Seven Reasons to Pray the Divine Office

Prayer Does Not Change God — It Changes Us

Everyone knows that monks devote their lives to silence, but also to daily prayer and chanting. Monastic prayer occurs at fixed-hours throughout the day. The rota of Psalms, canticles, scripture readings, antiphons and other prayers that incorporate this daily liturgy is known as the Divine Office (or the Daily Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours).

The Divine Office is a Path of Prayer (Photo: Georgia Botanical Gardens; courtesy of Shutterstock)

The Divine Office: a Path of Prayer (Photo: Georgia Botanical Gardens; courtesy of Shutterstock)

Praying the Divine Office is central to monastic life, but even those of us who aren’t monks may find that this type of prayer is an essential part of our spiritual practice.

But it’s a huge commitment and many people might find it daunting to pray even part of the Divine Office on a regular basis.

If you’ve read Befriending Silence, then you know that I have a tempestuous relationship with daily prayer. In chapter 7, I make the following confession:

When I first became a Lay Cistercian, I struggled with the liturgy… My life was too busy, too unstructured, too freeform, and too spontaneous for me to be bothered by something like daily prayers. Or so I rationalized it to myself. I muddled along, praying from time to time and justified to myself all the days that I didn’t manage to pray.

In the book, I go on to talk about how forming a friendship with a devout Muslim, who prays five times every day, inspired me to take the Divine Office more seriously. I wish I could say that I am now a model practitioner of daily prayer, but the truth is, I still struggle with it.

Recently I met with one of the monks who guides our Lay Cistercian community, and we talked about the liturgy. He asked me why I find the Divine Office worth praying. Just off the top of my head, I came up with four reasons, and as I reflected on it, I thought of three more. So I thought I would share them with you.

If you pray the Divine Office, perhaps this will be inspiration to carry on. If you don’t yet pray it, or need encouragement to begin or (like me) to strengthen your commitment to regular prayer, then I hope the following reasons will be a help for you.

  1. The Divine Office provides us with a language for prayer. Sometimes it’s hard to find the words for prayer. But in the Liturgy of the Hours we have access to wisdom that stretches back to before the time of Jesus. The Psalms, canticles, and other passages from scripture form the bulk of the Daily Office; in many ways, it is the Bible at prayer. But the liturgy also contains many other prayers that convey a range of feelings and concerns — it is a rich and nuanced vocabulary for prayer, that will deepen your ability to communicate with God throughout the day.
  2. The Divine Office teaches us who God is, who the Church is, and who we are. What’s interesting about the liturgy is that not all parts of it are addressed to God — some of it (for example, the canticles of Zechariah and Mary) is language about God. But it’s still prayer — because prayer is more than just us talking to God, it’s God speaking to us. And throughout the liturgy, we encounter insight into God’s personality and character — along with similar insights into what it means to be human in relationship with God, whether as individuals or as a community.
  3. The Divine Office forms our identity as members of the Body of Christ. The liturgy does more than just describe who God is, and who we are. It also guides us to become who God wants us to be. Our faith is clear: we are created in God’s image and likeness, but we often behave in ways that fail to live up to who God calls us to be. We need guidance to be the people we are meant to be. The wisdom abounding in the Office shows us the path God calls us to follow. It’s not magic: we still need to respond to God’s call to become holy. But the liturgy is a trustworthy map.
  4. The Divine Office helps us to pray at a level deeper than our feelings or experience. The liturgy is a daily commitment, not a “when you feel like it” commitment. It is meant to be offered to God on a regular basis, no matter what kind of mood you’re in or what’s going on in your mind. In that sense it is like marriage: a commitment of love, understanding that true love runs deeper than the emotions that ebb and flow from day to day or season to season. And while it is hard to keep praying during dry seasons or times of emotional turmoil, doing so is a powerful way to deepen your faith.
  5. The Divine Office teaches us humility, obedience, fidelity, and patience. This is the other side of the previous point. We pray on a regular, daily basis, not because our mercurial emotions tell us to, but rather because we want to be faithful to God, obedient to God’s word, and committed to a trusting relationship with God built on eternal values like humility and patience. These are values at the heart of Christian spirituality — even if they are not always held in high esteem by our secular culture. But when we grow in these authentic values, we conform more fully to the image and likeness of the God who created us.
  6. The Divine Office helps us to grow in intimacy with God. I’ve compared the liturgy to marriage, and it’s an appropriate analogy, because like marriage, the Daily Office is all about love. Too often we get unhelpful messages about God, not only from secular society but even sometimes from the Church. Too many of us have images of God that emphasize anger over love, judgment over mercy, sternness over tenderness. Yes, God is holy and just, that is true. But God is Love — and the promise of spirituality is to discover that Love and to become one with it. The Divine Office calls us to that graced discovery.
  7. The Divine Office reminds us that every day is a place where we can touch eternity. I experience the liturgy in many different ways: sometimes it inspires me, sometimes it encourages me, and frankly, sometimes I argue with it or chafe against it. All this is okay. The liturgy speaks to us in the glorious complexity of our humanity, which means we will react to it in a variety of ways. But what is always part of the Divine Office is its orientation toward eternity: it is an invitation to see God, and life, and humanity, from the vantage point of heaven rather than just earth. It reminds us that communion with God isn’t just something that happens on Sundays or at churches or monasteries. The healing and life-transfiguring power of intimacy with God can touch (and transform) our lives at all times and in all places. The very regular, ordinary, dailiness of the liturgy helps us to keep this in mind.

I hope you find this list helpful — and may it be encouragement and inspiration for you as you continue your journey deeper into the heart of God.

