Living a Liturgical Life: The Sacredness of Time


Part 1. The Sacredness of Time

Under the Old Law in the Old Testament, God’s people observed annual ceremonies commemorating important events in salvation history which prefigured the completion of the Old Law through Christ. Similarly, Holy Church commemorates important mysteries, events, and persons, using an annual cycle of prayers, Scriptures, hymns, and various spiritual disciplines. In the same way, each of the 12 months has a unique focus, and each day of the week has a unique focus as well. Even in the day, the hours of the day are divided up into the canonical hours. In so doing, all time is, in a manner of speaking, consecrated to God since He alone created all time and redeemed all of time.

Unlike the pagan religions which often view time as an endless cycle of death and rebirth, the Christian view of time is linear.[1] While God alone has always existed and has no beginning, time had a beginning. There was a first day on earth. And there will be a last day. There will be a day ultimately when the sun will rise for the last time and when it will set for the last time. Time will end. And God Himself will end it as time belongs to Him. It is our duty to honor God in time.

The Catholic Day

Each day is comprised of the Canonical Hours[2] during which priests and religious (and some laypeople, voluntarily) pray the designated prayers for those hours. Called the Divine Office,[3] or Breviary, these prayers throughout the day are a primary means by which man sanctifies all of time. When priests and religious pray the Divine Office, they do so not so much as individuals, but rather on behalf of the entire Church. This is further signified by how the Office is best prayed in community and in sacred chant. Like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments, the Divine Office is part of the official liturgical prayer of the Church. Thus, when a parish priest prays the Office, even if he does so alone, he prays to God as an ‘alter-Christus’ and in the name of all of his parishioners.[4] It is profoundly beautiful to consider that at every hour of the twenty-four hours of every day, there are consecrated souls offering this heavenly praise of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and impetration to the Almighty Throne of God. We will discuss the Breviary to a much greater extent later.

The day is further consecrated to God by the Angelus prayer. Traditionally said at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m., the Angelus is a means by which we consecrate time to God, invoke the Blessed Mother, and honor the Incarnation. For this reason, church bells[5] are often rung at noon and at 6 p.m., as a call to prayer for the Angelus, but 6 a.m. is usually too early for ringing church bells so most parishes don’t ring them then. Nevertheless, 6 a.m. is the first time for the Angelus each day.

Mother Teresa and other missionary nuns have remarked that the sight of seeing Catholics fall to their knees to pray the Angelus when the Angelus bell sounded brought about many conversions. One former Hindu who converted and became a nun remarked that the sight of seeing Catholics instantly fall to their knees to offer those prayers – even in the market at noon – left such an impact on her that it brought about her conversion. We can have a similar impact by keeping the sacredness of the Catholic liturgical day.

The Angelus is traditionally prayed every day of the week from Saturday evening before Trinity Sunday until Holy Saturday evening inclusive – it is replaced by the Regina Cæli from Easter Sunday morning until noon of the Saturday after Pentecost inclusive. The Angelus is recited while kneeling except for Saturday evenings and Sundays, on which days you instead make a genuflection on your right knee at the mention of the Incarnation.

If you are not familiar with the Angelus, I would encourage you to find this prayer online, save it, and start praying it three times daily. Even if you are not up at 6 a.m. or you are busy at precisely noon or 6 p.m., you may still say this prayer. In that situation, you can pray the Angelus before breakfast, before lunch and before dinner, respectively.Faithful Catholics also pray the Morning Offering upon awaking and make a nightly Examination of Conscience just before going to bed. If you are not familiar with either of these practices look them up as well. In such a way, we can further consecrate the day and time to God, the Author of time.

[1] A “linear spiral” has also been used to describe the Christian concept of time. While still retaining the elements of linearity to oppose pagan error, this image conveys how Divine Providence makes use of typology to instruct man and bestow grace. For example, all of the Old Testament prefigures Christ and – since His Passion, Death, and Resurrection – the Church Herself now lives out the mysteries of the life of Christ across the ages. This spiral image also conveys how the origin of all time is God and the end goal of all time is likewise to return to God at the Final Judgment.

[2] The Canonical Hours mark the divisions of the day in terms of periods of fixed liturgical prayer at regular intervals.

[3] The Divine Office consists mainly of prayers from the Book of Psalms, but also contains Canticles and religious hymns, as well as special prayers said at varying times during the liturgical year to commemorate a particular feast or season. The prayers are divided into eight segments referred to as hours. The eight hours – Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline – are often said at scheduled times throughout the day, beginning with Matins at midnight (or the early morning hours) and ending with Compline at 9:00 p.m. (or the later evening hours).

[4] This is one of the reasons why in traditional Catholic teaching, it was a mortal sin for a priest to intentionally disregard praying an obligatory canonical hour. Most monastic orders pray all eight canonical hours, but diocesan priests are generally not obligated to pray them all. In Church history, certain diocesan priests were called ‘canons’ because they were called by the bishop to pray the canonical hours for the entire diocese, usually in the cathedral.

[5] Historical notes. Written records indicate that in the 13th century, the Franciscans popularized the practice of ringing church bells in the evening to encourage the faithful to pray the Angelus. St. Bonaventure was well known for promoting this custom. Yet Catholics had long been praying at 6 a.m., to honor Christ’s Resurrection; at noon, to honor His Passion; and at 6 p.m., to honor His Incarnation at the Annunciation.

The year 1456 marks one of the greatest Catholic victories over Moslem Turks. Constantinople, the oldest Christian capital, had just fallen to Mehmed the Conqueror and his terrible armies were now besieging Belgrade. This was the last Christian defense for much of Eastern Europe. Pope Calixtus III (1455-1458) asked for all church bells to be rung at noon to call Christians to pray three Hail Mary’s seeking Our Lady’s intercession. Fighting beneath the standard of the Cross, St. John Capistrano led a meager army of peasant Catholics which rescued the city and routed the infidels. In thanksgiving to Our Lady, Pope Calixtus decreed that church bells should henceforward be rung at noon and Christians should continue to pray three Hail Mary’s at this hour.

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