This is part one of a lenten series on the Liturgy of the Hours, aka The Divine Office, aka the breviary. The purpose here is to educate readers who want to know more about it, and maybe, during this holy season, integrate the liturgical hours into their daily prayer life.
Part I- So, What Exactly is this?
The Liturgy of the Hours is a collection of daily psalms, prayers, and scripture readings that has been part of the Church’s liturgical prayer life almost from it’s very beginnings. It is prayed at morning, midday, evening, night, plus one other “floating hour” that can be done at any time. Many people only pray one or two of the liturgical hours each day rather than all five. The two principle hours are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and these are what the Church recommends to lay people above all the others. (Don’t let the term “hours” scare you. It only takes a few minutes to recite each one.)
You may also have heard other names for the liturgical hours, names derived from Latin. Lauds, Vespers, and Compline are the other names for Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer. Daytime Prayer can be called Terce, Sext, or None, depending on whether it is prayed at Mid-morning, Noon, or Midafternoon.
The psalms and readings of the Divine Office rotate in a four week cycle throughout the year during ordinary time. There are additional variations for the liturgical seasons and/or feast days.
Although long perceived to be the territory of religious and clergy, the Divine Office is strongly recommended by the Church to us lay people. The revision of the Liturgy of the Hours that came after the Second Vatican Council was done partly with the aim of making it more accessible to the laity. As recently as last November, Pope Benedict stated that he wishes all laity become familar with Morning, Evening and Night prayer.
The Liturgy of the Hours is, as its name implies, liturgical prayer: along with the mass it forms the public worship of the Church. When you pray the Liturgy of the Hours you are praying on in the name of the Church, and in union with the Pope, clergy, religious and laity throughout the world who are praying it. Thus, the Liturgy of the Hours is on a different level from the rosary, chaplets, novenas, and devotionals. For that reason alone, it is worth considering as an addtion to one’s prayer life.
I have been praying the Divine Office for many years. Although I do write about other Catholic topics on this blog, its main purpose is to encourage and teach people to pray it, and to share some of the spiritual treasures I find in its pages every day.
Questions about the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office are welcome in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer all of them, based on long practice and careful study of the Church’s instructions regarding this prayer. And stay tuned for the next installment in this introductory “course”.