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A nun receiving the Divine Office
The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours is a way by which we sanctify our entire day through prayer. In his rule, St. Benedict refers to the Divine Office as the “Work of God”. Before going more into the importance of the Divine Office, let us first answer the practical question of what exactly it is. The full Divine Office, as we pray it at the Abbey of St. Walburga, consists of seven prayer services that are said every day at appointed times. These prayer services are as follows (included are the times we pray them)
Vigils: 4:50 am
Lauds: 6:50 am
Terce: After Mass
Sext: 11:45 am
None: After Lunch
Vespers: 5:00 pm
Compline: 7:30 pm
During these prayer services we chant the psalms, read from Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, and also say intercessory prayers. As a contemplative Benedictine community, we sing the entire book of psalms every week. Each hour (service) begins with a hymn and ends with a prayer that ties together all the prayers of that service and presents them to God.
The Divine Office is the prayer of the Church. It is not just the prayer of nuns or religious. The duty and privilege of praying the Divine Office belongs to laity and religious.
As contemplative nuns we are obliged to say the Divine Office every day. We pray it in the name of the Church and for the Church. As we pray, we are the voice of the Bride (the Church) addressing the Bridegroom. Any member of the Church can join the Divine Office and participate in this voice which worships, praises, and intercedes. Thus, no matter who you are, you can pray the Divine Office.
By praying the hours throughout the day we constantly return to the source of all the other work we may do. We are admonished as Christians to pray without ceasing. This unceasing prayer of the heart which permeates all we do, is nourished in the Divine Office. But this prayer should not be consider our secondary work. In fact St. Benedict tells us to prefer nothing to the Work of God (i.e. praying the Divine Office). The idea is that we should not view our prayer as an interruption to our daily work, but rather our daily work should be more appropriately seen as an interruption to our prayer. For indeed all our work is pointless unless it flows from God. It is for this reason that Benedict says that upon hearing the bell ring for the Office, the monk is to “immediately set aside whatever he has in hand and go with utmost speed” to this work. When we get our priorities right, when we give generously to the One who has given all to us, then we will find peace and harmony in all that we do. The anxieties which so often grip us will no longer have the control they once had. And all of our day’s activities, all of our thoughts, all of our life will acquire meaning and indeed be holy.