Five-Year Tested* Plan for Promoting Liturgy of the Hours Among the Laity

How to promote the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH) among Catholic laity? Here’s a collection of ideas I heard following a talk by Daria Spezzano at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s summer symposia:

  • use of bodily motions (i.e. bowing)
  • cathedral style celebrations with designated music ministers, responsorial style psalms, candlelight, incense, etc.
  • worship aids for introducing Liturgy of the Hours, but eventually prayer books
  • growing it in parish life by forming youth in the practice
  • digital apps [this seemed to have some critics]
  • singing(!)
  • combining it with Eucharistic Adoration
  • presence of a “seed” group of those who are familiar (versus an entire chapel of inexperienced LOTH-prayers)
  • slipping it into parish life, i.e. before Sunday Mass or during a particular liturgical season
  • praying along with recordings of sung/spoken LOTH
  • and from Spezzano, the idea of someone experienced (i.e. from a diocese staff) presenting in three sessions: history, spirituality, and then the “how to”

And my thoughts? Yes.

There’s simply not one way. No silver bullet. Ten people are going to have ten different stories. Listening to the discussion brought back memories of my own “discovery” of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Not sure if my experience was slower or had more touch points than typical, but I’m struck by how many of the ideas mentioned in the Liturgy Symposia were indeed present in my own life.

Here it is: a tested*, five-year plan for how a Millennial can discover Liturgy of the Hours

 Year 1: On a whim, go to parish’s Advent Sunday Vespers. Vespers are “cathedral style” with support from parish music groups. Get Psalm 110 antiphon tune stuck in head (I can still remember it today, twelve years later). Go back for the rest of Advent.

Year 2: While having one foot in a Baptist congregation and one foot in a Catholic parish, see a newly released edition of a 1559 Book of Common Prayer on the shelf at the local Barnes & Noble and think “ah ha! the perfect mix of King James Version texts and that Catholic prayer I liked.” Buy it. Start to pray it while falling asleep at night.

Year 3: Podcasts are growing. Notice a new Catholic resource, “ND Prayercast,” (from a Catholic university I’d never much thought of, but would eventually attend, years later). Start to listen to a Morning Prayer styled podcast with music. Singing (or at least humming) along with Invititory and Morning psalms and canticles has become a reality.

Year 4: Need some reading that will last through a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Buy the one-volume Christian Prayer (via this trendy “Amazon” thing–since it’s not like there are lots of Catholic bookstores in Fayetteville, NC). Start praying morning and evening prayer as an individual.

Year 5: In a new Army assignment with lots of travel. Wander into the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. (because I found some free, non-Catholic University of America-permit-required parking there!!) and see Vespers going on. Start to make finding communal celebrations of Liturgy of the Hours part of my work trips and experience the prayer with Holy Spirit Sisters in St. Louis, Jesuits in Missouri, Anglicans in London, and Visitation Sisters in D.C.

So that’s how it happened. How I went from having no clue about the Liturgy of the Hours, to being familiar with, drawn to, and even leading and pre-evangelizing through this liturgical action of the Church. There was no silver bullet. Many small and mundane things played a part along the way. Most importantly, God was at work. No five-year pastoral plan to promote LOTH can make more people pray the Liturgy of the Hours individually and communally. There’s no “recipe” that works for every parish, never mind every person. To sum up my experience in conversation with the Symposia-generated list of ideas, it comes down to this: do it & make it available. If LOTH is prayed communally, people will see it and hear it. Doing it (and seeing others pray this way) was a critical jump-start in my own story. And at the same time, communal celebrations of LOTH aren’t widely available in most locations. So, we can make it available and accessible for individual pray-ers through resources. Of course the books will always be sold, but audio recordings, video recordings, live-streams, apps, social media communities, etc. Almost anything could be the resource that encourages someone or sustains them when they’re ready and seeking to enter more deeply in to the Church’s daily prayer.

 

Do you pray the Liturgy of the Hours? How did it happen for you? What common threads do you see in your story and others’?

