Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 4 2002
Should we pray 5 times a day?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Muslims stop everything and pray five times a day. Do we Christians have prayers required at different times of day?
Yes we do, and not just five times a day but we should pray "always" as we are told in Scripture. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances"
(1 Thessalonians 5:17), Paul says.
Specific times of day for prayer were part of Christianity from the beginning. In Acts, we read of prayer being said at different times of day: "Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon" (Acts 3:1).
Early in the third century, the bishops recommended that people assemble in house-churches each morning and evening for prayer. This consisted of Scripture readings, instruction and prayer, as well as fellowship with the blessings of lights in the evening.
When Christianity became legal in the early fourth century, these prayer services were held more publicly. They consisted of hymns, psalms, Scripture reading and prayer. Eventually, morning prayer was called Lauds (Latin for praise) and the evening prayer Vespers (vesper meaning evening star).
The laity gathered in local churches with the diocesan clergy for Lauds and Vespers. The popularity of these prayers which were in Latin decreased when people no longer understood Latin. Daily Mass replaced public morning and evening prayer for the laity.
However, well into the 20th century, Vespers were sung on Sunday evenings in churches in a variety of places. In addition, Christians continued with private morning and evening prayer, although not usually Lauds and Vespers.
In monasteries, monks and nuns praying Lauds and Vespers expanded the number of hours to be prayed throughout the day and night with work interwoven with their prayer times.
The Hours consisted of Matins (originally a night vigil) and Lauds, Prime (first hour or 6 a.m.), Terce (third hour or 9 a.m.), Sext (sixth hour or noon). None (ninth hour or 3 p.m.), Vespers (when the evening star appeared) and Compline (just before retiring).
Intended to sanctify time, the Hours or Divine Office, as these prayers are called, is recited during the 24-hour time period. Throughout the centuries, contemplative religious orders continued to pray these at their specific times.
Active communities combined hours. Today, these communities generally pray the hours as morning and evening.
Although the Liturgy of the Hours was practically lost for many centuries to the laity, Vatican II brought back this beautiful prayer of the Church to the faithful. Today, all are encouraged to pray the Divine Office twice daily, in groups preferably, or alone, if necessary.
Another time-honoured prayer to sanctify the day and recited at specific times (morning, noon and evening) was the Angelus. When the bells rang to announce the Angelus, people stopped their work, bowed their heads and prayed.
The Angelus isn't as old as that of the Liturgy of the Hours. The Angelus began in 1318 when Pope John XXII asked that three Hail Marys be prayed each evening for peace. Later, these were prayed in the morning and at noon as well.
By the 16th century, the Angelus became universal. The Angelus is a prayer in honour of the Incarnation and consists of three short invocations with responses, each set followed by a Hail Mary concluding with a short prayer.
Unfortunately, in modern times, this beautiful custom has fallen into disuse, partly perhaps, because our churches have no bells to ring. And when they do, the modern pace of life with night shift workers sleeping during the day, makes it difficult to ring bells.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to hear these bells at least at noon so we are reminded to pray in gratitude for the gift of Jesus? And even without the bells, what prevents us from praying the Angelus?
There are other ways we developed to sanctify time. The days of the week and the months of the year were sanctified by dedicating them to a particular mystery of our redemption or a saint. For example, Saturday was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin as was the month of May and Friday to the Passion of Jesus.
Simple invocations, such as "My Jesus mercy" were recited throughout the day. Then, Christians have always prayed three times a day before meals. Other devotional practices have been, and still are, popular such as the daily rosary, Stations of the Cross especially during Lent, novenas, etc.
Therefore, we have morning and evening prayer, the Angelus three times a day and a blessing before and after meals three times a day. So that makes at least eight times each day that Catholics have prayed publicly and officially for centuries.
Nothing says these prayers have to be something of the past. We can choose and adapt these to our needs today.
The example of the Muslims' faithfulness to their five-times-a-day prayer can serve to stimulate our interest in the importance of sanctifying time and staying connected to God during the 24 hours of the day through prayer. Why not fit some of these Christian prayers into our daily schedule?