Just so everyone is clear: Liturgy of the Hours = The Divine Office. Two names for the same thing. I tend to use “Divine Office” because it’s fewer keystrokes. Liturgy of the Hours is the more common title since the second Vatican Council, although the Vatican itself still uses both of them interchangeably. The word “breviary” on the other hand, refers to the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours. If someone says, “I’m going to say my breviary” they are using a kind of Catholic slang, and it’s very inacurate. It’s the equivalent of a priest saying “I’m going to say my missal” when it’s time to say mass.
Today I’ll help you decide which breviary you might want to use. First decision: digital or traditional printed breviary? If you are part of the under-50, tech-savvy generation and already do much of your reading from a mobile device or an e-reader, than you probably want to skip buying a print breviary–at least for now–and use an online or mobile breviary to learn to pray the Divine Office. There are several good ones. You will find a link to Universalis.com on the Catholic Exchange homepage. DivineOffice.org is extremely popular in this country. This site not only lays out all the prayers for each hour of the day, but it also has podcasts of communities praying these same hours, which gives you an excellent feel for how to pray the liturgy with a group. DivineOffice.org also has apps for all popular mobile devices, available from the respective app stores. A third digital breviary that deserves mention is ibreviary.com. Based in Italy, ibreviary has the Liturgy of the Hours available in many languages. It’s mobile app—which also works well on Kindle readers—is free. You can also get an ibreviary widget that puts the prayers of the day on your personal blog or website.
I would almost recommend that all newcomers to the Divine Office start with a digital version until they get used to the rhythmn and routine of these prayers. Digital versions lay all the prayers out for you. There is not guess work about which parts of the psalter, propers, feasts, and/or commons to use each day. Using a print breviary involves a learning process that can frustrate some beginners into giving up before they’ve given the Hours a decent chance.
But maybe you’re adamant that you want to use a book, and there can be good reasons for that. You might associate prayer with being “unplugged” and getting away from the e-world for a few precious minutes. You might want to be able to pray with other people who use the book. You might want to be able to pray the Office whether or not a wireless signal is available. Or you might be one of those old—or young!– fogeys who just likes the feel of a real book. I get that. So here’s what you need to know about print breviaries:
The most widely used breviary in the United States is put out by the Catholic Book Publishing company(CBP). The 4-volume version (around $120 on Amazon) has all the liturgical hours for every day of the year. If you are committed to praying more than just Morning , Evening and Night Prayer, then you want to get the 4-volume. If this is too big a chunk of change, you may buy one volume at a time for $32.44 a piece. The one to send for now is volume II- Lent thru Easter.
A more economical thing to do, is to purchase the one-volume version titled “Christian Prayer” (also from CBP) It include the complete Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer for the entire year. It has selections from Daytime Prayer, but not the complete daytime cycle for the whole year. This book is enough for most people, and probably enough for anyone who is just beginning.
CBP also has a slimmer volume titled Shorter Christian Prayer. This is the basic 4-week Psalter for Morning and Evening Prayer during ordinary time. It does not include the variations needed for Church seasons or feast days, so with this book you would be using the offices of ordinary time even during lent and advent. But a beginner who has this book available should use it for a few months, since it is very easy to learn to use. You can always buy the real thing some other time if you find yourself wanting to keep up with the complete liturgical year.
Next time: some basic liturgical vocabulary.