I wrote in a recent post that praying the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office) has had a profound impact on both my prayer life and my spiritual state in general. I promised to expand upon the Liturgy of the Hours itself, and offer some suggestions on how it might be incorporated into the lives of busy laypeople, in subsequent posts.
First of all, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? It traces its origins back to the very earliest days of the Church, and before that to the formal prayer of the Jewish Temple [for more information, see here and here]. It consists mostly of Psalms, canticles and other scriptural readings, said at assigned times (the “Canonical Hours”) in order to “sanctify the day.” The Hours, along with their traditional and modern names, are:
Matins (Office of Readings) – traditionally during the night, now any time of day
Lauds (Morning Prayer) – sunrise
Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer) – third hour of the day
Sext (Midday Prayer) – sixth hour of the day, i.e., noon
None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer) – ninth hour of the day
Vespers (Evening Prayer) – toward evening
Compline (Night Prayer) – nightfall, or before retiring
Matins was traditionally said during the night. Today, as the Office of Readings, it can be prayed at any time of day (in other words, it is no longer necessary to interrupt your sleep). In addition to three Psalm readings there is also a longer Biblical reading and a non-scriptural reading, either from the writings of the saints, or the lives of the saints, or magisterial documents of the Church.
Lauds and Vespers are the “hinges” of the Divine Office, the most important prayer periods after Readings. They are longer than the others and include two well-known of the Gospel Canticles: the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer (“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel . . .”) and the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary in the Evening (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . “). They contain in addition two Psalm readings, a non-Gospel Biblical canticle, antiphons, responsories and the Our Father.
Compline is prayed at the end of the day. It contains an examination of conscience, but is otherwise shorter than Lauds and Vespers, with only one or two psalms and a short Gospel Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon (“Now you let your servant go in peace . . . “).
Terce, Sext, and None are collectively known as Daytime Prayer. These are shorter than the other offices, containing only three psalm readings and a short scripture reading. Since the most recent reforms of the Office they are set up so that even if you pray only one of them a day along with Readings, Lauds, Vespers and Compline, you will have seen the entire Psalter (i.e., Book of Psalms) over the course of a four week cycle.
Along with the Mass, The Liturgy of the Hours forms the public liturgical prayer of the church. Clergy and religious, and certain lay persons under vows, are required to say these prayers every day (hence the name Divine Office, from the Latin officium, which means “duty”). These prayers are not the exclusive preserve of priests and nuns, however. Paul VI, in the Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1970on the Liturgy of the Hours [full text here] says:
The Office has therefore been composed so that it is the prayer not only of the clergy but of the whole of the People of God, and religious and lay people can take part in it, and there are various forms of celebration so that it can be accommodated to the various groups, with their differing needs. Since the Liturgy of the Hours should sanctify the different times of the day, in its revised form it can be fitted into the actual hours of people’s daily lives.
So, while those who pray the Office under obligation are also obliged to follow certain norms in doing so, the Church is inviting the rest of us to pray along with them in a way suited to our state in life and our other responsibilities. I will offer some suggestions, and reflect on my own experience, in my next post on this topic.
Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -
Universalis.com – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH. It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones. They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones.
Ebreviary.com – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription.
Divineoffice.org – My favorite LOH website. It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer). There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.
There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours. The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976. I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above). It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.
The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here]. It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.