The Liturgy of the Hours
The Liturgy of the Hours has been called the “prayer of the Church.” Also referred to as the “Divine Office,” this prayer brings you into a communion of prayer with others all around the world.
What is the Liturgy of the Hours?
The Liturgy of the Hours is a carefully laid out set of prayers and readings that take us through the cycle of the day, the liturgical seasons, and the fest days throughout the year. The structure of the prayer relies heavily upon the Psalms, hymns, scriptural and other holy readings, and prayers specific to the time of day and season. Together with the Mass the Liturgy of the Hours represents the official prayer life of the Church.
Where Did The Liturgy of the Hours Come From?
The Liturgy of the Hours derives from the Jewish tradition of reciting specific prayers at certain hours of the day. This tradition was adopted by the apostles with the addition of readings from the Gospel. Records show that the prayers were essentially organized into their current form by the fifth century, with eight “offices” developed for specific times throughout the day.
The Liturgy of the Hours was originally contained in very large books that could be read and prayed by several monks simultaneously. With the invention of the printing press a smaller, abbreviated form of the books was able to be produced. This became known as the Roman Breviary and was officially promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1568.
The Breviary was revised by Popes Clement VIII and Urban VIII in the 1600s, and was not modified again until Pope Pius XII began revisions in 1955 and Pope John XXIII completed them in 1960. After the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960’s a final revision was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and this is the version that we have today. The Liturgy of the Hours is now published in four volumes that correspond to different liturgical seasons throughout the year.
What Does the Liturgy of the Hours Consist Of?
There are now seven “offices” each day in the Liturgy of the Hours. Three of these are considered “major” hours, which are more robust, and “minor” hours which use format that is simpler. All of the offices begin with a hymn and the recitation of three psalms, or parts of psalms.
1. Office of Readings (formerly known as ‘Matins’)
The Office of Readings is a major hour. After the psalms come two substantial readings – one from scripture and another from a saint or important Church document. On some days the Te Deum hymn is also included.
2. Morning Prayer (also known as ‘Lauds’)
Morning Prayer is a major hour and includes the psalms, a scripture passage, a responsory which is usually from a scripture verse, a Gospel canticle, intercessions, and the Lord’s Prayer.
3. Daytime Hours
The daytime hours consists of three parts called Mid-Morning, Midday, and Mid-Afternoon prayer (also known as Terce, Sext, and None respectively), all of which are minor hours. One or all may be prayed in a day. These prayers simply consist of three short psalms or parts of psalms and a short scripture passage.
4. Evening Prayer (Also known as Vespers)
Evening Prayer is a major hour and consists of the same part as Morning Prayer.
5. Night Prayer (Also known as Compline)
Night Prayer is a minor hour. It is similar to the daytime hours but also includes an examination of conscience, a short Gospel canticle, and a Marian antiphon.
4 Reasons To Pray the Liturgy of the Hours
1. It will bring you into the rhythm of prayer in the Church. You will be in touch with the liturgical seasons, the saints’ feast days, and the daily patterns of prayer.
2. It is a great supplement to your prayer life while on retreats. It is also a great way to make a daily retreat at home.
3. You will become more familiar with the fathers of the Church and their writings through the Office of Readings.
4. You will be praying the prayers each day in communion with others all around the world, including your parish priest, your bishop, and even the Pope!
What Else is the Liturgy of the Hours Called?
Aside from Liturgy of the Hours, you will find these prayers under the name of The Divine Office in English-speaking countries outside of North America, and sometimes also as the Canonical Office. These shouldn’t be confused with Anglicanism’s “Daily Office” of the Orthodox Church’s “Divine Services.”
It is possible to find a condensed version of the Liturgy of the Hours. There is a one-volume version called Christian Prayer which is very similar to the regular Liturgy of the Hours but does not contain the Office of Reading or many of the prayers specific to the day of the year.
There is also a very condensed, bare-bones single volume book called Shorter Christian Prayer which only provides select Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer sections and Night Prayer. These are great if you need a copy that is easy to travel with or it is a more affordable option if you are looking to provide prayer books for a large group.
Guides to the Liturgy of the Hours
It is easiest to use the Liturgy of the Hours with the Saint Joseph Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours to help you keep track of where to find each day’s prayers in the books. There is a separate one-volume Christian Prayer guide and a four-volume Liturgy of the Hours guide.