I’ve found that if you ask a sensible priest or nun these days what habit might help for prayer and sanity during quarantine, they tend to say: the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is known as the prayer of the Church. You wake up and you pray. You stop at midday and you pray. In the evening, you pray, and before you go to sleep, too. When you pray night prayer, or compline, you really take a look at your day and ask God to forgive you where you need forgiveness. You can even stop mid-morning and mid-afternoon, if you choose. You live your life, guided by prayer.
It all serves as many beautiful things — including a reminder that there’s something more than what we can see (including Andrew Cuomo’s and Donald Trump’s next press conference). There is something greater, something beyond even the question of when you can stop sheltering in place or of when you and your husband wind up with jobs again. Maybe the busier you are with homeschooling suddenly and somewhat permanently, the more important it is that you find something that isn’t simply a numbing agent to be a stable part of your life.
I mention all this because never in my life have I found praying the Liturgy of the Hours more important. I’ve been praying it for the better part of a decade now, at least, and while I always find it powerful, maybe I’ve never felt so obviously and consistently challenged. There are times in recent days when I want to push back a little. But you really can’t for too long. Because the longer you pray, the longer you realize that you really do believe this. The most penetrating-to-the-depths-of-the-soul part of the Liturgy of the Hours tends to be the psalms. And if you read the Book of Psalms at all, you realize that they hit on just about every human emotion. And I can’t be the only person experiencing just about every human emotion these days?
The greatest gift the prayer of the Church has been, over this past week especially, is its encouragement with hope. Easter is really an octave. So every day of the week after Easter Sunday is another Easter. They are solemnities, time for joyous celebration. Now joyous celebration takes a different tone these days — and yet what a need we have for it. To make a commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours is to make a commitment to hope. Each day, these days, it makes you sing “Alleluia!” — even if you are not feeling it. And if you are not feeling it, it is all the more important to sing it. There were definitely days during the week after Easter when I did not want to even think about it. Again, that’s probably when it’s most important!
My stubbornness in quarantine is consistent with a trend I’ve been watching in my own praying of the Liturgy of the Hours and in living in the liturgical life of the Church in recent years. Almost every Good Friday, I don’t want to leave Good Friday. I don’t want to move past this central reality of the Christian faith: that Jesus died for love of us. That’s a life-changing reality — but then so is the whole story. That He was born for us, and that He rose from the dead. If you are Christian, these are tenets of faith that can’t ever be a sideshow. These are our identity. This is who our God is, and this is who we are in Him. But every year I feel like those 40 days of Lent are not quite enough. I get to Good Friday and realize that there have been distractions. I get to Good Friday, and I want to spend the rest of my life doing penance for all the thoughtless things I’ve done, all the sins that made clear it wasn’t a crowd two millennia ago that crucified Christ, it was me. That’s devastating when you think about it too long, which is why the Church in her wisdom, as we say, does not keep us there forever. Yes, we should be reflecting on Jesus’s death daily, but the story in its wholeness is crucial.
So the priests and nuns I’ve surveyed are right. I’ll testify to it. If you are looking for a way to pray, to help with your faith and hope and love and joy and peace and even sanity, the Liturgy of the Hours is a help. Maybe commit to morning and evening prayer. Or go to Magnificat.com, which has a shorter adaptation of both. One of the opportunities we have during this time is to take advantage of things that are being made available for free in some cases, and so much is online. Think of all the Masses and other prayer services being livestreamed. If you’ve been curious and want something to help with hope, take a look at magnificat.com or Divine Office or ibreviary — reliable aids in my life for a long while now. If you’re feeling a little uneasy, know you are not alone, and consider believing that none of us are. We will need this habit and vision going forward.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.