This will be a really boring post for anyone who is not actually trying to learn the Divine Office.Or for anyone who prays the Liturgy of the Hours online or with a mobile app, since it’s mainly about learning to navigate a printed breviary. But if this is what you are trying to do, then you’ll be edified, instructed, and even entertained. So give it a try.
In the previous “Boot Camp” post I suggested that rank beginners would do well to start with a week or two of Night Prayer, in order to get a feel for praying the Office without the worry of flipping around in the breviary. After a few weeks of Night Prayer, you should be ready to add Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer to your repertoire. Maybe both. But for starters, choose the one that best fits your available time.
Let’s take a look at Morning Prayer. Find the week in the psalter that we should be on. At the moment, being in the fourth week of lent, we are also in week four of the psalter.
Technically, if Morning Prayer is the first hour of the day that you pray, you aren’t supposed to begin with “O God, Come to my assistance, etc” Instead,you should begin with the Invitatory psalm. The psalter gives you the invitatory antiphon for the day. Use this with Psalm 95, which you will find on page 688 in the one-volume Catholic Book Publishing Co. breviary. If you have a dfferent edition, hunt for the “Ordinary”, which is a bunch of instructional pages inconveniently buried between the Proper of Solemnities and the Psalter. You will notice instructions to repeat the antiphon several times throughout the psalm, reminiscent of the responsorial psalm at mass. Do not feel obligated to do this if you don’t want to. This is a practice more suited to public recitation (like monasteries) where the group is divided into two “choirs” that take turns with responses. Those who pray privately just say the antiphon before and after.
Morning Prayer is lot like Night Prayer, just a bit longer. First the psalmody, which usually consists of two psalms and a canticle. (canticle: a psalm-like passage that is from some other part of the Bible) Anitiphon, psalm, glory be, antiphon. I know they stick the psalm prayer in there such that you’d think it comes before the repeated antiphon, but the General Instructions imply that this is not the case. Recite the psalm prayer after you have finished with the antiphon.
After psalmody, switch from the psalter to the front section of your book, the Proper of Seasons. Go to the Fourth week of Lent, find the correct weekday, and continue with the reading and the responsory. Then the canticle of Zechariah (antiphon, canticle,Glory Be, antiphon.)
NB:Save yourself endless annoyance by making a photocopy of this canticle from the Ordinary and pasting inside the front cover of your breviary so it is easy to find each day until you know it by heart.
Next, the intercessions. There are several ways to do this. You’ll notice that each petition is divided into two parts. (again, for group recitation). You may read these petitions, then repeat the “Lord-hear-our-prayer”-type response given in the beginning. OR you may simply read each petition WITHOUT using that response at all. Both options are in the General Instruction. I usually skip the repeated response, being a piety-challenged person who wants my liturgical hours to be short and sweet.
Next, recite the Our Father. Then the final prayer. Conclude with, (while making the sign of the cross),May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
You will notice that the psalms of Morning prayer have, well, a nice morning feel to them. They often refer to the morning, to daybreak or dawn, to the rising of the sun and the beauty of creation. This isn’t just the Church trying to be cute and give us some Hallmark moments to rouse us from our AM stupor until the coffee kicks in. It’s because the Divine Office is meant to sanctify each part of the day. We are asking God to bless and consecrate our morning, our midday, our evening, and all the activities that go with each of these. It all fits together. Like the movements of a symphony.