The celebration of the Lord isn't limited to the Mass. Since the origins of the Church, in imitation of Christ and his apostles, Christians like to consecrate time to God, through the different community offices of the day.
The great public prayer of the Church
“Never stop praying.” The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the Church; it enables those who are apart to pray with one heart and one soul. The times of the day that are considered the most important for prayer are the morning “hour” (Lauds, praise), the evening “hour” (Vespers, evening) and at the end of the day (Complines) to bring a quiet close commending to God all that passed during the day.
Each of the “hours” always includes a hymn, a reading of one or more psalms, a reading from the Bible and an intercessory prayer.
As Pope John Paul II observed at the General Audience of April 4, 2001,
“The Liturgy of the Hours has the character of a public prayer, in which the Church is particularly involved. Resuming a Jewish tradition of praying several times a day, Jesus' disciples progressively inserted certain psalms, in which they found a deep correspondence with the Pascal mystery. For Christian prayer is born, feeds upon, and develops from the fundamental happening of the Faith, Christ's Passover. Thus, morning and evening, it commemorates the Passover of the Lord from death to life. The hours that punctuate the day recall the Passion of the Lord, and the prayer of Complines has an eschatological character, evoking the vigilance demanded by Jesus in waiting for his return on the next day.”
Mary, the Mother of the Church, is present throughout the Liturgy of the Hours:
First because Christ and his Mother are there each time the assembled community prays and sings the psalms and hears the Word of God. They both participate in this action of praise addressed to the Father, in the Holy Spirit;
Secondly because as Mother and model of the Church, Mary is the first Orant of Christ's Church;
Last, but not least because Mary is also there during the prayer of the hours that especially honor her, at solemnities and Marian feasts during the liturgical year: countless are the texts of the offices dedicated to her, in all the rites of Catholic liturgy.
Our “elders” in the Faith (great grand-parents, grand-parents) used to participate more often than most of us now do in the celebration of this Divine Office that the Church calls today “the Liturgy of the Hours”. They went to Vespers on Sundays and Holy Days, sometimes to the Tenebrae service or Matins of Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Regrettably, Sunday Vespers progressively disappeared after the introduction of Sunday evening masses and of the new busy lifestyles of modern life.
The Liturgy of the Hours has thus largely become the affair of monks, religious, and secular priests, who celebrate them individually. But a significant number of lay people are also committed to uniting themselves to the prayer of the universal Church by praying, even by themselves, the Liturgy of the Hours. Dioceses with Christian radios often broadcast parts of the Hours for their listeners.