The Liturgy of the Hours

One of the topics I have covered a few times during the Coronavirus is prayer (see for those articles & homilies). Today I would like to cover a particular form of prayer required of clergy and religious but an option for all, the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

We can pray in various ways (see “Prayer & Devotions” for some of the most common). Most of the ways are prayers we might do on our own. There are some, like the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross that are often prayed in groups as well as individually.

The Mass is the public prayer of the Church. It is done together with a congregation. We pray the Mass not as individual believers but as a community of believers. We are united not just with those in the same church building as us but with all Catholics for the Mass transcends time and space to unite all those who pray the same readings and prayers of the Mass.

The Liturgy of the Hours is also considered “public prayer.” The term “public prayer” does not mean it can only be prayed in groups. Even when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours alone, we pray the same psalms, readings, and prayers as others. Thus, even when we are alone, we still pray together.

As a member of the clergy, I am obligated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is one of the things a clergy person obligates themselves to at their ordination.

After thirteen years of priesthood and seven years of seminary life before than, I will admit praying the Liturgy of the Hours has become routine for me. Thus, there can be days where I pray the Liturgy of the Hours more out of obligation than personal desire. This does not mean I don’t want to pray. It just means I need motivation. Are there not times when we might not feel like going to Mass but we do because we are obligated? We need to pray.

However, the obligation is not the only reason I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I like knowing that when I pray the hours, I am not praying alone. I am part of something bigger than myself. This is part of what it means to be Catholic. There are times when a verse in one of the psalms, canticles, or readings really hit home with something I need to hear.

So, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? It calls the Liturgy of the Hours as it calls for prayers on a cycle throughout the hours of the day. Diocesan clergy pray five times a day (some religious, especially those in monasteries pray seven times a day). It keeps us in a spirit of prayer throughout the day, keeping with Paul’s words, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This is not unique to Christians. It comes from our Jewish origins. Muslims also keep a similar pattern of prayer throughout the day.

The Liturgy of the Hours centers on the 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms. It also includes canticles from other books in both the Old and the New Testament. Two of the hours include intercessory prayer for the needs of the world. Hymns are also included.

So, what are the five times a day when the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed?

The first is the Office of Readings (aka Vigils). For monasteries, it is prayed in the very early hour of the day (hence, it’s name, vigils, keeping vigilant through the night into morning). For diocesan clergy and the laity, it can be prayed at any time of the day. It includes three psalms/canticles (Here, I note that religious orders, especially monasteries can have their own cycles for the Liturgy of the Hours that may include a different number of psalms – see the page from the website of the Abbey of the Genesee for their version.). It also includes a hymn, two extended readings, one from the Bible and one from the early church fathers or more recent church documents.

The second cycle is Morning Prayer (aka Lauds) at daybreak. It includes a hymn, three psalms/canticles, intercessory prayer, a scripture reading and response, the Canticle of Zechariah taken from Luke 1:68-79, and the Lord’s Prayer.

The third cycle is Midday Prayer (aka Sext). It includes a hymn, three psalms/canticles, and a short reading. As the name suggests, it is prayed in the middle of the day. (Monasteries add two other cycles, one mid-morning known as Terce and one mid-afternoon, known as None.)

The fourth cycle is Evening Prayer (aka Vespers). It mirrors Morning Prayer and is prayed as the day progresses into the darkness. It includes Mary’s Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55.

The fifth and final cycle is Night Prayer (aka Compline). It includes a hymn, a penitential rite calling us to reflect on our day as it concludes, a psalm, short reading and response, and the Canticle of Simeon, found in Luke 2:29-32. At its conclusion, a Marian prayer/hymn is offered.

Traditionally, there are set books with all the palms, hymns, readings, and prayers properly laid out that you can purchase. I prefer to pray from a book but you can also find the Liturgy of the Hours online on websites/apps like


Fr. Jeff

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