At the end of the presentation, the webinar moderator asked me if I had any questions or comments. I replied with something to the effect that:
This sounds very similar to a process that monks and other religious have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s called the Liturgy of the Hours. They start the day off with prayer. During the day, they stop what they’re doing for shorter periods of prayer, often at mid-morning, midday and mid-afternoon. Then, they have evening prayer and night prayer.
At this, silence ensued for what seemed like a really long time. They didn’t expect this kind of comment during a secular training session. The moderator finally came back on the air. After rustling some papers, he cleared his throat and made a non-sequitur about going for a walk when he’s stressed. With that, they moved into closing comments for the session.
A Daily Routine for Happiness
I had been participating in a continuing education webinar, hosted by a national professional association. During the hour-long presentation, the speaker discussed some life habits that can reduce stress, increase happiness, and generate higher productivity. These habits included taking time throughout the day to reflect on what we can be grateful for.
The speaker suggested that we take a few moments, even while still lying in bed, to be thankful. She suggested that we be grateful for whatever comes to mind, to start off the day with a positive attitude. At the end of the day, we should consider all that we have to be thankful for again. During the day, once about mid-morning, and once about mid-afternoon, she suggested a quick break from whatever work activity we are doing. During that break, we would take a couple of minutes to disengage, relax, and think positive thoughts. And at noon, a little longer period of time would be devoted to this kind of reflection, and thoughts of gratitude.
Recently a Wall Street Journal article about making yourself “happier” provided yet another approach for finding happiness. The article’s author makes the case for repeating some positive phrase or statement throughout the day. She cites research which shows that this can cause you to feel more at peace. What she describes is the use of what is commonly known as a mantra. Examples cited in the article included “Good things happen to me” and “I am at peace.”
Levels of Happiness
It seems that people continue to look for answers to questions about happiness in all the wrong places. They’re searching for the answers that Christianity has known for ages. No matter how materially successful, how physically fit or gainfully employed they are, many can’t find that elusive sense of peace and happiness.
Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, explains happiness as, “…the fulfillment of a desire, which is why the things we desire most in life define the happiness we pursue.” Fr. Spitzer’s model of happiness includes four successively higher levels of happiness:
Level 1 – Pleasure – food, drink, shelter, affection
Level 2 – Comparative – status, popularity, power
Level 3 – Contributive – helping family, friends, community, church, society
Level 4 – Transcendent – unconditional love, truth, goodness, the sacred, spiritual – God, in other words
A Path to Level 4 Happiness
What can we do to move toward Spitzer’s Level 4 happiness? To be open to the unconditional love of God, it helps if we have a prayer routine. If we want to build and strengthen a relationship with someone, we spend time with them. Spending time with God in daily prayer can help us move toward the transcendent happiness that Fr. Spitzer describes as Level 4.
At the very least, we can begin the day with prayers of thanksgiving and praise, however brief and informal they might be. As well, we can offer up our day and our efforts for God’s greater glory, “that in all things may God be glorified,” as the Benedictines say. Similarly, giving thanks and praise is a good way to end the day. While we’re at it, we can make a quick examen, reviewing where God’s grace was during the day for us, and how we responded to it. Looking at where we fell short, we can repent and ask for forgiveness, as well as the grace to do better the next day.
The Liturgy of the Hours – The Ladder to Level 4
About a dozen years ago, after hearing about it on EWTN and finding a copy in a Catholic bookstore, I began subscribing to Magnificat. It’s one of several monthly, magazine format worship aids that include short Scripture passages for morning and evening prayer, together with the daily Mass readings and a reflection on the Mass readings. The organization of the little paperback provided a much-needed structure for me. It allowed me to build in routine prayer time and even begin some basic lectio divina. I still subscribe to it and use it a lot, but have begun praying the actual Liturgy of the Hours over the last couple of years. I just wanted to go deeper in my prayers, and the Liturgy of the Hours helps with that.
