Ouch. Has it really been so long since my last post? My thanks to those of you who've reminded me, through comments and conversations, that I have a blog and that people read it. This one goes out to you.
From the time when I first came to know what the Liturgy of the Hours was, I knew that priests were canonically bound to say all the hours every day. (Note: Each "hour" takes only a few minutes to pray; they are so named because they are tied to specific times in the day.) There was a period of about three months when I prayed three to seven of those hours each day. And for years I've prayed morning &/or evening prayer close to daily.
But being surrounded by priests has slowly shown me that, like most laypeople, I take the Office for granted, and completely underestimate what a vital element it is to the life of the priest.
The director of my program often says, "The liturgy shares her treasures with those who sit with her and wait." One does not come to understand the liturgy by a cursory glance or by going through the motions, but by inserting one's whole self into the prayers consistently for years and patiently picking up little gems along the way, one by one, until you have more diamonds than the Queen of England.
Liturgical time is an important function of the sacramental life of the Church. That is to say, in liturgical time, the mysteries of salvation are explained and lived out for all those who pay attention. This is most easily seen through the liturgical year, which obviously walks us through the life of Christ. But it's also true of the liturgical week. In the Office, if you look closely, you can see a pattern of beginnings and endings, in the intercessions and especially the proper hymns for the four-week psalter (which are unfortunately only visible in the original Latin and in the Mundelein Psalter). The hymns at the beginning of Weeks I & III are about creation, and those toward the end of Weeks II & IV are about the end of time. It's very cool.
What I always forget, however, is that each day is a liturgical mini-history of salvation! Again, this is especially apparent in the Divine Office: particularly check out the orations (prayers) for each hour in any of the four weeks (stick with Ordinary Time, because it doesn't have any other themes to distract from the point I'm trying to make). Morning prayer is about creation and beginnings, midafternoon prayer is about Jesus' passion, evening prayer is about thanksgiving for the day that's been lived, and night prayer is about death.
Do you see now how praying these hours every day for years upon years would have a profound affect upon a priest? Little wonder many priests jokingly refer to their breviary as their girlfriend: she's with him wherever he goes, he checks in with her throughout the day, and he must be faithful to her.
The Divine Office is an extension of the Mass; in the Liturgy of the Hours, the priest continues to live in the texts of the Scriptures and of the day's feast long after the Eucharistic celebration has ended. Priests are canonically bound not only to celebrate the Mass, but to live it via the Divine Office.
I love our Catholic faith. Its beauty never ceases to astound me.