More than forty years ago, I was very fortunate to be taught how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours – often referred to as ‘the Divine Office’ or ‘the Breviary’. It is a practice I continue and for which I remain enormously grateful.
The Liturgy of the Hours is the official prayer of the Catholic Church. Every day, the same sequence of prayers is prayed across the world – by the Holy Father in Rome; by bishops, priests and religious in every nation; and by numerous lay members of the Church. This last category, of the lay faithful, seems to be growing over the last few years – and that is a good thing.
The ‘Hours’ part of the title refers to the various ‘hours’ which are prayed each day – ‘lauds’ or morning prayer, and ‘vespers’ or evening prayer are the two main hours. There are several other hours during the day, all rounded off by the short night prayer, which is also known as ‘compline’.
For a long time, the Liturgy of the Hours was seen as being the exclusive work of clerics. Thankfully, the Second Vatican Council reminded the faithful that this prayer belongs to all the Church, not only the ordained or consecrated. At the same time, the breviary – the name of the book containing the written version of the Hours – was rewritten and simplified.
Many people use the single volume ‘Daily Prayer’, which contains everything other than the ‘Office of Readings’, a longer Hour which begins the day (it does, however, contain this Hour for certain feasts, such as the Easter Triduum). There is also a four volume set which contains everything. Also, there are shorter version of the Daily Prayer books, such as ‘Morning and Evening Prayer’ – this contains those two specific Hours, which the Council referred to as “the hinges” of the Divine Office.
Each hour consists of Psalms and canticles, a reading from Scripture, a responsory and general intercessions, finishing with a concluding prayer. Morning Prayer is the longest Hour and generally takes around fifteen minutes to pray. The other Hours tend to be shorter as a rule.
The public and communal prayer of the people of God is rightly considered among the first duties of the Church. From the very beginning the baptized ‘remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers’
General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours
There are two great values to the praying the Hours.
The first value is that this is the prayer of the Church herself, the greatest prayer she offers outside of the Mass. Every day, the Church sends up this prayer to Heaven, from every corner of the earth, praying in unison even though separated by distance and language. When we pray the Hours, we add our voice to this great ascending prayer, even if we are praying alone.
The second value is that the Hours offers us a way to “pray without ceasing”, as the Scriptures ask us to do. Added to this, the Hours also offer us a ready-made format for our prayers – we can sometimes find it difficult to decide on a structure or a way of praying, so have it all ready and laid out tends to be very useful.
When I learned to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, it was in a printed book – such as the one pictured above. Although this can seem a little complicated to begin with, you soon get the hang of it – especially if praying with someone who is familiar with it already. There are also numerous instructional videos available free online to help with this. Now, there are also various apps for smartphones and tablets, so that all you need to know is the date – the app prepares everything else and you simply need to pray.
From a personal perspective, I find the Hours a highly beneficial way to offer prayer, for the reasons noted already. Further to this, those Hours provide moments during the day when – no matter what else is going on – I can simply pause and take a little time out to ‘recharge’ myself spiritually, and to broaden my thoughts and concerns way beyond myself. I find the Hours to be a very beautiful and contemplative way to pray, one I enjoy very much indeed.
If you feel this way of praying might offer you something, I would ask you to go and do a little more reading on the subject, or to ask your priest about it (even how to set up and use the breviary itself), or just to give it a try. You might find that you like it.
Use this link if you’d like to read a little more about the Liturgy of the Hours.
And this link will offer various resources available on YouTube.