William de Brailes, of Oxford England, produced the first Book of Hours (in 1240) that has survived the centuries. During these times, before the printing press was invented, these books were hand-written in Latin and hand-painted on vellum (made from sheep skin). Most were made for literate, aristocratic women. They were small and practical but were highly treasured not only as prayer books but as works of art. It became quite the status symbol to own one.
Even though it is considered a Discipline, praying the hours can actually set the soul free. It does require a commitment on our part, to set aside time, to rearrange our schedule, to find a quiet place, to let go of all that is happening in our day to spend a few moments just “be”ing in God's presence. Prayer is work that demands our complete attention. It also requires the kind of attention that allows our egos to disappear so that God assumes the place of the ego.
Although it is when I am on retreat that I am most faithful to praying at different times during the day, I do try to set aside moments in my everyday life. Most days I do not pray them all (Vigils, Lauds, None, Vespers, Compline), but I do manage some. And with the struggle and eventual victory comes release. Amongst the mundane happenings during the normal day, there are moments of peace and joy.
There's an old saying that “what goes around, comes around” and so it is with praying the hours. Although it is an ancient practice, it had quite fallen out of favor for several generations. But thanks to several modern day scholars, who discovered the truth and beauty contained “within these minutes, within the day”, the 21st century has seen a revival of the practice.
There are several to choose from but two of my favorites are:
A Book of Hours by Henri Nowen
A Book of Hours by Thomas Merton
It is my prayer that you will consider adding this discipline to your day. Needless to say, the reward far outweighs the cost!
FYI: If you're stuck at a computer all day with no chance of spending time with one of these books, visit Sacred Space for 10 minutes or so of holy time!