Members of religious orders, priests and deacons must pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. Laity are not required to do so, but we may if we wish. Up until the Second Vatican Council, these prayers were called the Divine Office. The exact history of the Divine Office is not known with certainty, but it is clear that it goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. In fact, in the Old Testament, we see a reference to praying “seven times a day” in Psalm 119. By the fifth century the Divine Office had taken a form that is recognizable in what we use today. According to Dr. Matthew Bunson, in a post at EWTN:
The previous Divine Office consisted of prayers at specific times of the day: Matins (a nighttime office), Lauds (dawn), Prime (First Hour, around 6 a.m.), Terce (Third Hour, at 9 a.m.), Sext (Sixth Hour, at noon), None (Ninth Hour, at 3 p.m.), Vespers (at dusk), and Compline (before retiring for the day).
Where to Find the Liturgy of the Hours
The current Liturgy of the Hours is organized somewhat like the Divine Office was, but with some changes. One can find it in apps such as iBreviary, Laudate and Universalis, or in traditional texts, ranging from Christian Prayer to Shorter Christian Prayer, to a four-volume set of the Liturgy of the hours. Some friends and I have been using the Monastic Diurnal, with the traditional Benedictine office, from St. Michael’s Abbey. Busy lay persons with family and job responsibilities may find it hard to pray all of the different hours in the Liturgy of the Hours. However, many of us might still find time to pray the morning and evening prayers.
Why Pray the Liturgy of the Hours?
So, why pray the Liturgy of the Hours? I’ve heard it said that this prayer is second in holiness only to the liturgy of the Mass. I believe that this is true. My wife and I have had the opportunity to pray the Liturgy of the Hours several times with monks and friars in their monasteries and convents. At the Benedictine abbeys we’ve been to, we’ve been blessed to join the monks in choir to chant the Liturgy of the Hours with them. What an awesome experience, lifting your hearts to God with the whole monastic community! The beauty of the psalms, the chance to raise our voices to God, together—there is nothing quite like it.
Praying the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours
When praying privately, the Liturgy of the Hours helps me stay more dialed in to the presence of God. It provides a comfortable routine and format for prayer. Through the Liturgy of the Hours, we experience the Psalms deeply, and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains,
2588 The Psalter’s many forms of prayer take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart. Whether hymns or prayers of lamentation or thanksgiving, whether individual or communal, whether royal chants, songs of pilgrimage or wisdom-meditations, the Psalms are a mirror of God’s marvelous deeds in the history of his people, as well as reflections of the human experiences of the Psalmist. Though a given psalm may reflect an event of the past, it still possesses such direct simplicity that it can be prayed in truth by men of all times and conditions.” (Emphasis is mine.)
The Psalms speak out clearly to me when I read them. Just today at Lauds, I prayed Psalm 143 (V. 142), part of which says:
Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies!
I have fled to you for refuge!
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!
Let your good spirit lead me on a level path!
Our “enemies” are the temptations the evil one continually throws in front of us. The Lord knows I have plenty of such enemies, and I need His help to fight them. The words of this psalm created a shield of peace and the reassurance that, with God’s grace, I can indeed fight and win today’s skirmishes.
Benefits of the Liturgy of the Hours
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours allows us to offer up our prayers to God with the rest of the Church—the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ—when we pray it. We’re praying together with others, using the prayers God gave us in the Psalms. As a bonus, we also can avail ourselves of various indulgences attached to the prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours. For example, we can obtain a partial indulgence for praying Psalm 51 (V. 50), or any of the gradual Psalms or penitential Psalms. As with other Scripture, they speak to each of us individually, where we’re at in the moment.
Our Catholic tradition provides us with the path to happiness. Our Lord will give us all we need for our happiness and peace. All we have to do is take Him up on it. Why not use the Liturgy of the Hours as our ladder to climb to Level 4 and the happiness that only God can provide?