*and guaranteed to work on me, and probably only me 😉

Some other thoughts on preaching in the LOTH and parish celebrations of LOTH

 

Catechesis and Prayer

Do your faith formation classes teach people about prayer or form people as pray-ers?

Yesterday marked the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)’s annual “Catechetical Sunday”–an unofficial kick-off to the new academic year of catechesis in parishes across the United States. This year’s theme is Prayer: The Faith Prayed, a great opportunity to consider the essential relationship between prayer and catechesis in your parish or Catholic school. 

Here’s the reality, all too often we think of catechesis or religious education as a collection of doctrines, of specific claims, statements, and positions to be learned. Something that can be fully captured in a good textbook. Yet this ignores the example of our very own Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Part 4 of the Catechism itself is “Christian Prayer.” Catechesis essentially includes the action of praying. As this year’s theme reveals, “pray” as a verb is an action of, and in, true catechesis.

Now you might be thinking, “yes, this is obvious–of course we pray during religion class, and of course our second grade students are required to memorize such-and-such prayers.”

But, what I offer to you is this: how we pray in catechesis often teaches more about prayer than our planned “lessons” ever do.

Do you offer prayer in a perfunctory, obligatory, rushed way? I certainly have. Especially when I feel a “crunch” for valuable time in a classroom.

Yet as I reflect on this, yikes, what am I really teaching my students by doing that? For one, I’m making prayer all about me. “There, I’ve said a prayer [and hopefully everyone has prayed or at least listened], and now we can move on.” Secondly, have I set the conditions for God to actually speak? i.e. Have I left any space (i.e. time, silence) for my students to hear God’s voice speaking to them personally? Am I treating this moment with the full dignity of expectation that this could be the most important part of class? That my students might tangibly encounter the Divine?

As a catechist, woe to me if I’m ever proud or satisfied that my students have memorized their prayers through hard work of drilling with their parents. While rote memorization in itself is an important, basic step in cultivating one’s prayer life (General Directory for Catechesis, no. 154)–the how of memorization matters. Memorization that occurs organically through the repeat action of praying, rather than attempting to memorize the Apostles Creed as if the Constitution, conveys the reality, significance, and words of a prayer (while memorization as for a quiz merely teaches words). Forming and empowering Christians of all ages to actually pray–to converse with God–this gift in the Holy Spirit should be my only “satisfaction” as a catechist. If my students can only follow me in prayer, and not pray on their own–then I have not fulfilled my full calling as a catechist.

Today’s Gospel (Lk 8:16-18) offers a parable where Jesus declares to his audience, “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a  lamp stand, so that those who enter may see the light.”

In catechesis, prayer is our light–“the faith prayed.” Prayer illuminates, brings power, spreads the warmth of God’s love, and is a moment of personal intimacy with God available to each and every person–every child, every adult, in every faith formation setting. Let us not be content to show a photograph of this “lamp” to our students for study. No, in catechesis we must pray and form pray-ers. Light the lamp with our students and experiencing the Light together.

 

a version of this post also appears at newevangelizers.com

It’s Never Liturgy Or Evangelization

True to Notre Dame Center for Liturgy’s founder Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B.’s oft-repeated words, “Liturgy is doing the world the way the world was meant to be done,” comes a guiding vision that breaks through any notion of needing to choose liturgy or evangelization in a parish/ministry:

The goal of liturgical renewal is not ultimately oriented toward better liturgies alone (though this should also take place). Rather, it is to make possible an encounter with Jesus Christ through the liturgical rites; an encounter that ultimately transforms what it means to be human.

Read more from the Center’s Director, Tim O’Malley,  here.

We should never frame our ministries in such a way that liturgy and evangelization (or the transformation of what it means to be human in the realm of working for social justice, etc.) are choices–or worse competing goals.

p.s. It’s great content for reflection on its own, but also an outstanding example of strategic planning in ministry. It’s easy for any of us to get caught up with striving to do lots of things. Programs, sacred cows, new initiatives–often good things–but without strategic planning ministries miss out on the opportunity to paint a picture of what the future should be and the steps to get there.

