I f you have ever been to a monastery or an abbey, or if you have ever watched a television show that featured monks or nuns, you may have noticed that they faithfully gather together for prayer many times a day. They follow the Divine Hours, praying at multiple set times throughout the day and often throughout the night too. The Divine Hours, sometimes called fixed-hour prayer, have existed since before Christianity formalized, having their roots in the daily prayer rhythm of Judaism.
The typical schedule for the Divine Hours follows a three-hour pattern, with prayers at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. In addition, there are evening prayers and morning prayers outside of these times. Simpler adaptations of the Divine Hours involve a morning prayer, a mid-day prayer, and an evening prayer.
Shaping the day with prayer and Scripture
What you might not know about the spiritual practice of Divine Hours—whether you’ve learned about the practice personally or vicariously through media—is that the practice of fixed-hour prayer was not originally something that was specific to the monastic or clerical classes. Fixed-hour prayer was a part of every believer’s daily life in the early church, shaping their days around Scripture and prayer, most often the Lord’s Prayer.
The practice of fixed-hour prayer is not simply stopping to pray extemporaneously throughout the day; rather, these times of prayer follow a liturgy, or a structured way of praying. This generally includes set prayers, Scripture reading, and possibly a song or hymn. While it may seem daunting to dive into three, five, or more set prayer sessions each day, there are many ways to practice the Divine Hours, and there are many resources to help all believers engage in daily prayer.
Accessible resources for daily, fixed-hour prayers:
- The Divine Hours liturgy written by Phyllis Tickle is available in book-form (in seasonal collections) or online through her daily liturgy.
- The Common Prayer app provides a prayer, a song, and Scripture for each day.
- A My Daily Office app on your phone or mobile device provides daily prayers and Bible readings.
- The daily prayers from the Taize community in France and the Northumbria community are a great way to connect with the global body of believers as you pray the Divine Hours.
Beginning to practice the Divine Hours
One of the best ways to begin practicing fixed-hour prayer is to find one time each day when you will commit to stopping what you are doing in order to pray. This could be first thing in the morning, on your lunch break, or before bed. Starting with one time then adding additional prayer times in the future is a wonderful way to begin. If you already have an established prayer time, you can incorporate the liturgy of the Divine Hours into this time.
Fixed-hour prayer practices can also be a wonderful way to pray with others. If you are able to gather with your family, friends, or faith community, whether in person or online, you can pray the liturgy together. Whether you pray alone or with others, know that fixed-hour liturgical prayer grounds you in the community of believers who are also praying those same prayers and reading the same Scripture that day.
Praying the Divine Hours isn’t an all or nothing experience. Can you find one set time each day to center yourself and pray the liturgy? Then you can begin to pray the Divine Hours.
Stephanie Soderstrom is coordinator for Short-term Mission for the Reformed Church in America. You can connect with her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.