Relation Between the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Eucharist

Theoretically for the entire Church, but certainly for religious who pray the Divine Office in public or in private, there is an intimate link between the Divine Office and the Holy Eucharist. I say theoretically for the entire Church, for you know as well as I that perhaps for the majority of the Catholic faithful the Liturgy of the Hours has little or no place in their piety and prayer life. This is a lamentable reality, but is certainly different for us who consecrate a good part of every day to chanting the Divine Office in chapel or cell. The Liturgy of the Hours forms a part of Catholic liturgy as a whole. At the heart and center of the Church’s liturgy, of course, is the Eucharistic liturgy, the Mass.

An important element of Catholic liturgy is the Divine Office, which is ever-reflecting the liturgical season being celebrated in the Mass: the cycle of Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, etc., as well as the day of the week, the memorials, feasts and solemnities of our Lord, the Blessed Mother and the angels and saints all of which are experienced in the Divine Office as well as the Mass. The two–the Divine Office and the Eucharist–are meant to exist in harmony, thus mutually enriching the spiritual life of those who participate in both, such as us monks.

There are elements or characteristics in both the Mass and Divine Office that are common to both. There are also elements proper to either the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours, distinguishing one from the other. Let us consider various elements now.

Praise is a fundamental duty of a Christian toward God. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola put it: “Man was created to praise, venerate and serve the Lord his God, and in this way to save his soul.” We might ask, though, what is praise? Like most realities and attitudes–life, death, love, and the like–praise is difficult to define precisely. But we can say it is essentially the unlimited appreciation of God, expressed in words, song, silence and gestures. Praise acknowledges that there is Another above and beyond us, to whom we owe our very existence. Praise is our total admiration and love for the Creator of heaven and earth. Our basic attitude in both the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass) or the Divine Office is the praise of God. I think we all know what that means, though it is difficult to define it. In any case, the vocal praise, so characteristic of Catholic worship, is a visible sign of praising God day and night, year in and year out.

Thanksgiving is another important element in Catholic liturgy. While praise considers God in himself, thanksgiving considers God in relation to us. We thank our God for all that he has done for us, for all that we are, all that we have. This means much more than material things, of course, and is primarily concerned with the spiritual life we have in God. God pours out life and grace upon us, even without our asking for it. Thanksgiving is a response to the infinite love of God. Thanksgiving is our acknowledgement of an infinite debt that we owe to God yet can never completely repay. “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” the psalmist so eloquently asks in Psalm 115. Thanksgiving is a vital part of Christian worship and always will be.

Of course the word Eucharist essentially means “thanksgiving.” The Mass is the supreme sacrifice of thanksgiving, unceasingly expressed in words, silence and gestures. At the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, who poured himself out for us and in turn calls us to give our lives for him and one another.

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office of the Catholic Church, is also a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Since it consists primarily of the Book of Psalms, which is in essence a collection of poetic hymns of thanksgiving and praise, the office is another act of rendering the Divine Majesty our never-ending obligation of praise and thanksgiving. Harmony clearly exists in these elements of the Eucharist and the Divine Office. The Liturgy of the Hours is both a genuine preparation for Mass and a fitting continuation of the Mass.

The same zeal we show for the Mass should also be expressed for the Liturgy of the Hours. Both are times of encounter with Christ in our midst. “Where two or three in my name are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them,” as the Lord himself has promised.

Our devotion for the Mass should inspire in us a devotion to the Divine Office. The two form the heart and soul of the monastic life. The Vatican II document Perfectae Caritatis, the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of the Religious Life, says “the main task of monks is to render the Divine Majesty a service at once simple and noble within the monastic confines” (#9). This is done by contemplatives, of course, in “devoting themselves entirely to worship in a life that is hidden” (Ibid). “Hidden with Christ in God,” as Saint Paul describes it in Colossians 3.3.

The decree also states that all religious, and certainly consecrated monks and nuns “should enact the sacred liturgy, especially the most holy mystery of the Eucharist, with hearts and voices attuned to the Church; here is a most copious [that is, abundant] source of nourishment for the spiritual life” (#6).

