The Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office, is the public prayer of the Church. At regular times of the day and evening, the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours ensures the continuous prayer of the Church is resounding universally around the globe. In a formal, liturgical way, the Liturgy of the Hours is the means of observing the Lord’s command for us to be vigilant in prayer at all hours: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” (Mark 13.35) St. Teresa highlights the importance of faithfulness for those who pray the Divine Office: “Do not neglect the hours of prayer which are observed by all… you never know when the Spouse will call you.” (Way of Perfection, 18.4)

The ancient practice of the praying of the psalms forms the heart of the Liturgy of the Hours. As King David sang long ago: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning, your faithfulness in the night,” (Psalm 92.2-3) The recital of the psalms and canticles of Scripture at regular Hours sanctifies the entire day and provides a foundation for other forms of prayer such as meditation and recollection.

The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Church or in a community gathering provides the opportunity to build unity in our hearts through the harmonization of vocal prayer. All who unite in praying the Liturgy of the Hours exercise the royal priesthood they received at Baptism. Priests, religious, and laity are all encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours to the extent possible according to their state in life. We unite our voices as the one voice of the Bride and join Christ Himself, as the Bridegroom, in prayer to God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Formally, there are seven Hours, or times of day, at which the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed: Office of the Readings (Matins), Morning Prayer (Lauds), Mid-morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Mid-Afternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline).

In the Proper of Seasons, the Liturgical Year is followed with formats that vary by season (Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, and Solemnities). In the Ordinary, the psalms and canticles are arranged according to a four week cycle. In the Proper of Saints, the feast days and memorials of the Saints are laid out according to the calendar year. In the Commons, the liturgical prayers for various themes, such as the “common of holy women”, are arranged. In the Hymns, the music which accompanies the office is laid out by season. In the Office of Readings, the readings for Matins are arranged.

Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the principal Hours which are celebrated. Morning prayer (lauds) is recited as one of the first acts of the day, to fill our hearts with the praise of God, and to recall the Resurrection of the Lord at the dawning of the new day. Evening prayer (vespers) is recited as the day draws to a close, to refresh our hearts with gratitude for the graces God has given us through the day, and to recall the last supper when Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of all. Both Morning and Evening prayer follow a similar format: introduction, hymn, two psalms and one canticle with antiphons, reading, responsory, Gospel canticle with antiphon, intercessions, the Our Father, concluding prayer, and dismissal.

This poem expresses the mission and importance of the Liturgy of the Hours:

The Bride’s Prayer

At the prime hours of the day,
We join the Church in faithful prayer;
Uniting all who seek the way
To Christ, in whose presence we share.

In the morning, the psalms of praise
Resound with joy poured from our hearts;
In the ev’ning, the psalms we raise
With thanks for all the Lord imparts.

The Hours prayed throughout the year
Give rhythm to daily routine;
Our hearts strengthen and persevere
In prayer through moments in between.

The Hours form a foundation
On which a house of prayer is built:
The Word sustains our formation;
And vigilance in prayer’s instilled.

The Hours unite all who pray
As one in Christ throughout each day.

Holy Spirit, unite our hearts
And voices as the Bride’s own voice;
In all graces the Lord imparts,
May we lift our eyes and rejoice. Amen.

References:

St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1174 – 1178, 2698

General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours

The Book of Christian Prayer is an abbreviated, but comprehensive version of the four volume Liturgy of the Hours. Guidebooks by calendar year are also available at your local Catholic bookstore.

(c) Paul Buis, 2005