The Liturgy of the Hours as the Priestly Sacrifice of Praise

The offering of the Liturgy of the Hours is an essential part of the priestly vocation in the Roman Rite. Its place among the promises made by the ordinandi at the time of their ordination to the transitional diaconate reveals its foundational role in priestly identity and mission. After promising to embrace the celibate state “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the service of God and man,” the candidates are then asked: “Do you resolve to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer that is proper to your way of life and, in keeping with this spirit … to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours with and for the People of God and indeed for the whole world?”[1] The structure of the promises indicates that the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours is the principal means by which the candidates are intended to live out their celibate commitment to the Kingdom of God. Far from an accidental part of priestly life, the Liturgy of the Hours belongs to the very heart of the priesthood. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that many priests find this connection between liturgical prayer and priestly life a difficult one to make. As few as one-third of priests in the United States are said to pray the Liturgy of the Hours regularly, and those who do not most often cite a lack of time and the pressing obligations of pastoral ministry as the principal reasons.[2] Perhaps one reason for this widespread neglect is that priests simply do not know the foundational role which the Liturgy of the Hours is intended to play in their priestly life. To paraphrase Abbot Jerome Kodell, “We will not make time for prayer until we are convinced that there is no better use of our time than prayer.”

In this essay, then, we shall examine three reasons why the Liturgy of the Hours is priestly prayer par excellence. First, the Liturgy of the Hours is an extension of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout all the hours of the day. By praying the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully, the priest lives from the graces of Holy Mass throughout his many daily activities. Secondly, the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of true sacrifice by which the priest’s life, his time, his very breath is offered back to God out of love and made holy. Thirdly, then, the priest who prays the Liturgy of the Hours offers a worthy sacrifice on behalf of his people, the Church, and the whole world, fulfilling the command of St. Paul: “Through him [Jesus Christ] let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb 13:15).  

In his Apostolic Constitution promulgating the revised Liturgy of the Hours in 1970, St. Paul VI referred to the Liturgy of the Hours as a “necessary complement” to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “by which the fullness of divine worship contained in the eucharistic sacrifice would overflow to reach all the hours of daily life.”[3] Contained within these words is an exhortation to priests and lay faithful alike not to allow the Mass to be simply one hour out of the day, distinct and essentially unrelated from the rest. Rather, from the Mass, “the center and apex of the whole life of the Christian community,”[4]there is to flow a torrent of worship as from a mountain spring, which touches all the other hours of the day. This “fullness of divine worship” which springs from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is channeled through the day by the Liturgy of the Hours, which “extends to the different hours of the day the praise and thanksgiving, the commemoration of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory, that are present in the eucharistic mystery.”[5] To use a different image, favored by the Rev. Dr. Pius Parsch, “the Mass may be compared to the sun in the Christian day, a sun around which the hours of the Church’s common prayer rotate like seven planets. The ‘hour-prayers’ are a preparation for Mass, they hark back to it, they seek to garner its fruit and graces through the day.”[6]In either case, the Liturgy of the Hours is the living link from the different periods of the day back to the Mass, the source of grace and divine life. This is of no small value for the parish priest with many pastoral duties! The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to be his companion, like “our own personal Angel Raphael who led the young Tobias successfully through all the dangers of his journey,”[7] or like the rock which followed the Israelites through the desert, from which “all drank the same supernatural drink” (1 Corinthians 10:4). 

Furthermore, the Liturgy of the Hours is sacrificial prayer, that is, prayer which makes something holy [sacrum facere] by offering it to God out of love. This is clear enough from the fact that incense may be offered at the solemn celebrations of Lauds and Vespers, a liturgical expression always connected with the offering of sacrifice. However, it may not be immediately obvious how the Liturgy of the Hours is a sacrifice. All sacrifice entails “some aspect of life being made over to the deity … either the blood of a victim is shed, or something that sustains life is offered: corn or wine.”[8] There is, furthermore, a mystical identification between the one offering the sacrifice and the oblation that is offered, since “the life principle surrendered is intended to be a substitute for the life of the offerer,”[9]given back to God symbolically in the destruction of the sacrifice. The Liturgy of the Hours, as the prayer of the whole Church, is called by Parsch “the breathing of the mystical body;”[10] the life principle offered to God in this sacrifice is the breath, which is “constantly consumed and used up in the service of God, winging its flight back to that mysterious Breathing which first set it in motion.”[11] We may add that a holocaust of time is offered to God by the priest who faithfully prays his breviary, using up precious minutes and hours in a sacrifice of praise and trusting that the Lord will take care of his to-do list. Here there is not only a mystical identification between the gift and the giver, as in the animal sacrifices of the old dispensation; there is a physical identification: it is my breath, my time which is burned up like incense around the altar in praise of God. In offering this daily sacrifice, the priest accomplishes the principal purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours, which “includes the sanctification of the day and of the whole range of human activity.”[12]

