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I think The Prayer of the Hours, The Divine Office or Breviary, is a great Catholic tradition that seems to be going through a ‘revival’ among lay people in  recent days.  As a result, some parishes have (re)-introduced this practice in their community (morning & evening prayer), so people may come to church to say the daily Prayer of the Hours,  and practise a tradition which has been somewhat ‘restricted’ to consecrated religious people and clergy. Many people, however, recite the Divine Office at home with their families.

The Divine Office is the public prayer of the Church. This beautiful Catholic tradition has its roots in the Psalm and ancient daily prayer of the Jewish people, and has developed throughout the history of the Church in monasteries, cathedrals and parishes, in the more present day. 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 Divine Office used to be prayed in Latin, but in the past 3 decades modern languages have also been introduced by parishes.

So where does this Tradition originate from?

In Psalm 118 (119), a Psalm ascribed to King David, we read: ‘Seven times a day I will praise you’, this originated the tradition of  regularly reciting sets of prayer throughout the day. The Divine office is comprised, therefore, of seven sets of prayers to be recited through the day. These are:

1- Matins or Lauds ( Midnight prayer)
2-Prime ( the name comes from the start of the Roman day, 6 am)
3-Terce (the third Roman hour, 9 am)
4-Sext (the sixth Roman hour, 12 am)
5-None ( the ninth Roman hour, 3 pm)
6- Vesper (evening prayer)
7- Compline ( night prayer)

The chanting of psalms makes up a major portion of each of the hours of prayer. Each of the prayers have a particular theme according to the time of the day they are meant to be prayed, for instance the Morning Prayer is a prayer of praise, consecrating the day to God. It has a strong theme of  ‘Offering our day to God’, whereas the Night Prayer has a theme of thanksgiving.  For instance, the traditional structure of  the Morning prayer is:

Hymn
First Psalm
Old Testament Canticle
Second Psalm
Scripture Reading
Responsory
Benedictions ( Gospel Canticle)
Intercessions
Our Father
Concluding Prayer

In this way each of the prayers should follow a particular structure with some varying components. These components may change according to the Calender of the Church or seasons, such as during Lent, Christmas, Eastertide, Solemn Feasts and so on…

Why is the Prayer of the Hour called the Church’s Prayer?

Because the Divine Office is prayed throughout the Church it must follow some very specific rules as to how and when each Psalm should be prayed, where even particular postures (sitting or standing) have to be observed for each specific component of the prayer. But more importantly, the Church establishes the proper themes,  Psalms, canticles and readings for each period or season which are organized in periods of 4 weeks Psalter, which are tied up with the liturgical year of the Church.

The Church’s calendar include, besides the main sections (such as Lent, Eastertide, Advent, and so on), a general 34 weeks every year. Each of these sections has a particular Sunday on which they start – first week of Advent (when the Baptism of Our Lord is celebrated [the first week of the year], first week of Lent and Easter Sunday).  Each of these correspond with the first week of the four-week Psalter. The cycle then repeats itself so that there is always a relationship between the Sunday of the year and the week of the Psalter.

There are various informative websites where one can learn more about reciting the Divine office and using a prayer-book.  Once one gets familiar with the different prayers and learn how to place the various markers for each particular time of the year,  it becomes a great enjoyment to be able to unite with the whole of the Church in prayer to praise God and give Him thanks. I find that reciting the liturgy of the hours has been a wonderful way to enhance my prayer life.

 For further help and info on the Divine Office please check these:

www.ebreviary.com

www.universalis.com

 

 

 

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