Mar 15, 2007

The Rediscovery of the Liturgy of the Hours

Online Edition – March 2007
Vol. XIII, No. 1

The Rediscovery of the Liturgy of the Hours
The Mundelein Psalter — A New Resource for the Church’s Ancient Prayer

Christ accomplishes “the work of redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God” in the Holy Spirit through the Church, not only when the Eucharist is celebrated and the sacraments administered, but also in other ways, especially by praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Christ is present when His community comes together, when the word of God is proclaimed, and “when the Church prays and sings”.

The sanctification of man and the worship of God is achieved in the Liturgy of the Hours by the setting up of a dialogue between God and man, so that “God speaks to His people … and the people reply to God, both by song and by prayer”.

— The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours (n. 13, 14)


Many parishes throughout the US and Canada are discovering that the communal prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, formerly considered the exclusive domain of monastic communities and clergy, is being warmly embraced by laity in parish settings, as more and more parishioners gather to chant the traditional prayer of the Church. Many parishes celebrate some form of the office during the more solemn seasons of the year, especially Advent, Lent and Holy Week. The Second Vatican Council encouraged at least a weekly celebration of Sunday Vespers in the parish.

With its roots sunk deep in the daily prayer of Judaism, the diurnal (daytime) public recitation of the psalms has also been the practice of Christians throughout the history of the Church. Structuring prayer within the liturgical year, the week, and the hours of the day gives a profound meaning and stability to “sacred time”, and helps keep the mysteries of faith ever before us. 

Especially in communities that do not have the daily celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, the public, communal celebration of the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) by parishioners can be an extraordinarily effective means of daily worship. The Mundelein Psalter, produced by the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago and now available to the public, is a valuable new resource that can help make this possible.

The Mundelein Psalter

The Liturgical Institute celebrates the Liturgy of the Hours communally, which helps to form its students and seminarians in the noble beauty of the prayer of the Church. Recently, the Institute decided it needed a resource to facilitate the communal singing of the Liturgy of the Hours, combining the approved English translation of the breviary, integral hymnody, texts “pointed” for singing, and traditional chant modes. So they developed a new edition of the Hours that combines all these elements.

The result is The Mundelein Psalter, designed for use by priests, deacons, religious, and laity, making singing the hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours easier for all.

The Mundelein Psalter is the first complete one-volume edition containing the approved English-language texts of the Liturgy of the Hours with psalms that are “pointed” (special indicators in the text for the chanting of the Divine Office).

The music consists of simple yet beautiful Gregorian-based modes composed for this Psalter. (This new edition of the Liturgy of the Hours has received a concordat from the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.)

Features and Objectives

The Mundelein Psalter offers communities the opportunity to come together in prayer and celebrate the Divine Office as it was intended, with voices raised in prayer and praise of God. It features:

• Translations of hymns (side-by-side with the Latin texts) proper to each ferial day and a selection of hymns for feasts and solemnities (taken from the editio typica).
• Music with the ancient modal chant settings is provided for the hymns. (Most can be sung to any Long Meter tune.)
• A collection of fourteen optional chant modes for use as needed.
• The Grail Psalms (1963) and contains Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.
• The complete Sanctoral cycle (including the new saints added to the calendar by Pope John Paul II) and the Office for the Dead.
• A Pastoral Implementation Guide for the progressive implementation of the Liturgy of the Hours in a parish setting.

The deep, sober beauty of the chanting of the psalms provides an oasis of calm and peace in the often hectic and frenzied pace of people today. And so this volume does not intend to offer anything flashy or flamboyant. The Church’s prayer must be allowed to speak for itself — to express the joy and grief, the anguish and elation of God’s children across the ages and around the globe.

This volume hopes to offer an opening to the radical beauty of the Judeo-Christian prayer, in an accessible, comprehensible way. This, after all, is the prayer of the Church.

The Mundelein Psalter intends to be a contribution to the continuing renewal of the liturgy. It highlights anew the value of this type of prayer, especially for Catholic communities today.