Can you think of other reasons why it’s a blessing to pray the Divine Office? If so, please share your thoughts with me, either in a comment below this post or on social media. Thanks!

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Author of Befriending Silence, Christian Mystics, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Catechist. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

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17 thoughts on “Seven Reasons to Pray the Divine Office

  1. Thank You Carl, that is encouraging. I too struggle with praying the Daily Office. It’s an ebb and flow. I’ve written a good bit on it. Like the way our daily prayer is designed by God through us to tune our hearts to God’s heart, so that we resonate with the presence of God, the vibration of heaven. Our daily prayer shapes the cup of our lives so that we can better hold the waters of life for a dying and thirsty world.

  2. Thank you for this Carl. I have been terribly inconsistent with praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I have even tried various other versions, including traditional ones and some of those published by Liturgical Press. But as I read your 7 reasons I am struck by number 5. Perhaps I need to develop more patience in my life. I have been practicing centering prayer for over a year, which has been wonderful. Yet I know I need some structured prayer in my daily life too. So thank you for the encouragement.

    • I think it’s very challenging to keep a commitment to the Divine Office when living in a non-monastic setting (i.e., a family, or single). Monks and nuns have the advantage of praying the Office in community. We non-monastics usually have to do it alone. As I mention in Befriending Silence, I really admire devout Muslims for their commitment to praying five times a day, even if all alone. Christians seeking to be faithful to the Daily Office can learn from their example.

      My monastic advisor asked me to come up with this list of reasons to pray the Office as a way to inspire me to keep going, day in and day out. But he also counseled me against being self-recriminating on the days I fail to pray. God loves us regardless of our fidelity to the Office. So it’s important to keep our focus on praying the Office grounded in joy and longing for God. “We love because God first loved us.”

  3. Thank you for this. I think this is suggested by several of your points but worthy of a mention on its own. The Divine Office helps us “pray without ceasing.” Not in any literalistic, anxious way, but in the true, lifegiving way. By inviting us into the near presence of God throughout the day, by reclaiming time for God, and by joining our spirit with God’s Spirit in mutual dialogue and self-giving, the Divine Office makes us more aware of God’s presence at all other times, calling us to pay attention to God and respond, which is the living heart of prayer. Obviously, this is a form of intimacy, but it is worth considering under the rubric of the biblical invitation and commanent to pray without ceasing.

  4. This is a great list, thanks for sharing. I’ve been praying the Office for nearly 20 years, with some of that, when in college and grad school, in monastic settings. I have found that experiencing the liturgy of the hours “live” in a monastic setting has given me a better sense of how to do it. The second thing I’ve found most helpful comes from G.K. Chesterton: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” These words get me through those days, which are legion, when I don’t pray the Office as much as I’d like.

    Thanks for the great blog and please keep up the good work!

    • Yes, the Chesterton quote is a Christian contemplative’s best friend!

      And I very much agree that the best way to learn to Office is to pray it with a community.

    • I think obedience is perhaps the summation of all my reasons. But for “problem children” like me who always had to be given reasons why I needed to do the things I was told to do… that’s the spirit of this post. Yes, we pray out of obedience. And these are the reasons why it makes sense to obey.

  5. I’m interested in beginning a practice of observing the Daily Office (is that the proper way to say that?) but need some handholding, reminders, and easy-to-use liturgy. Do you recommend any phone apps?

    • Here the apps I know of…
      For the Catholic daily office, there’s “Divine Office” — visit http://www.divine-office.com. Unfortunately, the developers of this App have had some licensing issues and it is currently not available for download but hopefully they’ll get it sorted out and in the future you’ll be able to download it again.
      For the daily office of the Book of Common Prayer, use “Daily Prayer” — available for iPhone or Android.

  6. Dear Carl, greetings in the name of the Blessed Trinity. As an Anglo-Catholic, i practice the
    Journey of the Divine Office on a daily basis, because it links me to thousands of other Christians like yourself, in solidarity with a common “prayer Circle”.
    I also use Celtic Daily Prayer, 1+2, from the Northumbria Community, both these resources allow an intimacy with our faith and builds “prayer bridges” with other prayerful people.
    May your ministry of prayer be blessed, shalom. FR. Paul Lewis Kruse.

  7. Thank you. I am entering a benedictine community on Aug 8th and agree wholeheartedly. .I will look for your books

  8. Thank you for your thoughts on the Divine Office. As a priest who was formed for many years in the Franciscan tradition I realise its immense value and try to pray it carefully – but often fail. But it’s the trying that seems important.

  9. Thank you for your realistic and enlightening reasons to the divine office. I am a daily mass goer and do say the short divine office of the Immaculate Conception, as I feel confident that Our Lady will always lead us to be close to Jesus. God wants our humility and faithfulness to His Word -…pray without ceasing and thus in everything give thanks as this is the Will of God. We with our finite minds tap into the infinite in praying the divine office – as some monk had mentioned in praying the divine office – this is not a means to the end but the end in itself and this is so very great to think that we frail creatures have been uplifted by God by allowing His Son Jesus take our human form and then our sin and restore us to our former newly created self. Our God gives us so many opportunities and means to reach out back to Him. The divine office is like David’s path to God’s heart singing the psalms etc. After all we all have the opportunity to be the saints we are destined – being the image and likeness of God. This is surely the best way to pray for the world as God requires each one of us in the time frame we are given by Him to lift the world – like the biblical words land of zebulum and napthali a people living in darkness have now see a Great Light(divine office) Thanks to God for persons like you who are so grateful faithful and thankful thro prayer