Monday, March 18, 2013

The Hours (part 2)

A Brief History of Fixed Hour Prayer

I can hear the question. What the heck is this fixed hour prayer stuff? Quit simply it is the practice of praying at set intervals through out the day.

The Ancients marked time. The custom of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day or night goes back to the Jews. In the Psalms we find expressions like: I will meditate on thee in the morning..." -Psalm 62:7 "I rose at midnight to give praise to thee..." Psalm 118:62 "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and he shall hear my voice." Psalm 55:17 "Seven times a day I have given praise to thee..." -Psalm 119:164

The Apostles observed the Jewish customary times of prayer (see: Matthew 15:36; Luke 18:10; Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:3,9; 10:30; 16:25; 27:35). The Christian prayer of that time consisted of almost the same elements as the Jewish: recital or chanting of psalms, reading of the Old Testament, to which was soon added reading of the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. At times canticles composed or improvised were added. "Gloria in excelsis" and the "Te decet laus" are remenants of these ancient inspirations.

At present the elements composing the Divine Office seem more numerous, but were derived, by gradual changes as the original elements developed and were added to. It appears from the texts of Acts cited above, the first Christians preserved the custom of going to the Temple at the hours of prayer. They also had their gatherings in private houses for the celebration of the Eucharist, sermons and exhortations.

The Eucharistic celibration soon entailed other prayers. The custom of going to the Temple disappeared. The abuses of the Judaizing party forced the Christians to separate more distinctly from the Jews in their practices and worship. From that point on the Christian liturgy rarely borrowed from Judaism and became distinct.

It's interesting to note that praying five times a day at appointed hours is one of the tenets of Islam making the custom of keeping fixed hour prayer common to all three of the Abrahamic faiths.

a history of fixed hour prayer by Phyllis Tickle
graphic by Night Prayers by Naomi Spears

Living water reprint from 2008

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