The Liturgy of the Hours, (also called the Divine Office) is something that’s cool about being Catholic that you may not even know about. Maybe you know that priests, deacons, and consecrated religious sometimes walk around with a well-worn fat little book. (The book is called the Breviary.) You probably know that these same folks do some kind of daily prayer. But, chances are, unless you’re in one of those groups, you’ve not been exposed to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Way back when, monks and sisters prayed at certain times of the day. In fact, this practice goes all the way back to the ancient Jews. The current schedule of prayers, which is basically the same as it was in the seventh century goes like this.
- Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office
- Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
- Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
- Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
- Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
- None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
- Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”, generally at 6 p.m.)
- Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)
[Thanks to Wikipedia for the list.]
When I go on retreat with the Trappist Monks at Gesthemani Abbey, the day begins with Vigils at 3:15 AM. Recognizing the realities of modern life, the Church only requires priests and deacons to pray Lauds (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer).
Morning and evening prayer consist of a hymn, three Psalms (the Psalter), a reading, a response, the Canticle of Zechariah (morning) or the Canticle of Mary (evening), Intercessions, the Our Father, and a closing prayer and blessing. Each of the elements changes daily and the Psalter changes differently from the rest of the elements, so there is a fair amount of jumping around the book. Each diocese puts out a book called the Ordo to guide us in using the Breviary.
Until recently there were two ways of praying the Office. There is a single-volume book that contains everything needed for morning and evening prayer. There is also a four-volume set that contains everything you need to do all the daily prayers including the Office of Readings, which is a longer office including two readings, one scriptural and one non-scriptural. Each of the four volumes is for a season of the year. (Advent, Lent, and two volumes for Ordinary Time.)
But, along comes the Internet and we have more options. There are several web sites that provide all the prayers online. And, more recently, there are apps for your smart phone. Most of the time, I do the Office with my Android phone. The obvious advantage is that I don’t have to carry around a book, I don’t have to jump around, and I can do my prayers at any time and any place (as long as my battery isn’t dead.)
Now, I’ve probably given you more information than you want or need. Here’s the thing. Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are doing it for you. Right now, as you read this, someone is praying for you. At least twice a day someone you know is praying for you (your pastor or deacon and me).
Heaven is being bombarded with prayers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it’s all for you.
If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.
Note: The Liturgy of the Hours is available online at Universalis.com and at ibreviary.com. Ibreviary also offers an apps for your smart phone. You can also listen to the daily office at DivineOffice.com.