An Overview

I ocassionally write about the Liturgy of the Hours and daily prayer. Below is an explanation of the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as some links in case you want to try a daily devotion based on the traditional Liturgy of the Hours.In the original Liturgy of the Hours and adaptations that seek to imitate it, eight liturgical hours constituted the entire Daily Office. An “hour” can refer to not just a time of day but the service for that time of day. The hours are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. Prime is rarely seen anymore which was usually said immediately after Lauds. Today it is mostly said in religious communities during “chapter,” which is a (usually) daily meeting of the community.

Matins, also known as “Vigils” or simply “the Office of Readings,” is the first hour of the day, usually said during the night before dawn. In the contemporary Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, Matins is referred to as “the Office of Readings,” since most people find it difficult to wake up at 3 or 4 to pray. An important part of this hour, traditionally, is the Invitatory, also known as the “Venite” psalm. Many adaptations of the Divine Office put this psalm at the very beginning of the day.

The next hour is Lauds, often called Morning Prayer. It is a service of praise, and it is meant to prayed near or right after dawn. In most versions of Lauds, the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zachary, is said. Lauds, with Vespers, are considered “hinge” hours, the most important to pray.

The hours of (Prime, if you say it,) Terce, Sext, and None are known collectively as “minor hours.” They are the shortest of the day, usually consisting of a brief hymn, an antiphon, three psalms, a versicle, a reading, and a prayer.

Vespers, usually said at dusk, is the other “hinge” hour, and is a service of thanksgiving. The Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary, is often said at Vespers. Many versions of Vespers involve reference to incense as the hour of Christian Vespers coincides with the incense offering at the Temple in Jerusalem. I often burn incense during Vespers, which is also a very common Orthodox custom.

An Outline of a Typical Office

Matins (aka Vigils aka Office of Readings)
-Opening Versicle (V/. O Lord open my lips R/. And my mouth shall proclaim your praise)
-Psalm 95 with an antiphon.
-Hymn (usually a medieval poem from Latin)
-3 – 12 psalms (3 is the usual, more in the case of monks)
-2 – 9 readings (again, 2 is the minimum, but there can be many more depending)
-Te Deum (aka the Ambrosian Hymn; feast days only)
-Closing Prayer (this is usually the closing prayer from Lauds)
-Closing Versicle (e.g., “Let us bless the Lord.” “Thanks be to God.”)

Lauds (aka Morning Prayer)
-Opening Versicle (V/.O God Come to my assistance R/. O Lord make haste to help me).
-Hymn
– 3 – 5 psalms
– Short Reading (2 or 3 verses, max.)
-Responsory (about six verse total)
-Canticle: Benedictus (Canticle of Zachary, w/ antiphon)
-Litany (typical in Benedictine Offices, but not in others; often found in other versions during Advent and Lent)
-Closing Prayer (this will often be the same prayer that is said at the other hours for the closing prayer, but not always).
-Closing Versicle

Terce, Sext, and None (Mid-morning prayer, mid-day prayer, and mid-afternoon prayer, respectively)
-Opening Versicle (as at Lauds)
-Hymn
-3 psalms
-Short Reading (as above)
-A Versicle with Response (varies with the hour and the day).
-Closing Prayer.
-Closing Versicle

Vespers (aka Evening Prayer)
-Same structure as Lauds, except the Magnificat is said instead of the Benedictus.

Compline (aka Night Prayer; Compine is not like any other hour)
-Opening Versicle (as at Lauds)
-Examination of Conscience (or, in common, a penitential rite)
-3 psalms (typically Psalms 4, 91, and 134, sometimes without antiphon)
-Short Reading (similar to above)
-Responsory (ditto)
-Canticle: Nunc Dimittis (aka Canticle of Simeon)
-Closing Prayer (this one never changes)
-Blessing
-Marian Antiphon (during most of the year, from Pentecost to Advent, it’s the Salve Regina, but it changes for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter).
-Closing Versicle.

Daily Prayer Resources, Mostly Online

The following links are ordered from the shortest and simplest to the longest and most complicated, and accompanied by a brief discussion and explanation of each. The first link, before each entry, takes you to the main daily prayer page on that site; following the entry, several links will allow you to go straight to certain services on that site. If you know of any more daily prayer resources, let me know and I’ll include them here.

