or disconnection!).
So, to reiterate - praying the Liturgy of the Hours adds structure to our day, it helps us to sanctify our days even in the midst of a busy secular life, and it unites us with the universal church throughout the world. So what are you waiting for?? I challenge all of you reading this to take the next two weeks and commit to praying Morning Prayer before breakfast, Evening Prayer before dinner, and Night prayer before bed. Notice how your outlook on the day changes, and how connected you feel with God and with the universal Church.