Why Do We Have to Preach for Evangelization in a Catholic Parish? (aka Evangelistic Preaching: Part 15)

This is the fifteenth post in a series on evangelistic preaching in Catholic contexts.

The parish is the focal point for evangelistic preaching because it is near where most people are. Most non-Catholics and Catholics who are in need of evangelistic preaching are not going to attend a diocesan rally, a retreat, or large conference—but, they may be regularly attending a parish or make a one-time visit to a parish in a time of need or spiritual inquiry.

How does a parish become a focal point for evangelistic preaching? First, we need preachers. Most parishes already have a combination of priests, deacons, and/or general [lay] ministers with homiletic training. Baptized faithful who are “orthodox in faith, and well-qualified, both by the witness of their lives as Christians and by a preparation for preaching appropriate to the circumstances” can be admitted by the bishop to preach (with the exception of the Eucharistic homily, which is not ordinarily a primary place for evangelistic preaching).[1] Parishes can take steps to help faithful parishioners discern the call to evangelistic preaching by cultivating a culture of sharing personal testimony, reflecting on one’s own conversion story in small-groups, and recruiting from within the flock.

The second key step for parishes is integrating evangelistic preaching into parish life. Though Mass is not intended to be a place for initial proclamation, certain Masses, i.e. Christmas, Easter, Mother’s/Father’s Day, and harvest or homecoming Sundays in certain regions, tend to attract a large number of visitors, a prime opportunity for evangelistic preaching.[2] Additionally, when parish leaders know the spiritual state of those in their pews well enough, they can determine what type of preaching is most appropriate for Mass, i.e. if most people are not yet committed disciples or evangelized, and Mass is the only opportunity you have to reach them–then even ordinary Eucharistic preaching probably needs to be evangelistic at heart (while making sure there are then other opportunities for more catechetical or discipleship oriented preaching for mature believers).

Parishes can also consider adding a service designed for evangelistic preaching. For many parishes this requires a radical re-orientation from an nearly exclusive focus on the “already converted” to allocating quality resources for initial proclamation, seeking to attract and offer something designed for the nominal believer or nonbeliever. This shift is at the heart of the call to the New Evangelization in the United States.

What might this look like? Possibilities for parish services[3] that incorporate evangelistic preaching include:

  •       Taizé-inspired prayer services.[4]
  •       Modeling a service after the XLT (pronounced “Exalt”) nights popular with teenagers and young adults. XLTs “combine quality music and a dynamic teaching with worship of the Eucharist in an energetic and reverent setting.  In other words, you are sure to hear a fun and relevant talk, some of the best new worship music, and experience the intimacy of spending time with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration”[5]
  •        Reviving the Cathedral Vigil services (or other adaptations of the Liturgy of the Hours) popular in the Patristic era. A version of this is currently popular among young adults in Colorado.[6]
  •       Making use of services that do not include reception of the Eucharist, since receiving the Eucharist is often not applicable for someone in need of initial proclamation and allows for wider use of the baptized faithful as preachers of the Word or Liturgy of the Hours as a venue for evangelistic preaching (i.e. Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgy of the Word).
  •       Offerings modeled on small-group series, such as the Alpha Course,[7] or a retreat-based opportunity for preaching and decision, similar to a Cursillo.[8]

Finally, parishes can also bring evangelistic preaching outside the walls of the parish, to non-parish facilities. This includes offering evangelistic messages in public locations, virtually through the internet, using broadcast media, and in hospitals, Catholic schools, and prisons. Preaching in the public square is not limited to presenting a sermon. Processions and other visual aspects of the Catholic tradition offer settings where preaching could potentially be inserted, after the visual captures the attention and imagination of the audience.[9]

——-

[1] USCCB, “Complementary Norms: Canon 766 – Lay Preaching,” 2001.

[2] See “180 Week One: Easter,” a sermon preached by Fr. Michael White, March 31, 2013 as an excellent example of evangelistic preaching in an Easter Mass, http://churchnativity.tv/media.php?pageID=96.

