I had a telling in-flight experience on a plane a few years ago. Not a minute had passed after I opened my breviary to pray when the man sitting next to me asked if I was a priest.
I am not, but as it turned out, he was.
The conversation was an illustrative reminder that praying the Book of Hours, the precursor of what is now known as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office, was long considered an essentially clerical task and largely still is today. That, despite the Second Vatican Council’s invitation to lay men and women to rediscover this everyday prayer of the Church.
In 1970, St. Pope Paul VI revised the canonical hours “so they could more easily be related to the hours of the day and the circumstances of modern life,” and emphasized praying the Book of Hours as “a means to sanctifying the day” (Laudis Canticum).
Thirty years later, St. Pope John Paul II warned that “it would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life.
“Especially in the face of the many trials to which today’s world subjects faith,” the Polish pope wrote in his 2001 apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”), “they would be not only mediocre Christians but ‘Christians at risk.’ ”
Fortunately for Angelenos, a new exhibit at the Getty Museum offers a window into what Christian prayer looked like when the Book of Hours was the basis of Christian life. “Transcending Time: The Medieval Book of Hours,” which runs through Feb. 20, 2022, at the Getty, features “masterpieces of medieval illumination” from the museum’s permanent collection produced from around the year 1250 to about 1700.
According to Pepperdine art historian professor Cynthia Colburn, Book of Hours artwork makes up almost a quarter of the Getty’s manuscript collection. Use of their pages, she noted, was not exclusive to clergy and religious.
“They are the bestsellers of the later Middle Ages, as the devoted sought a more personal connection to God,” explained Colburn.
The gorgeous illuminations of “Transcending Time” complement and amplify the message of the prayers they contained. Back then, they helped the faithful remember episodes from the Bible, reflect on things to come like death and the final judgment, and meditate on the everyday lives of the saints….
The above comes from an Oct. 14 story in Angelus News.