Seven times a day I have praised Thee – Ps 118:164
Structured prayer is a hallmark of the Catholic faith and is one of the many endearing attributes that distinguish it from so-called denominations. Priests and deacons greatly benefit from saying the morning and evening prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours lauds and vespers. It is also known by the name of the Divine Office. Consecrated religious -nuns and monks- enjoy prayer every office, or hour, of every day. As a Catholic practice, it dates back to St Benedict and his monks in the 6th century. The Divine Office is, admittedly, a bit difficult at first. It changes daily and there are weekly cycles, seasons, propers, commons, and special offices. In my experience, it is enriching but sometimes distracting. I felt it would be a progression or advancement from the Little Office, but it was not. In fact, the Little Office has been an extension or addition to the Divine Office for certain religious orders in the past. So, the Little Office is much simpler having the same prayers daily for only three offices. It is an excellent little practice to take up that gives us, the laity, structure for our prayer life and to provide us with an extension of the sacred liturgy. It connects our homes and our daily lives in a very real way to the life of the Church.
The structure in its “modern form”found in most common publications of the Little Office is barren compared to the traditional one. It typically only provides prime and vespers under the names “morning prayers”and “evening prayers”respectively, which is a bit unfortunate but necessary for some that want to ease into the devotion. The traditional Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary consists of many more opportunities for prayers. There are technically eight distinct names, matins and lauds are typically said together making seven hours. The hours, or readings,are:
Matins at midnight
- Lauds at 3 AM
- Prime at 6
- Terce at 9
- Sext at noon
- None at 3 PM
- Vespers at 6 PM
- Compline at 9 PM.
If one happened to miss prime or vespers, it would certainly be possible to recite another hour to make up for it and subsequently fill the day with small liturgical devotions in honor of the Blessed Mother. The hours are not actually 60 minutes as one might be inclined to think but take only about 10—15 minutes depending on the liturgical season. During Advent, Lent, and Epiphany, the prayers change a bit here and there to suit the season but not in any way that is overly difficult to follow. My personal favorite and the one I use daily is The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Baronius Press first published in 2007 and follows the 1961 Editio Typica of the Roman Breviary. It also includes the Gregorian Chant to be used with the Little Office. It has a calendar of feast days, indulgences, commemorations, the angelus, the Litany of Our Lady of Loreto, and an excellent in-depth explanation of the Little Office. The main body of the book containing the Little Office is in English and Latin.
In the preface of the Little Office from Baronius Press, Very Rev. Fr John Berg, FSSP writes:
Devotion to Our Lady is part of the spiritual life of the Church and fulfills her words that all generations will call her blessed (Lk 1:48). The Little Office will help the faithful to pray with even greater devotion to Our Blessed Lady, either privately or in groups (Little Office, vii).
Of course, Our Lady magnifies the Lord and uses our prayers to glorify Him and as a means to lift up our hearts to Him. The Little Office is a Marian devotion composed of Scripture keeping the Sacred Word in our hearts and minds throughout the day. As we read in St John’s Gospel, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”(Jn 1:14). So, when we recite the Office and meditate on the words of Scripture, Our Lady brings about a mystical coming of Christ within us. St Jerome is commonly quoted as saying, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”Thus, Scripture passing through our eyes, out of our mouths, and moving through our minds sanctifies our senses and intellect. The inertia, so to speak, of this devotion will subsequently echo through our souls daily and at the hour of our death.
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on OnePeterFive, and is reprinted here with kind permission.