“Watching the liturgy on a screen just isn’t the same experience.”
I have heard many people speak this honest reflection over the past few weeks. And it’s true! Of course it’s not the same experience, and it can’t be. That’s part of what is making this extended period of sheltering-in-place so difficult. We simply can’t experience liturgy in the same way.
But that’s not entirely true. There is an underutilized form of Catholic liturgy that we can experience in the same way (or at least a similar way) throughout these days. And that’s the Liturgy of the Hours. Are you familiar with this form of prayer?
If it’s new for you, consider this an invitation to experience another form of Catholic liturgy that might help you through this time of physical distancing.
How can you learn more about this form of prayer? Here are some suggested steps:
- Give this article a read: “Catholic 101: Intro to the Liturgy of the Hours.” If you are unfamiliar with the Liturgy of the Hours altogether, it’s a perfect introduction.
- Download an app that includes the Liturgy of the Hours, like iBreviary. It’s free!
- Look up a YouTube video tutorial that walks you through the steps of praying it. Here’s a video that shows you how to pray it specifically with the iBreviary app from step 2. Isn’t that helpful??
- Give it a try!
These prayers can be prayed in common with others that you are sheltering with, like your spouse, other family members, or roommates. Or they can be prayed individually. One of the great benefits is that you can pray this anywhere, with anyone. It’s also a very participatory prayer. When praying it with others, one person takes the lead, but everyone joins in. 1 Most importantly, when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we join in the prayer of the whole church.
Why bother? Just take a look at what the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours has to say about it:
Our sanctification is accomplished and worship is offered to God in the liturgy of the hours in such a way that an exchange or dialogue is set up between God and us, in which “God is speaking to his people … and his people are responding to him by both song and prayer.”
Those taking part in the liturgy of the hours have access to holiness of the richest kind through the life-giving word of God, which in this liturgy receives great emphasis. Thus its readings are drawn from sacred Scripture, God’s words in the psalms are sung in his presence, and the intercessions, prayers, and hymns are inspired by Scripture and steeped in its spirit.
Hence, not only when those things are read “that are written for our instruction” (Rom 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings, faith is deepened for those who take part and their minds are lifted up to God, in order to offer him their worship as intelligent beings and to receive his grace more plentifully.
Do you need any more motivation than that??
This form of prayer could be especially helpful for families during this time when public Masses aren’t available. As the General Instruction says, “It is of great advantage for the family, the domestic sanctuary of the Church, not only to pray together to God but also to celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church.”
So maybe before gathering with your family to watch a Mass on a screen this Sunday, you could try starting by celebrating liturgy together, in person, with no screens…using the Liturgy of the Hours. 2
The first couple of times might be haphazard, but trust me: you’ll get the hang of it. You might just find it a better form of liturgy for you than watching it on a screen.
If ever there was a time to give it a try, that time is now.
- It is typical when praying the Liturgy of the Hours to split the room in half, with each side alternating reading a stanza of the psalms and canticles. So, you can do that if you have a few others joining you. In smaller groups, you could just go back and forth if you’re praying with one other person, or rotate among three if there are only three of you praying together. ↩
- Given the circumstances, it’s a great idea to follow along with Sunday Masses online. Think of this article as an invitation to consider opportunities beyond that, which could complement your experience of watching a live-stream Mass at home. If you’re really struggling to engage and pray with the online Mass experience, the Liturgy of the Hours could even replace it, since the Sunday obligation has been temporarily lifted. Carefully discern what is best for you and your family. ↩