Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with the folks at DivineOffice.org to discuss how they got started and what the future holds for them. I was very excited to learn that this project has its roots right here in Salt Lake City. The people behind this wonderful ministry are: Dane Falkner, Denise Winters, Greg Pedroza, and Christine Sharer. Below follows a summary of our conversation.
What is DivineOffice.org?
As I began the interview, the group quickly decided that their common connection was Greg. They didn’t set out with the mission to record the Office for people to pray. They didn’t know each other, but Greg drew them in to help record material for a website designed to help catechumens and candidates to further explore topics discussed in the local parish’s RCIA gatherings. Eventually the group wanted something a little more consistent, which was designed to help those in the RCIA or the newly baptized learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Greg said, “We set off to teach people how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours [through podcasts] . . . we were going to just put out a few examples of how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.”
The group started with podcasts for Morning Prayer on Fridays during the season of Lent about four years ago. “Again, our intention was to teach people how to maneuver the book,” Greg said. Greg also stated some concerns that this somehow wasn’t liturgy and that the project could proceed because it was just a tool for catechizing people about the Liturgy of the Hours. His mindset changed as the project evolved and realized that there was a type of community forming between those who downloaded the material. Because of its popularity, Christine stated, “the group decided to look at Easter.” During the season of Easter that first year, they focused on Sundays as a way to help the neophytes during the period of mystagogy.
Community began to be developed as more and more people began to download the material and use the website. The sense of community came from the comments, suggestions, and request of the listeners.
Where is this recorded?
Dane’s company, Surgeworks provides the space and equipment to produce these podcasts. At first, they struggled to stay ahead, but now they record, in some cases, a week or two in advance. They started out reciting the text and eventually began to incorporate sung hymns and psalms. Some of the music used comes from our own Madeleine Choir School.
The iPod shapes the vision
At first, they were only online, but as the iPod and other technologies developed, they envisioned more possibilities for this project. Ultimately, they wanted to get people praying the Liturgy of the Hours. “Wouldn’t it be cool if people were to put this on their iPod as they go to work,” Dane said. “People are praying always . . . taken’ it with them,” Denise said. They saw this as the Church’s prayer and wanted everyone to have access to it and learn about it. Christine acknowledged that all of this was possible because of Dane’s company and the resources he could provide.
The group soon realized that the social media market and the networks were different and that the audience is the one who promotes the product. At one point, they were the number one download on the iTunes. When the iPhone was released it opened up some new possibilities and they introduced an app.
What types of resources are on the website?
The website is very user friendly. You can download the audio for the Invitatory, Office of Readings, and Morning Prayer, part of Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. It also includes some resources for the Office of the Dead and the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours. You can also see the printed text of the prayer. As you listen to the podcast you will hear a variety of styles for praying the psalms – sung, spoken, and responsorial. Dane commented that over the years some people have commented on how to pray the psalms based on their experience in a community or parish; some people like the variety and others claimed they weren’t following the Church’s prayer. A benefit of the variety of styles, which is allowed by the GILOH, is that people can engage the prayer differently and hopefully model it in their own parish.
Another great thing about the website is that for each prayer it provides instructions for ribbon placement/page numbers for the four volume set and Christian Prayer. I know some people are overwhelmed by the book itself so this is extremely helpful.
Are you using the ICEL texts on your website?
I was surprised to hear yes. The group at DivineOffice.org has been working with ICEL for years and finally they are in the process of working out an agreement with them. Early on they didn’t have full text to avoid the copyright issues, but the listeners began to criticize them and that got the ball rolling to contact ICEL. What both groups discovered is that the current copyright policies didn’t cover or work for this new media. ICEL wanted proofs of the material and DivineOffice.org kept saying that it’s all on the website in bits and pieces. In the end, DivineOffice.org had to put the text on the website so ICEL could look at it and approve it in the format that DivineOffice.org would be offering it. ICEL too had to compromise and learn how to work in this new medium.
Who uses DivineOffice.org?
Here’s a sample of people who use this resource: Priests and deacons, an east coast seminary, shut-ins, ecumenical groups and clergy, internet radio stations, commuters, runners, people around the world, military personnel, visually impaired etc. At the time of the interview statistics/demographics weren’t available, but hopefully we can update that soon.
What does the future hold?
The group hopes that eventually it will be available on a universal platform and not just on the iPhone. Eventually there will be an app for the iPad that will look just like the book with some art added in. They also hope to develop a technology that will allow the user to pick and choose certain prayers and create a personalized format for special events. “Do you want to hear it sung or hear it said? Do you want the Psalter of the day or the special memorial of the day,” Christine added. Options possible for the future might be: 1). a variety of languages, 2). choosing between contemporary and traditional music for psalm settings, 3). submitting prayer intentions to share with the others praying.
They also see this as one way to invite younger people to join in the prayer of the Church. One last comment was on the praying Evening Prayer or Night Prayer. Potentially members of the parish could all pray in unison without ever meeting at church or they could meet at a church or a home and project the text for common prayer. The founders feel this is a way to help parishes praying together.
Why do you feel parishes/individuals should celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours?
The Liturgy of the Hours is a powerful experience that unites us in heart and mind on our way to God. Praying the psalms daily is transformative and challenging. It invites us to ponder the very mysteries of our faith and draws us into deeper communion with God. The hours help give shape to our day; they are a way to sanctify the day. Ultimately, this has the potential to transform our experience and celebration of the Eucharist.
What are some of the negative aspects of using this type of technology?
Christine commented, that it can “Isolate people and causes them to be able to cut themselves off from real service, real community, real engagement.” Though that potential is there, it seems that this type of technology is here to stay and can be used to draw more people into the prayer, especially for those who aren’t going to pick up the book.
- 20, 000 downloads every day
- 5% growth a month
- 4,000 people download every single prayer every day
- 4,000 people subscribe to a weekly newsletter
- iPhone app is $14.99 (which allows you to see, in real time, who’s praying with you around the world
- Find them on Facebook
Though I am not very good with technology, I have been fascinated with this project and how it has encouraged people to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I do wish them well as this ministry continues to evolve. I still have a hope that pastors would encourage people to pray the hours in common (see GILOH 23).