I had a question from Jackie that I thought I’d respond to in a post:

I was wondering if you could explain Liturgy of the Hours, Matins, praying the Office? (I hope I have these names right). I see references to these prayers, and am not sure what they are. Where can you find these prayers? Is there a tradition about who prays them and when?

The Liturgy of the Hours, which is also called The Divine Office or the Breviary, is the public prayer of the Church to praise God and sanctify the day. The Liturgy of the Hours is made up of specific prayers said at various times (“hours”) during the day and night. The chanting of psalms makes up a major portion of each of hours of prayer. What is cool about the Liturgy of the Hours (as with the Eucharist) is that the whole Church is praying the same basic form, so it has this deeply universal character to it. Plus, there is a wonderful rhythm of repetition (the Liturgy of the Hours is based on a four-week cycle) which helps one to deepen one’s encounter with God and God’s Word.

The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours explains the origin of the Liturgy of the Hours and its importance:

1. Public and common prayer by the people of God is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church. From the very beginning those who were baptized “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the community, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The Acts of the Apostles give frequent testimony to the fact that the Christian community prayed with one accord. [See Acts 1:14, 4:24, 12:5 and 12. See also Eph 5:19-21.]

The witness of the early Church teaches us that individual Christians devoted themselves to prayer at fixed times. Then, in different places, it soon became the established practice to assign special times for common prayer, for example, the last hour of the day when evening draws on and the lamp is lighted, or the first hour when night draws to a close with the rising of the sun.

In the course of time other hours came to be sanctified by prayer in common. These were seen by the Fathers as foreshadowed in the Acts of the Apostles. There we read of the disciples gathered together at the third hour. [See Acts 2:1-15.] The prince of the apostles “went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour” (10:9); “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (3:1); “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (16:25).

2. Such prayer in common gradually took the form of a set cycle of hours. This liturgy of the hours or divine office, enriched by readings, is principally a prayer of praise and petition. Indeed, it is the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ.

(To read the General Instruction, click here.)

Because the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the Church, all members of the Church are encouraged to pray it either in common with others or by themselves. Ordained ministers are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Some religious communities are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as part of their constitutions or rule of life; however all religious are highly encouraged to make this prayer part of their daily life. Parishes, families and individuals are also encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

The complete Liturgy of the Hours (with prayers, readings, instructions, hymns, feast days, etc.) is found in a 4 volume set.

Many people use Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours which can be considered a short version (1 volume) of the 4 volume set.

There are also different companion books that you can use with the two above books such as the Carmelites’ People’s Companion to the Breviary (two volume set). You can also find the Liturgy of the Hours online, for example, at eBreviary which offers Liturgy of the Hours prayers in Adobe Acrobat formats for prayer groups or for personal use.

So what exactly does the the Liturgy of Hours consist of? (Note: Latin words in parentheses are the traditional name for that particular hour.)

Morning Prayer (Lauds)
Prayer During the Day – Before Noon (Terce)
Prayer During the Day – Midday (Sext)
Prayer During the Day – Afternoon (None)
Evening Prayer (Vespers)
Night Prayer (Compline)
Office of Readings (Matins)

The structure for each prayer is similar. For Morning Prayer the basic structure is as follows:

The beginning of the hour or Introduction to Daily Office

Antiphon 1, Psalm, Glory Be, repeat Antiphon (Psalm Prayer optional)
Antiphon 2, Canticle, Glory Be, repeat Antiphon (Psalm Prayer optional)
Antiphon 3, Psalm, Glory Be, repeat Antiphon (Psalm Prayer optional)

Scripture Reading (may be followed by a period of silence or short homily)
Short Responsory
Gospel Canticle with Antiphon
Our Father
Concluding Prayer and Blessing

Well, I’m sure that’s more info than you ever wanted, but I do love the Liturgy of the Hours and so get carried away. I’ve written about the Liturgy of the Hours in a few posts (type in “Liturgy of the Hours” in the search widget on my sidebar).