‘”Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that [the] Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.” When he realised this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer.’ Acts 12:11-12
After the conversion of Saul, the Christian community faced a new wave of persecution – “Herod the King laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Hews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” (Acts 12: 1-2) This account of Peter’s arrest and miraculous deliverance by an angel of God, is an important account of how the first Christians rallied together in the face of persecution, and how they recognised prayer as a means to reach holiness and as a source of strength. More pertinent, is the fact that emphasis is placed on how there was not merely one person praying alone, but that there were “many people gathered in prayer.” (Acts 12: 12) This idea is further enforced in the other parts of Scripture, for example when Judas and his army prayed together as a collective in thanksgiving for the victory over their enemies in 2 Macabees 12:41-42, “They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out.”
While there is merit in personal prayer and supplication, there is power when a community comes together to pray. As Jesus exhorts, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) There is efficacy in prayer only when Jesus is found in the prayer, and this is made clear in the promise that He is present when a group of people come together in His Name and to pray in accordance with the will of God our Father. The Communion aspect of prayer is important because effective prayer is a relationship that is rooted in the first community of the Holy Trinity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is “the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit.” Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ. Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.”(CCC. 2565)
This communion in prayer extends from our physical earthly realm to join with the Church Triumphant in heaven. As St Paul says, ” Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Our prayers are made effective as well when we join our supplications through the Communion of Saints – we can and should call upon the help of the faithful departed and for the intercession of the saints (cf CCC 957-958, 2647). The faithful on earth (the Church Militant) are united as one body with the faithful in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) and the blessed in Heaven (the Church Triumphant). (CCC 948, 961, 1476)
The Church has a treasure trove of communal prayers: First the celebration of the Eucharist, second the Liturgy of the Hours, otherwise known as the Divine Office or the Opus Dei, or Work of God, next, the novenas and the devotions such as the Rosary prayer, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. These communal prayers express our unity as one people of God, as the children of God, coming together as one family to dialogue with and to listen to God our Father.
With the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church marks the hours of each day and sanctifies the day with prayer. Second only to the celebration of the Eucharist, this is a prayer that is more ancient than the Rosary. The Liturgy of the Hours in particular, exercises the fulfilment of the communion and priestly office of Christ. The Church in the Divine Office is united in continuous prayer, 24/7, for as one part of the globe is praying the morning prayer of Lauds, another part is praying the evening prayers of Vespers, and as the Church prays unceasingly, it is engaged with the “listening to God as he speaks to His people and recalls the mystery of Salvation. In this way, the Church praises God without ceasing, in song and prayer, and it intercedes with him for the salvation of the whole world.” (Canon 1173) In fact, clerics are “obliged to recite the Liturgy of the Hours” (Canon 1174.1), while Christ’s faithful are “earnestly invited, according to circumstances, to take part in the Liturgy of the Hours as an action of the Church”(Canon 1174.2)
There is a special place for the Liturgy of the Hours in the Church, as it is seen as the Voice of the Church – the whole mystical body unites together in publicly praising God. Of significance is how Christ taking on human nature, joins the entire community of humanity to Himself. The Divine Office thus reflects the Body of Christ, united with Christ the Head, and singing this canticle of praise to God our Father. It is the prayer of Christ Himself, which we partake in, that is addressed to God our Father. “Hence all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ’s spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church their Mother.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 85; 83-101)
For a Beginner’s Guide on How to pray the Liturgy of the hours, you may refer to this splendid resource: https://aleteia.org/2017/06/08/a-beginners-guide-to-the-liturgy-of-the-hours/ by Philip Kosloski.
Let us unite as a community in prayer, to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2565, 957-958, 2627, 948, 961, 1476
Code of Canon Law 1173, 1174.1 1174.2
Sacrosanctum Concilium 83-101
Kosloski, Philip, “A Beginner’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours”. Aleteia.org. 8 June 2017