Note: For consistency, the term breviary is used in this post to refer to the hardcopy four-volume Liturgy of the Hours.
The Liturgy of the Hours is the Prayer of the Church – prayed around the clock by members of the Church all around the world. Some may think it is a prayer reserved for the clergy and religious, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church has affirmed that, “The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God.” (1175, emphasis added) However, the hard-copy breviaries that you sometimes see priests and religious carry around in leather cases with several ribbon markers may seem daunting to the lay-person. Where do you start? Perhaps the lay-person just wants to pray without the stresses of ribbons, of Commons and of page-flipping… sometimes 3-4 page flips at some hours on some days. It is with these sentiments in mind that Word on Fire Ministries (WOF) has recently started publishing a monthly subscription simply titled The Liturgy of the Hours.
I think many readers of our blog is familiar with WOF – a Catholic evangelization ministry founded by Bishop Robert Barron. The ministry has published numerous books written by Bishop Barron, by also a variety of books in theology, evangelization and apologetics by world-renown theologians and scholars. Most notably, the WOF Bible volume I (which has been reviewed on our blog) and subsequently volume II has been very well received by people all around the world, not only for its commentary, but its quality and beauty. Producing beautiful books and publications has always been something WOF has strived to do because beauty is a way of evangelization. Moreover, The Liturgy Series on our blog has always mentioned that beauty reminds one of the author of beauty, which is God.
Therefore, WOF’s The Liturgy of the Hours instilled in me high expectations for a booklet that was simple, practical, but also beautiful – and it does not matter if this was a mere monthly subscription booklet. Evangelization & Culture, the journal of the WOF Institute serves as testament to high-quality of subscription pieces published by WOF.
Opening the plastic, you find yourself holding in your hands a simple, handsome, orange-red cover book, embossed/debossed gold foil depicting the symbol of the Holy Name of Jesus (IHS) and a monogram, and white calligraphic text. The symbols are embossed/debossed without gold foil on the back. Personally, I am not a big fan of the red-orange – simply because when I think of a design of a liturgical publication, even if it were a monthly missalette or devotional, orange is not a colour that comes to mind. My mind often turns to a dark red, or a dark green, as seen with many classic liturgical book bindings. But maybe, the orange was chosen because WOF wanted to allow the book to stand out on your night stand, allowing it to remind you to “Pray it!” morning and evening.
The booklet’s paper is not newsprint like the Canadian Living with Christ monthly missalette. The paper is thin cream-coloured bible paper, which resembles closer to the Magnificat monthly missalette and devotional. I never liked newsprint missalettes or annual missals found in the pews of some parishes. Even if a resource were to be replaced monthly or annually, I think it should in no way resemble a copy of the daily newspaper like the Toronto Star, where you read through it once, and tossed into the trash. The Liturgy of the Hours‘ paper provides this sense of dignity to the content of texts that will be prayed – ultimately these are Liturgical Prayers, drawn from Scriptural passages, and thus I think it is rightful that a paper besides newsprint is used.
There is just a sense of reverence when you hold and pray using a printed copy of The Liturgy of the Hours that a movile device app just can’t achieve. Not only does the cover and paper merit attention, but the use of fonts, calligraphy and optimization of two-colour printing elevates the contents of the booklet. WOF seems to stick to two colours for the booklet: black and an orange-red font, which complements the elements of the cover, and gives a sense of cohesiveness to the booklet as a whole. Scattered throughout the book are full pages of calligraphic text of Bible verses in the orange-red ink – simply beautiful. These one-pagers of Bible verses, though seems rather trivial, or like ‘space-filler’, provokes further thought and reflection at times.
WOF’s website states, “The booklets include special artwork to mark and celebrate solemnities throughout the year, helping you to better enter the Church’s liturgical life.” Unfortunately, I did not get to see that – I asked for a review copy in May for the June issue, which never came. I received a review copy for July, and sadly July had no Solemnities… guess just bad luck, because June had many Solemnities and August at least has the upcoming Solemnity of the Assumption. I would have loved to see the art for June’s Solemnities, especially that of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, simply because WOF has always had great artwork in so many of their publications.
