THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS

   The Liturgy of the hours, also known as The Breviary, and The Divine Office, is the daily prayer of the Church. The practice of praying at set times comes down to us even from the early days of the Church. The structure of the Liturgy has been modified many times over the years but its purpose remains the same. It is there to help us fulfill the mandate to "pray unceasingly". (1Thes 5:17)

Today the Liturgy of the Hours is organized as follows:

THE INVITIATORY PSALM The Invitiatory is only said once each day. It comes before any of the other readings and acts as an introduction to the day. The Invitiatory begins with "Lord open my lips; And my mouth will proclaim Your praise." The Invitiatory is usually psalm 95, but Ps 100, Ps 67, or Ps 24 may be used.1 The Invitiatory psalm does not vary, except for the alternate psalms noted.

MORNING PRAYER (Lauds) As its name suggests Morning Prayer should be said first thing in the morning. Morning Prayer begins with the introductory verse, "God come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me." followed by the Glory be to the Father…etc. The main part of Morning prayer follows in this order: a hymn, a psalm, an Old Testament reading called a canticle, another psalm, the Benedictus (Blessed is the Lord… Luke 1:68-69), intercession prayers, and concluding prayer and dismissal. The hymns, psalms, and Old Testament canticle will vary day to day since they follow a set four-week cycle. The Benedictus is used every day. The concluding prayer will be one of two depending on whether a priest/deacon is present or not.

THE DAYTIME PRAYERS
Terce (the third hour in Roman reckoning, or mid-morning), Sext (the sixth hour: noon), and None (rhymes with "moan"), this is the ninth hour, or mid-afternoon. All these hours use the structure of: Introduction, Hymn, Psalmody (3 Psalms or portions of psalms), Reading, Concluding Prayer, Conclusion. Like morning prayer the psalms and readings will vary based on a four-week cycle.

EVENING PRAYER (Vespers) The structure of Evening Prayer is much the same as Morning Prayer with the following exceptions: in the place of the Benedictus, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is read; instead of an Old Testament Canticle, one from the New Testament is read.
The liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight, but the observance of Sunday and solemnities (major celebrations) begins with the evening of the preceding day. Each Sunday and solemnity begins on the evening of the day before with Evening Prayer I (First Vespers). Evening Prayer II (Second Vespers) is celebrated on the evening of the day itself.

NIGHT PRAYER (Compline). Compline should be said before retiring for the night, although the traditional time is 9 p.m. It consists of: Introduction, a hymn, an Examination of Conscience (optional), Psalmody (2 psalms), Reading, Canticle (Nunc Dimittis)(Luke 2:29-32) , concluding prayer, Conclusion, and Antiphon of Our Lady. The psalms for Night Prayer will vary based on a set one-week cycle.

OFFICE OF THE READINGS. The Office of the Readings replaced the older hour of Matins, which used to be said at midnight. The Office of the Readings can be said at any time of the day. It consists of: Introductory prayers; a hymn; three psalms; Psalm-prayer; transitional verse; a series of readings from Scripture, the saints or early Church fathers; and a concluding prayer. On Sundays, Solemnities, and Feasts the Te Deum is said before the conclusion.

Each priest is required to recite the Office daily. Lay people are not required but are highly encouraged to recite as much of the Office as is practical. Saying the Divine Office is almost equal to daily Mass in promoting holiness since, "Each day is made holy through the liturgical celebrations of the people of God, especially through the Eucharistic sacrifice and the divine office." 2

It is not necessary to have a priest or deacon present to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours. Groups of the faithful, lay groups gathering for apostolic or other reasons, even families are encouraged to pray the Divine Office. By doing so they help fulfill the Church's duty and "contribute to the salvation of the whole world".3

1 General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours Issued February 2, 1971 par 34
2 General norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar. 1969 Para 3 Part1
3 General Instructions Op cite par 21-27, 27.

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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, March 2001.