However, the priest does not offer the Liturgy of the Hours only for his own spiritual benefit. Unlike his own private or devotional prayer, indispensable as this is in the life of a priest, the Liturgy of the Hours is essentially public and liturgical. In fact, in the Liturgy of the Hours “the universal, objective, pastoral prayer [of the Church] is wedded with personal prayer,” such that “you can hear in the Breviary two distinct voices praying in unison: the Church and your own soul, now one, now the other.”[13] Even when he prays on his own, the priest prays the Liturgy of the Hours in union with and on behalf of the entire Church, “lending the Church his tongue to pay God a tribute of praise and thanks, and to pray for the graces and needs”[14] of the people of God. This prayer of the Church belongs to the essence of the priestly vocation; it is “the apex and source of pastoral activity.”[15] In the words of Parsch, “it is through the breviary that we participate in the official ministry and care of souls … We have become pastors in our own living room, from early morning until late at night.”[16]

At the heart of his vocation, the priest is one “chosen from among men … to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices” (Hebrews 5:1; cf. also 7:27, 10:11). We have seen that, far from an accidental obligation, the Liturgy of the Hours is an essential expression of this core principle of priesthood. It extends the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life, throughout all the hours and activities of the day, permeating a priest’s apostolic labor with the spirit of divine worship and the graces and fruits of the Mass. It is a sacrifice of praise in its own right, by which the priest offers his own life, his time, his breath to God; moreover, it is a sacrifice offered on behalf of the Church, by which the priest unites his own prayer to that of the people of God in his parish and throughout the world, interceding for their intentions and needs. 

Therefore, not overlooking the busy and often unfavorable conditions of modern ecclesiastical life, priests should take seriously their promise to offer this priestly prayer par excellence. The priest who prays the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully will experience not only the overflowing of the fullness of divine worship into all the areas of his apostolic labor, not only that sweetness of union with God which is the fruit of a sacrifice of love, but the faithfulness of the Lord who answers the prayers of his priests offered with and for His people: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). May the good Lord grant all His priests a renewal of the spirit of prayer and a resolution to offer this prayer of sacrifice more faithfully each day.


[1] “Rite of Ordination of Deacons,” no. 200, in The Roman Pontifical, 2nd typical edition (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: 2002). 

[2] Fr. Dennis McManus, lecture, “The Liturgy of the Hours in the Life of the Priest: How the Prayer of the Church and the Prayer of the Heart Come Together” (Menlo Park, CA: St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, March 1, 2021).

[3] Paul VI, Laudis Canticum [Apostolic Constitution Promulgating the Revised Book of the Liturgy of the Hours] (November 1, 1970), at

[4] Paul VI, Christus Dominus [Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops] (October 28, 1965), §30.

[5] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, §12.

[6] Pius Parsch, The Breviary Explained, trans. William Nayden and Carl Hoegerl (London: B. Herder Book Co., 1952), 9.

[7] Parsch, The Breviary Explained, 8. 

[8] Vilma G. Little, The Sacrifice of Praise: An Introduction to the Meaning and Use of the Divine Office (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1957), 25.

[9] Little, The Sacrifice of Praise, 25.

[10] Parsch, The Breviary Explained, 5. 

[11] Little, The Sacrifice of Praise, 26.

[12] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, §11.

[13] Parsch, The Breviary Explained, 8-9.

[14] Parsch, The Breviary Explained, 7.

[15] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, §18.

[16] Pius Parsch, “Introduction,” The Hours of the Divine Office in English and Latin (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1963), 1-2.

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