The Northumbria Community’s Daily Office
Follow the links on the left side of the page to find Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. This is an excellent daily office to begin with. It’s accessible, relatively brief, and easy to use. The Noonday prayer never changes and is particularly short, so short it could be easily memorized and said in a few minutes of noon-time quiet. Their compline is different for every night of the week and is named after an ancient or medieval Celtic saint.

The Episcopal Church USA’s Daily Prayer
The above link takes you to a easily-used online version of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer available on the website of the Church of the Holy Cross, in Raleigh, North Carolina. I haven’t found an easy-to-use feed that supplies each day’s daily prayer as practiced by the Episcopal Church, but if you know of one let me know. You can hear each day’s Morning Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church here, and even subscribe to it as a podcast.

The Church of England’s Daily Prayer
Above is a link to the Church of England’s Daily Prayer page, and below the various services for yesterday, today, and tomorrow are given as links. The first three services are from Common Worship, a “contemporary” service book. The second set of services are from the traditional Book of Common Prayer. The two sets of services differ in language used and slightly in structure and length.

CW Morning Prayer

CW Evening Prayer

Night Prayer (Contemporary)

BCP Morning Prayer

BCP Evening Prayer

Night Prayer (Traditional)

(Daily Prayer provided by the official Church of England web site, © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, 2002-2004.)

Orthodox Daily Prayer
Father Peter Gregory of Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Lowell, Massachusetts has compiled this online prayerbook, that has a whole host of prayers for various occasions, including adapted orthros (matins) and vespers services near the bottom of the page.

Jordanville Prayer Book
The Jordanville Prayer Book has been referred to as the “gold standard” of Orthodox prayer books. I am in no position to evaluate such a claim, but that is the claim that’s made. Published by the Holy Trinity Monastery, this is based on Russian Orthodox usages. What’s convenient about it is how much it has: the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, Prayers upon Rising, Prayers before Sleep, Prayers during the day, Selections from Matins and Vespers, along with many Canons, Konatkia, Tropraria, and Akathists, among other texts. When you go to the page, the top left frame helps you navigate to the larger sections (i.e., the liturgies), while the lower left frame helps you navigate within those sections (i.e., the different components of each liturgy, akathist, etc.)

The Roman Breviary
This is the granddaddy of them all, in terms of Western Christianity. The Roman Breviary forms the backbone for almost every version of daily prayer used in the Christian traditions that trace themselves to the Church of Rome. The version fo the Breviary linked above is, from what I can tell, a version from before Pius XII’s reforms of the obvious. It is even more complicated than the Breviary in use at the time of Vatican II. If you’ve never prayed the full Roman office before, be warned: this website can be difficult to use. One advantage is that it presents the whole office in Latin and English, including the Martyrology. The Benedictine form of the office, in its pre-Vatican II fullness can be purchased here and here, the latter being a noted version for singing.

4 Responses to “A Guide to the Divine Office”

  1. irishanglican Says:

    I was a RC Benedictine for several years in my early 20’s,(born in Ireland and raised RC). I am now in my late 50’s. It was a good life in many ways, but was not my calling. I left both the RCC, and the Benedictine’s years ago. But still have a place for St. Benedict. I am now an Anglican priest. Catholic but something Reformed like Barth, but very E. Orthodox friendy. And yet right in the middle of all this I was a Royal Marine Recon officer, Gulf War 1. From that, there is no more mere existential questions, but the ground of ontological reality! But to know Christ, is still a gift and revelatory! Simply Pauline.

    Fr. Robert


  2. Thanks Robert! I hope you’re back to read my (occasional) postings again.

  3. fr joseph Says:

    This is just to let you know that the links (both) in “Orthodox Daily Prayer” are broken.
    I am an Anglo-Catholic Benedictine priest, living in an “anchor-hold” in the inner-city, by my Bishop’s blessing. The witness is not a large and flashy one, but in today’s world, the Light of the Gospel MUST be lived wherever we are placed.

  4. Bob Wickizer Says:

    I am the rector of a small Episcopal parish in Muskogee OK. There is a good site of the Episcopal Daily Office at

    http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html

    Bless you in your life and work

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