Though there is nothing “innovative” in this Psalter, it does signal a rediscovery in a way: its sole intent is to foster fidelity in the praise of God by joining our prayer to those of other cultures and generations that offer the same sacrifice of praise. The Divine Office is the expression of the Church, the Body of Christ, at prayer.

How Does the Psalter Work?

How does this work? There have been many images used to describe what happens during the singing of the psalms. The pace and rhythm of it can be likened to waves that constantly wash over us with the Biblical prayer, bathing us in the images and emotions of the psalms, wearing a path in the stone of our hearts by its constant, gentle force.

The hymn for the Common of Holy Men and Women gives particular expression to this idea:

May all that splendid company/whom Christ our Savior came to meet,/help us on our uneven road/made smoother by their passing feet.

The regularity of this prayer and fidelity to it afford those who are praying a different kind of appreciation. Christians come to live with the praise of God, abide with it. In the frenzied pace of the contemporary world, people rush from thing to thing or activity to event, like tourists rushing from monument to monument for the souvenir snapshot without really seeing or experiencing the genius of a place. Those who engage in the Liturgy of the Hours, on the other hand, gradually come to know the Scriptures, and become one with the culture of the Bible and of the Church. It is only then that the Christian cultural symbols begin to reveal their richness and a new depth of meaning.

Making Internal Connections

Christian prayer is bound up inextricably in the weave of the liturgical year and the mysteries of faith. The fundamental connection between the Paschal Mystery and human life unfolds in the rhythm of each day, week, and year as each sunrise promises resurrection and each dying day begs for mercy.

How to implement this in a parish setting? Because the Liturgy of the Hours is the official public prayer of the Church, some are bound to celebrate it: those in Holy Orders, religious communities and secular institutes are required to celebrate all or part of the office for the good of the whole People of God.

But this does not mean that the Catholic faithful should think the Divine Office is reserved to a religious elite. This prayer belongs properly to the people. And so the Church has insisted that the people be given access to it.

How to Begin

Beginning the public celebration of the Liturgy of Hours need not be a complicated project. Many parishes have started very simply. A pastor might celebrate one or more hours with parishioners before or after the daily Mass. Pastoral Council meetings might begin with the communal recitation or singing of all or part of the office. A parish staff might adopt the structure given by the Divine Office to provide rhythm to its daily work. Choirs might begin their rehearsals with this form of prayer, as a reminder of the ministry of sacred music and its relation to the Paschal Mystery.

Families, too, might find a center and source of stability in praying the Divine Office daily, paying particular attention to the rhythm of the liturgical year, the celebration of saints’ days, and night prayer.

The Office for the Dead can provide an important structure for families in grief or can be used as a regular reminder of deceased relatives. Even two people, praying together publicly in church, can be an important witness of Christian fidelity and offer an invitation to others to join.

The prayer of the Divine Office requires no particular expertise, and its fundamental principles can easily be learned, understood and gradually adopted.

The Office begins with the sign of the cross and the Opening Verse, “O God, come to my assistance”. Not only in private prayer, but in communal celebration, the word “my” is used instead of “our”. This signals that each person assembled joins together as the Body of Christ, praying in Him — through Him praising the Father — as members of one body already seeking unity and wholeness.

The hymn is an integral part of the celebration of the office, as made evident by the care with which the Church has developed proper texts especially for the feasts of the saints and the seasons of the year.

Then follow the reading or chanting of the Psalms, Antiphons, Canticles, Intercessions, and closing prayer.

The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours provides a rich theological and liturgical introduction to the Church’s public prayer and more ample instruction on the implementation of the Divine Office. 

Prayer of this kind requires patience, practice, humility and charity. The richness of the liturgy is revealed gradually. It is over the course of the liturgical year, the week and the hours of the day that we attend the mystery of our faith.

And, as the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours observes:

In this way the wish of the Apostle is fulfilled: “Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts, sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God”. (Col 3:16)


The Mundelein Psalter is available from Liturgy Training Publications. For more information or to order the book, visit or call 800-933-1800.  



The Editors