The size of the booklet is of a good, user-friendly, and portable size, measuring about 5″x7″x0.75″ – that is less than half the size of a classic breviary. I set aside my copy of the breviary for the month of July to fully immerse myself into the experience of the booklet, and was quite happy with the ability to bring this copy of The Liturgy of the Hours along with ease during my pilgrimage to Québec at the end of the month.
“Bare Bones”, Easy to Pray
The content is “bare bones”. Whether this is the first time praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or you are very familiar with the breviary, WOF’s The Liturgy of the Hours makes praying the Prayer of the Church with ease. I think the first thing that needs to be clear is that The Liturgy of the Hours booklet unlike the full-breviary, only contains Morning, Evening and Night Prayer. I often pray the Office of Readings as well and I had to supplement that segment with a copy of a now, out-of-print The Office of Readings published by St. Paul’s Editions.
The Liturgy of the Hours provides the “bare bones” to facilitate the most straight-forward praying experience of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For every hour, the Introductory is printed, the Psalms and Canticles are provided with the antiphons in bold at the start and end of each Psalm/Canticle (without the Psalm-Prayers found in the breviary), and proper formulae of dismissal for either layperson or clergy.
For every hour, there is only one instance of page-flipping, and that is ironically the hymn. Why do I say “ironic”? Because in the breviary, at least for the Ordinary Time season, the hymn is already printed after the introductory – that is unless you want to choose a different hymn. I often use the hymn provided for that hour. Therefore, having to flip for that portion of the hour seemed a little unusual for me, but totally understandable. Unlike the breviary, WOF provides notation for the hymns which really allows the Liturgy of the Hours to be prayed in its fullest sense possible. I know a number of people who have difficulty singing with breviary because of lack of notation. Unless you are familiar with the tune, it is difficult to follow along. WOF eliminates this questioning of, “how does this tune go?” and provides the notation which makes singing the hymn a lot easier.
In keeping with the “bare bones” user-friendly structure, I like how the headings are not printed in the text block itself, but rather, in the left margin. This is helpful for new users to know what is to be recited and what not, because I think “say the black, do the red” is unfamiliar among lay-people. I know the breviary even has some quotes from the saints or another source before some of the Psalms and Canticles, and those are printed in black and italicized, which might make things even more confusing for someone new to the breviary.
An American Liturgical Calendar: While the Liturgy of the Hours is the Prayer of the Church, like the Mass and Lectionary texts, there are some adaptations in terms of the liturgical calendar in each country. While it was not surprise to me, it might be to some Canadian subscribers, and those outside of the United States, that The Liturgy of the Hours is reflective of the United States’ Liturgical Calendar. This was evident in July in two instances for me. The first was on Thursday July 14, 2022, which had the memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Canada does not celebrate St. Kateri’s memorial on this day, but rather on April 17. Another instance was on Tuesday July 26, 2022 in which in the United States the memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne was observed, while in Canada, this day is observed as a feast. Therefore, not only would one of the Commons was to be utilized for most of Morning and Evening Prayer, but Morning Prayer was supposed to utilize Sunday Week 1’s Psalms and Canticles, as is the case with Morning Prayer of Feasts and Solemnities.
This is understandable on the part of WOF, because WOF is based in the United States, and it seems that Americans are their largest recipients of their materials, compared to Canada. Even the current breviary fails to acknowledge Canadian saints and the Canadian Liturgical Calendar, which makes praying the breviary on days like the memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha or the feast of Sts. Jean de Brébeuf and Companions even more difficult with the extra work to locate prayers, inserts and commons. On these days, I find praying with the Universalis app all the better, because the app has reflected these Canadian adaptations. The only bummer with that is the use of a mobile device, rather than a printed book.
I think WOF should address the use of the American Liturgical adaptations in their FAQs. They have an FAQ on their site that states:
On saint/feast days, will you give people options or just pick one set of prayers?
The booklet includes one set of prayers for each day, choosing the highest ranking feast or celebration. Our goal is simplicity. We want to reduce the number of choices so that people can just read and pray without worrying about extra decisions.