It might be good now to quote other words of this document, Perfectae Caritatis, concerning the contemplative vocation in the Church:

Members of those communities which are totally dedicated to contemplation give themselves to God alone in solitude and silence through constant prayer and ready penance. No matter how urgent may be the needs of the active apostolate, such communities will always have a distinguished part to play in Christ’s Mystical Body, where “all members have not the same function” (Romans 12:4). For they offer to God a choice sacrifice of praise. They brighten God’s people with the richest splendors of sanctity. By their example they motivate this people; by imparting a hidden, apostolic fruitfulness, they make this people grow. Thus they are the glory of the Church and an overflowing fountain of heavenly grace (#7).

Could there be a better statement of official Church support for contemplative monastic life? I think it significant that this statement came during the Pontificate of Pope Paul VI who seems very much to have understood and appreciated the monastic vocation and to have been perhaps the most sympathetic toward it among recent popes.

While the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours may also be prayed in private or in solitude, they are not prayers of the individual faithful, as such, nor of people who just “happen to have come together” when the hours are prayed in common. At its origin the word liturgy means a sacred work carried out on behalf of all the people of God, the laos, that is literally, the laity. That’s not to exclude us religious, but to say we are part of the entire Body of Christ.

Sometimes liturgy is translated as “the work of the people.” The prayers we use in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist are of the Christian community, approved and handed down through the ages and the tradition of the Catholic Church. We can speak of liturgy, then, when people are acting in the name of the Church, because the Church recognizes this community or individuals as belonging to the larger Body of Christ. So the hermit praying in solitude is doing it in the name of the entire Church, for the good of the whole Church, of which the hermit is a part.

Whenever the liturgy is celebrated, be it the Mass or the Divine Office, be it on the parish or religious community level, or in the solitude of the hermit’s cell, each local community causes the universal Church to be present. How easy it is to forget this fact when we gather with others or are in solitude to pray. We may think of no other group than our own, yet the Church militant, triumphant and suffering, is indeed present with us.

We should also emphasize that Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. This is especially true in the sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharistic species consumed by the priest and the faithful at each Mass. Christ is also present in Sacred Scripture, proclaimed at Mass and at the Liturgy of the Hours, both of which make wide use of scriptural texts. And as the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy put it: “Christ is present when the Church prays and sings, for he promised ‘Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them'” (#7).

Every valid liturgical celebration of the Church, then, is an action of Christ, as a sacred gathering, be it the Eucharist or other Sacraments or the Divine Office. Christ is truly present, but in different ways. In the Eucharistic species Christ is adored, which is not the case for the other forms of Christ’s presence. That is, we do not adore either the Word of God or the priest who celebrates the Mass. Christ’s presence in his Word and in the assembly who worship is understood as dynamic and transitory. Once the celebration ends and people and priest disperse, Christ is no longer present as he is in the Eucharistic species, even after the Mass. Hence our custom of reserving the Blessed Sacrament for adoration and distribution to the sick. Christ remains in the host, even when we are not in the church building.

The celebration of the Divine Office, as an act of the whole Church, even when prayed in solitude, enjoys Christ’s presence in those gathered. The Liturgy of the Hours, like the Mass and other liturgical celebrations of the Church, are sacred acts of the whole Church and of Christ present in the Church. The Eucharist and the Divine Office belong to the whole Church, to all those who by reason of their baptism share in the life of Christ.

Christ, therefore, is truly present when the Divine Office is celebrated, especially so in the Psalms and other scripture texts. We take it for granted–in the sense that we in fact believe–that Christ is present in the Eucharist, but sometimes we need reminding that Christ is also present in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours recognizes that religious, by their public profession of vows and dedication to prayer, have a “special mandate” (defined as “official command or obligation”) regarding the Divine Office (#17). Our spiritual life consecrates us to seeking God day and night, and an effective way to do that is in the commitment to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day.