[3] Charles Arn’s How to Start a New Service: Your Church Can Reach New People (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997) provides how-to steps on planning a new/additional service.

[4] See the Taizé community’s website for examples of contemplative ostinato music, intercessory prayer, and silence as characteristics of Taizé prayer: http://www.taize.fr/en.

[5] “XLT: Teaching – Adoration – Worship,” http://emmausyouth.squarespace.com/xlt/, accessed January 2013.

[6] “Young Adults Pray at Vigil Praise,” National Catholic Register, 13 April 2013, http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/young-adults-pray-at-vigil-praise/.

[7] See the Alpha USA website for more information: http://www.alphausa.org/Groups/1000065342/Alt_Home_page.aspx

[8] For a description of the Cursillo movement, see: http://www.cursillo.org/whatis.html.

[9] See “Lift the City: A Catholic Eucharistic Flash Mob,” http://youtu.be/cZ5aYoSr3Hg and “No, Not a Wedding, a Eucharistic Procession,” http://newevangelizers.com/blog/2013/04/30/no-not-a-wedding-a-eucharistic-procession/ as examples of how the visual can capture the attention of onlookers, offering a potential way for parishes to evangelistic preaching to the public square.

Not enough seats at the Easter Vigil? Maybe Add Baptismal Vespers

One of the parishes near me has the glorious problem (but a problem, nonetheless) of not having enough seating for all who want to attend the Easter Vigil. Now first off, I want to say that this is a good problem to have. 🙂 The Easter Vigil is amazing, an awe-inspiring celebration of salvation history and the grace of our salvation in the here and now. It’s sad that in so many parishes it’s not greeted with as much enthusiasm.

But alas, due to the large number of people being baptized at the Vigil at this parish, seating is particularly tough. Seating officially opens one hour before the start of the Vigil and fills up quickly.

Over at PrayTell, I just learned about the idea of a Baptismal Vespers service:

a Vespers service “in which baptism is commemorated by a procession with hymns and prayers to the place where baptisms take place.”

Now this could be a practical way of allowing more of the parish community to participate in the celebration and welcome of the newly Baptized, when the # of seats in the sanctuary simply doesn’t allow all who’d like to be there, to attend. It provides another opportunity for some parish feasting to accentuate the glorious celebration of the Octave of Easter. In many parishes, the uptick in activity during Lent/Holy Week (in terms of liturgy, faith formation, extra communal prayer services, etc.) gives way to this sense of nothingness during the Octave of Easter–but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!

In short, Baptismal Vespers might be a great option for parishes looking for a way to extend the celebration of Baptism beyond the Easter Vigil. Plus, it’s a good step towards introducing (more widely) the Liturgy of the Hours into parish life.

Saturday Evening Vespers with Dominican Nuns

One of the joys of travelling for me is taking advantage of the many (seemingly hidden) convents, monasteries, cloisters, and the like where I can pray the Liturgy of the Hours in community. I used to travel frequently for business, and one of the perks was exploring the richness of prayer by visiting communities such as the Holy Spirit Sisters in St. Louis, the Georgetown Visitation Monastery, the Dominican House of Studies near the national basilica, and more. These wonderful houses of prayer often lie hidden–but fortunately a quick GoogleMaps search quickly turns them up 🙂

This past week I had the pleasure of visiting the cloistered Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament  in Farmington Hills, Michigan for Saturday evening vespers.

The nuns did a lovely job making sung evening prayer accessible to the random visitor. The few sisters on the outside of the cloister greeted myself, my husband, and our 6 month old son (as well as the one other visitor) and made sure we had the right books to participate. During the prayers, one even checked back a few times to make sure our bookmarks were in the right place. It wasn’t a suffocating amount of attention, but just enough to make sure we could participate vocally as much as desired without being confused by the particular details of chant tones, prayers, etc. that individual communities often develop.

