Why sing the hours?

The purpose of this project is prayer. Specifically, we join with Christians worldwide and in all ages in the traditional daily prayer called the Liturgy of the Hours.

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

The Liturgy of the Hours differs from the Sunday liturgy of the Church in that it illuminates and celebrates all of our ordinary days in their ordinary hours of morning and evening. The Liturgy is also known as the Canonical Hours, the Breviary, the Divine Office, or simply the Office. As a preeminent form of prayer, the Office is the authentic voice of God’s Spirit, praying through His people in their daily lives.

The Office is composed of a regular cycle through the Old Testament Psalms, which have always been recognized by Christians as a uniquely profound way of praying God’s own words in His Own Spirit. It is also composed of well-chosen readings, phrases, and whole songs (“canticles”) from Scripture. It always contains the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”). In addition to these truly Divine elements, the Office also contains well-crafted petitions, prayers, and exhortations.

The Office is a continuously tended tradition, both ancient and living. Having been practiced in all ages of the Church, it is truly a prayer that is unceasing. Being based on Sacred Scripture, the Office is also outside of time, an echo of the eternal worship in deepest heaven.

The Office may be spoken, but (like each Psalm by itself) it is designed to be sung. Singing is a special gift granted to us humans, which allows us to use our voices not only to convey meaning, but to convey it in an especially beautiful form. This singing is intended to be done by the whole people of God, not just a few professional singers. Even non-singers can chant, and in chanting know by experience that they are praying in a special way, in union with the Church’s use of the Psalms.

Why is there music?

The musical aspects of the Office provide emotional depth to the prayers, but they never draw attention to themselves, as an isolated artistry or professionalism. Instead, the music is always subservient to the meaning of the words. For this reason, certain traditional forms of music, different from popular or classical music, are more useful for the Office. The tradition of Gregorian chant has a primary place among these forms. This is not an arbitrary choice, it is rather the codification of the continuous tradition of singing the Psalms even from before Christian times.

The Liturgy of the Hours is offered as a precious gift, not only for monks and priests and saints, but also for every ordinary Christian. It is ecumenical, practiced throughout the Christian era in the East and the West, by Protestants and Catholics. It is a stream of prayer that has been flowing steadily for millennia, a stream in which any Christian, at any time, can join in the song of the Church to its Lord.

How do we practice the Liturgy of the Hours?

Our aspiration is help people enter into this precious and timeless tradition. We hope that people will learn by doing, by singing along or chanting along. We aim for beauty of expression, within the limits of the tradition. We do not aim, however, for professional perfection, because we believe it would be more difficult to sing along with a “professionally perfect” vocalist. We emphasize simple melodies (as codifed in the practices of Gregorian chant), and simple harmonies, where any voice can find a place to sing along.

More than everything else, we aim for prayerfulness. After all, what would it profit us to perform every note and every word exactly right, and yet lose the spirit and the attitude of prayer?

Why is there Latin in these songs?

We use Latin in two ways. Certain set prayers are often in Latin, such as the “Gloria Patri” and “Salve Regina”, which anyone can learn by repetition. Ancient hymns are sometimes sung in Latin, instead of in translation; we hope people will consult translations on the side, and enjoy the beauty of the language itself, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray within them. Using Latin connects us in a special way to the traditions of the Divine Office, since it has been prayed in that form since ancient times. (A similar point could be made for Greek, or Syriac, or Coptic, or Armenian, but Latin has a special relationship with English, as one of its parent tongues.) When we pray Latin, we are praying in unison with very many voices throughout the Christian ages.

The long life of the Divine Office

Since the Liturgy is based firmly on the Psalms of Sacred Scripture, and stems from Jewish practices of praying the Psalms, it is ancient, even predating the Christian era. The New Testament gives clear witness to the use of Psalms in worship, and to the practice of daily worship at set hours. This is the Liturgy of the Hours, in an earlier form. Early Church fathers such as St. Athanasius of Alexandria and St. Benedict of Nursia and St. Augustine of Hippo wrote treatises on how to make effective use of the Psalms, and divide them up into manageable daily portions.

The Rule of Benedict has an explicit plan for cycling through the Psalms in one week. Today’s Liturgy uses a four-week cycle, which is easier to accomplish by ordinary secular people.

Resources

General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours
https://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources/Rites/GILH.pdf
https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/general-instruction-on-the-liturgy-of-the-hours-2175

Divine Office (entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia)
https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/divine-office