Hours Of Prayer

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.

– Psalm 119:164

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New Melleray Abbey, Cistercian

There is no so-that when it comes to prayer.  Christians pray.  It’s that simple.  If you need justification as to why to pray before you pray you will never experience God.  Prayer, like any other activity in the Christian life, is itself the encounter with God.  To ask where God is in the midst of praying reflects both ignorance and callousness.  To pray is to experience God.

The Jewish people  of Jesus’ day formally observed prayer three times daily. However, the early Christians took Psalm 119’s admonition to heart and created four additional Hours of Prayer based upon the passion of Christ. This practise was retained by the church for two millennia.  It is now largely discarded and with it the biblical foundation of prayer.

Prayer is not a discipline per se, although at first it requires discipline to do so.  Prayer is most simply reflecting back to God the words that God has already given to us.  The Psalms were central to the life of Israel and Christ because they knew that prayers that are filled with our egos are empty.  The Psalms put into our mouths words that we would never dare utter on our own (Amma Genevieve).

The Hours of Prayer are an affirmation of our journey toward God.  The road is already laid out.  Take up a copy of the Psalms (we recommend the Singing Version).  Rise in the middle of the night.  Pause throughout the day at regular times.  Say the words out loud.  One Psalm at each time.  Start at Psalm 1 and read them through to the end; at seven Psalms a day it will take you three weeks to do so.  (Carthusians read the entire Psalter every day.)  Then begin all over again.  It’s that simple.  Establish this over a period of several years.  It’s not too hard.  See what happens.  It’s interesting the number of people who question the existence of God but who are too caught up in themselves and never ever put out any real, structured effort to find out.

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A Theology of the Hours of Prayer

In later times the Seven Canonical Hours were all connected with the events of our Lord’s Passion, and supposed to commemorate His sufferings, as the following stanzas show:

At Mattins bound, at Prime reviled,
Condemned to death at Tierce,
Nailed to the Cross at Sext, at Nones
His blessed side they pierce.

They take him down at Vesper-tide,
In grave at Compline lay;
Who thenceforth bids His Church observe
Her sevenfold hour always.

You cannot be a Christian and not pray the Psalms.