And then, the best surprise–preaching! Now, I’m not sure if they always preach at evening prayer or just on the eve of Sundays/solemnities, but one of the nuns gave a homily of about 10 minutes. Since she was behind the cloister, we could not see her…but her gentle, reflective style of preaching was spiritually moving to listen to. It was a mediative style that wove the Gospel reading of the next day, with the evening psalms, with touches of Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei woven in.

While there are many reasons to promote the communal praying of the Liturgy of the Hours in parish life, I think the opportunity for preaching from the community to come forth is quite a compelling one.

Parish Celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours: An Underutilized Gem of the Second Vatican Council

One of the underutilized, hidden gems of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical books that followed is the clear desire for more communal celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours, with participation of all of the baptized (not just clergy and religious, as was often expressed prior to the Second Vatican Council). [See, for example, General Instruction of Liturgy of the Hours (1971), para. 21, 33; Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), no. 27; or Laudis Canticum (Apostolic Constitution on the Liturgy of the Hours)].

In his preface to the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, Archbishop Anthony Bugnini emphasized that although “the awareness of the Liturgy of the Hours as something belonging essentially to the whole Church has, regrettably, hardly been in evidence for many centuries,” they are not “private functions or reserved to groups of the elite…They pertain to the whole body of the Church.” Yet this desire of the Council has not become a reality in pastoral practice in the United States. In the 1970s, Fr. A. M. Roguet observed that for too many Catholic Christians, “the Mass seems important for our salvation, while the Liturgy of the Hours appears as a profusion of words without any particular effect, a leisure activity for the devout.” [1] Similarly, William Storey remarked that, “by and large the office is not regarded as liturgy in any normal sense of the word…little is expected of the Liturgy of the Hours because it is still unknown as a public, cultic, ecclesial event…as a cathedral or parish celebration [it] is a nonentity.” [2]

Nearly four decades later, I don’t think much has changed. With the exception of select cathedrals and academic/seminary settings, the Liturgy of the Hours is largely unknown to the vast majority of Catholics in the United States. Of those who are aware of this liturgical celebration of the Church, I suspect that even fewer are familiar with the option for preaching in this liturgical context. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to celebrate either of the major hinges of the Liturgy of the Hours–Morning and Evening Prayer–in our parishes.

I was blessed to discover the Catholic tradition of praying the Liturgy of the Hours communally in my local parish (St. Patrick’s) in Fayetteville, NC. I was familiar with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but little did I know this was something a Catholic parish could celebrate in common. St. Patrick’s celebrated Sunday Evening Prayer during the Advent, Christmas, and Easter seasons (my memory might be slightly off on this…) — helping me truly experience the depth of these seasons through the lived experience of prayer. For a young adult with no exposure to the Liturgy of the Hours, this was liturgical catechesis in action.

I think it comes down to familiarity. When celebrated well with sound pastoral planning, communal Morning and Evening Prayer can be incredibly powerful prayer services. When celebrated without pastoral sensitivity or planning (i.e. just tossing Christian Prayer books in parishioners laps and reciting texts as quickly as possible), the entire concept and spirituality of the communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours is quickly lost. When people don’t have a good experience of a form of prayer, it does not get repeated. When people have never heard of the Liturgy of the Hours (or think it only as “that thing priests have to recite, right?”), it won’t be requested or integrated into parish life. But, I think in many parishes, the Liturgy of the Hours can play an important role in the New Evangelization. Just think, returning Catholics who many not be comfortable at Mass or unable to receive the Eucharist can be welcomed in a more flexible setting, with potential for forms of preaching beyond the specifics of a Eucharistic homily. Or, Liturgy of the Hours could be a venue for ongoing adult faith formation. Or, designed for children or teens as a form of liturgical catechesis. The possibilities abound.

What have your experiences been with parish celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours? What great uses have you seen? When has it not been well received? 


[1] A.-M. Roguet, Peter Coughlan, and Peter Purdue. The Liturgy of the Hours; The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Abbey Press, 1971), 84.

[2] William G. Storey, “Parish Worship: The Liturgy of the Hours,” Worship 49, no. 1 (1 Jan 1975), 3.