I think this is a perfect place to mention the American Liturgical Calendar adaptations. It is just unfortunate that the Canadian market is just too small to justify the making of a Canadian version of The Liturgy the Hours subscription program. Even the popular Magnificat has a version with American Lectionary translations and no Canadian version. But overall, you will only find these adaptations on a handful number of days of the liturgical calendar.
Recordings for the Hymns: I am glad that WOF chose to include musical notations for the hymns. For someone who can read musical notation, I can find my way through the hymns easily, but I do not think that is the case for many users. To facilitate the learning of some of the hymns, I recommend adding a page with recordings for the hymns on the WOF website. Perhaps there are permissions that must be sought, but even if these recordings are made available to subscribers only, it might be of great help to many who wish to learn these hymns.
Reconsidering Gospel Canticles and Night Prayer: I know WOF wants to have the prayers in proper sequence laid out for every day, even duplicating prayers every day as necessary, but is there too much dupication? I questioned this while praying using the booklet, especially for Gospel Canticles – I wonder if it is better to have the Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis or at least just the Benedictus and Magnificat on the inside front covers, epsecially since as of now, the two inside front covers are blank.
I do not think it is difficult, or of inconvenience to have to turn to the front or back cover for these Canticles. That means that only the antiphon would need to be printed once at the point these Canticles are to be recited. Moreover, I have found the Gospel Canticles easy to learn by heart after frequent praying of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Some consideration might also be given to Night Prayer which is less complicated than Morning and Evening Prayer, and I think, better suited to have just a section dedicated to Night Prayer in the back with the Night Prayer from Sunday to Saturday. This is a better alternative, I think, than printing four-weeks worth of the same prayers. The only extra effort required is turning to the back section each night, but that is very simple, given that you know which day of the week it is. For the day’s prayer after Evening Prayer, some note to turn to page # for Night Prayer might be an option.
Adding the Invitatory Psalm: I was a bit disappointed to not see the Invitatory Psalm included in The Liturgy of the Hours, especially since the Introductory for the Invitatory is so meaningful, “Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.” The Invitatory Psalm, often Psalm 95, but Psalm 100, 67 or 24 can serve as alternatives, is said at the first hour of the day. I often pray it at the Office of Readings, but for users of The Liturgy of the Hours, it is most appropriate to include it at Morning Prayer. I hope some consideration will be given to including the Invitatory Psalm in future editions of The Liturgy of the Hours booklet.
For WOF’s Future Consideration
WOF has provided a wide range of resources in theology and apologetics, and it seems with The Liturgy of the Hours, WOF is entering a different field – of liturgy. Seeing the quality that WOF puts into their publications, I have questions as to what other types of publications may publish, especially in the area of Liturgy. Coming out in a couple of years, is the second edition of The Liturgy of the Hours, and I wonder if WOF will consider a more permanent resource, of publishing a user-friendly breviary for use by the lay-faithful that is not subscription based.
Moreover, the artistic beauty makes me wonder if WOF has any plans to publish high-quality liturgical books. I would love to see one-day the possibility of an edition of the Roman Missal printed with the highest standards, similar to the WOF Bible. Since the promulgation of the third english edition of the Roman Missal in 2011, there has been no new editions (i.e. new bindings, printings) of the Roman Missal in the english market, and I hope that WOF can introduce something new, worthy for use at the altar. These are just some possible liturgical projects, that I hope WOF might consider down the road.
The Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful subscription that will help one be introduced to the hours. For a mere $7USD/month (at Special Founder’s Discount), one can have the chance to immerse one’s prayer life with the Prayer of the Church. I recommend it for individuals, families or prayer groups and chaplaincies in educational institutions so that many more people will be introduced to this wonderful prayer of the Church.
To learn more about WOF’s The Liturgy of the Hours subscription and subscribe, click here.
Disclaimer: Vincent Pham was provided a review copy of The Liturgy of the Hours – July 2022 to provide an honest review of it on this blog. The Catholic Man Reviews thanks Word on Fire for the opportunity for us to review this subscription on our blog and look forward to future reviews. All thoughts and opinions expressed in here are our own and reflect our sincere thoughts about the title.