What is “The Liturgy of the Hours”?

Catechism of the Catholic Church #1174:

…the Liturgy of the Hours “is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father.

Whenever I talk to other Catholics, I think the prayer they have heard the least about is ironically “The Liturgy of the Hours” (also known interchangeably as the Divine Office). I say ironic, because next to the holy sacrifice of the Mass-and indeed, in some ways more so-the Liturgy of the Hours is the most minutely ingrained of activities in the life of a Catholic (at least for priests, nuns, and monks). Whereas the Mass is widely attended and known to all Catholics, the Divine Office is known primarily to non-laity (that is the priests, nuns, and other consecrated religious). This is likely due in part to the fact that while attendance at Mass is mandatory for all the faithful, participation in the Liturgy of the Hours is only demanded of the consecrated religious {Read Code of Canon Law 1174 for details}.

But what is “The Liturgy of the Hours”? In simple terms, it is a selection of readings from sacred scripture (the Bible), various writings from saints and theologians, and various small reflections. Additionally, as the name would suggest, the prayer is prayed throughout different hours of the day. And depending on the time of day, the specific version of the Divine Office is called either Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, or Compline. Lauds is for morning, Terce is for the middle of the day, Compline for right before bed, and so forth. This list is found in Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, which goes into greater detail about how the hours should be treated saying that Lauds and Vespers are, “the two hinges on which the daily office turns; hence they are to be considered as the chief hours and are to be celebrated as such.”

In Use

From the phrasing and preference thus far, it’s easy for those who are not part of consecrated lives to assume that this prayer is exclusive to such groups. However, nothing is further from the truth. The Code of Canon Law says that those in married or single lives are “earnestly invited to participate in the liturgy of the hours” and The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God.”

The Divine Office is so highly regarded as a prayer by the Church, that it is described almost as an extension of the Mass itself:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1174 (part 1):

The mystery of Christ, his Incarnation and Passover, which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, “the divine office.” This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to “pray constantly,” is “so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.”In this “public prayer of the Church, the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. Celebrated in “the form approved” by the Church…”

Personally, I have found this ancient and rich prayer immensely interesting. Though the prayer is not prayed by many laity, I pray Lauds every morning and  Compline before I go to bed. If you are interested in trying out the Liturgy of the Hours, I highly recommend a website such as divineoffice.org (which has Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline and one of the prayers for the middle of the day). If you find you are interested enough in the Office, you might be interested in getting your own book of Christian prayer or the four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours. A google search would be sufficient to find either. (The big difference between the two is that the Christian prayer book does not have Matins: one of the longest hours.)

P.S.

One of my all time favorite ways to pray the Divine Office is to chant it. There is chanted recording by the monks of Norcia here:
http://osbnorcia.org/en/category/audio

(The header image is from the same website.)

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Sources:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1174-1175

Code of Canon Law 1173-1175

Sacrosanctum Concilium 81

Photo used in post is from:
http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2014/07/the-art-of-book-in-third-millennium.html#.VfrK0xFViko

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