(3rd reflection in a series on the Liturgy of the Hours)
In the past two weeks we have reflected on:
- Why we can pray;
- and that God calls us to pray, indeed has shown us how to pray.
This evening let’s start to look into the importance that continual, periodic prayer (such as this Vesper Service is a part of) is for us; by its importance throughout history.
As I mentioned in the first reflection, some people seem to dismiss the value of corporate prayer; others scoff at the idea of continual, periodic daily prayer. The idea of a day lived in prayer, to these people, is retreating away from the world and the responsibilities we have. In a sentence: ‘life is too short and we are too busy to stop again and again in prayer.’
The reasons, the fruits, of such prayer will be for next week, but a short review of the history of our faith shows us that this type of prayer; daily continual prayer is part of the structural integrity of our journey. People, since the fall, have been striving to open their hearts to God in all that they do; and at certain times of the day stop and offer, as sacrifice, their valuable time to their creator.
If our Creator, the Living God, desires our dialog, then we should. After all it is He who gave us life, it is He who endowed us with divine dignity; it is He who gave the capacity for love, in all its forms. We need to offer it back to Him in adoration, praise, in hope and petition – return His love; and it is by prayer that we can do this. In addition, constant prayer throughout the day offered as a sacrifice back to God is a gift we give Him, because He has given us this day; the day in which we live His gift of life.
We can see from the earliest of times in the Old Testament, from the apostles, and the nascent church that it was understood that as community we must offer prayer; that constant prayer was an accepted obligation.
‘Seven times a day I praise thee for thy righteous ordinances.’ We hear proclaimed in Psalm 119. Daniel we hear ‘… went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.’ St. Paul comments many times on prayer ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving;’ he tells the Colossians and us.
And from the beginning of General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours we read:
‘Public and common prayer by the people of God is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church. From the very beginning those who were baptized “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the community, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The Acts of the Apostles give frequent testimony to the fact that the Christian community prayed with one accord.
The witness of the early Church teaches us that individual Christians devoted themselves to prayer at fixed times. Then, in different places, it soon became the established practice to assign special times for common prayer, for example, the last hour of the day when evening draws on and the lamp is lighted, or the first hour when night draws to a close with the rising of the sun.
In the course of time other hours came to be sanctified by prayer in common. These were seen by the Fathers as foreshadowed in the Acts of the Apostles. There we read of the disciples gathered together at the third hour. The prince of the apostles “went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour” (10:9); “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (3:1); “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (16:25).’
Our forefathers understood the importance of God in their lives and the need to keep this in the fore of all they did. Prayer was a necessity and they built a structure within their lives to offer it. They understood the concept of sacrifice, of tithing, their first fruits – time is no different. Brothers and sisters the idea that prayer is a substitute good among the many in our day strips the awareness of the divine from this divine gift of life. 3,500 years, or so, of the tradition of tithing parts of the day to our God shows us that it can’t be just a temporal or cultural affectation – it is integral to our journey. Our own hearts will tell us that it is important for our own spiritual and physical well-being. Our prayer community radiates the importance of this tithing in our relationships with each other.
So, our history teaches us, our community shows us, our heart tells us: Live a life of prayer by taking time in life to pray.