Portús na hÉireann: Praying the Celtic Hours

Today I would like to share a guest post with you from my new friend, Dustin Ashley. Dustin is a student at Emmanuel Christian Seminary in Johnson City, Tennessee where he is pursuing an MDiv in historical theology, specializing in the history of the early Irish church. He has recently published a book called Portús na hÉireann: A Book of Hours according to the Columbanian Tradition. In the article below, he shares some of his reasons for writing the book and gives us a sneak peak into one of the beautiful historical prayers it includes.

To any Christian, regardless of one’s philosophy or tradition, the most indispensable aspect of one’s life is prayer. Whether it’s short prayers at morning and night, singing hymns, or quiet meditation, prayer for a Christian is as natural as breathing. It serves as the most integral aspect of one’s life, forming our faith by which we offer the simplest and most profound offering of thanks and praise. 

The early Christians of Ireland and Britain knew this all too well, applying an organized approach to prayer known as psalmody that originated from the Syriac and Coptic monks. From their exposure to these traditions, the early Irish monks began with praying three sets of fifty psalms known as the “three fifties”. This gradually evolved into a more formal practice of praying at certain times, as exemplified by St. Columbanus and his monastic tradition.

Unfortunately, the Irish monks did not leave behind a text like the Coptic Agpeya or Syriac Sheshimo. We must extrapolate what their prayer regimen was like based upon what has been discovered, namely the Antiphonary of Bangor, Voyages of St. Brendan, and the Stowe Missal. Scholars have not only given us clues on how these texts were used by the Irish monks, but have also provided enough clues on how to reconstruct a Book of Hours based on these sources. From this, we have the Portús na hÉireann.

The impetus to begin this project was simple: to produce a prayer book that is essentially connected to the early Irish tradition and is easy to use. By design, the Portús na hÉireann is meant to be a simple text with minimal filler material or deviations. You find which canonical hour you want to pray and then flip over to it. If you have any questions as to how or why, the introduction provides all the information you need grounded in academic research.

For those of Gaelic extraction or who find the Celtic tradition to be a refreshing alternative to mainstream Christianity, you will find the Portús na hÉireann to be a valuable method for praying in like manner to the Irish monks. Along with every Psalm set in accordance with the Septuagint, a series of canticles and hymns used within the early Irish church are provided. This includes a series of prayers that capture the essence of Irish monasticism. This includes the following:

“Let angels, virtues, stars, powers, praise you, O LORD. Let those things which owe you their origin give service and exult you in praise, that they may sing to you in harmony with the universe, and that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let your favor be upon your people, we pray. O LORD, that by exulting you with our joined forces, we may remain as one, armed with your Word which you speak, and our lives always contemplating your truth and salvation, which you have shown in your surpassing greatness. We praise you, O LORD. We display our praise with thanks. We praise you with lute and harp, with drum and dance, with strings and pipe, with sounding cymbals, that we may always receive your mercy, O Christ, Savior of the world; who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

You can purchase a copy of Portús na hÉireann directly from the publisher by clicking HERE.

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