The Divine Office

 

The Church’s praise is not to be considered either by origin or by nature the exclusive possession of clerics and monks but the property of the whole Christian community.’ (General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours n.270)

Christ told us of the need to ‘pray continually and never lose heart’ (Luke 18:1) and the Church has faithfully followed this by never ceasing in her prayer and by urging us to pray: ‘Through him (Jesus), let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15). We, the Church, do this by not only celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, perhaps most especially by praying the Liturgy of the Hours – whose purpose is to sanctify the day and all human activity with prayer and praise of God.

 

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the recitation of the Divine Office had become a very complicated affair with, sometimes, a large number of books (Bible, hymnbook, lectionary, book of psalms etc) needed on hand to recite just one ‘hour’ . Even with the introduction of the ‘breviary’ (which ‘abbreviated’ the number of books required into a smaller number of volumes), the Prayer of the Church had become  inaccessible to most of the men and women who make up the greater part of the Church. The Church’s daily prayer had, little by little, been taken away from the Christian people and entrusted to clergy and religious.

 

The Second Vatican Council, responding to the many calls for revision, addressed this and the  end result was a completely revised Divine Office, finally promulgated by Paul VI in 1970. The Office was now restored as the Prayer of the Church. While still ‘sanctifying the entire day with prayer’, the number of hours was reduced from eight, which included offices in the middle of the night, to five – the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer (Compline). Religious orders often add two additional times of prayer, at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

 

Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer form the two ‘hinges’ of the daily worship of the Church and are probably the most familiar to lay men and women. They are the principle hours of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Church encourages them to be celebrated by individuals in their daily lives, but also where possible in parish churches, particularly Evening Prayer (also known as Vespers or Evensong) on Sundays.

monk-reading-the-bible

The formula for both Morning and Evening Prayer is simple: Introduction – Psalmody –Scripture –Prayer.

MORNING PRAYER

EVENING PRAYER

INTRODUCTION

V.  Lord, open our lips.

R.  And we shall praise your name

[Invitatory Psalm (Pss 94, 99, 66 or 23) with its antiphon]

INTRODUCTION

V.  O God, come to our aid.

R.  O Lord, make haste to help us

 

HYMN

HYMN

PSALMODY

Antiphon 1

A ‘morning’ psalm

Antiphon repeated

     (Silent Prayer)     

Antiphon 2

Old Testament canticle

Antiphon repeated

     (Silent Prayer)

Antiphon 3

A psalm of praise

Antiphon repeated

     (Silent prayer)

PSALMODY

Antiphon 1

A psalm

Antiphon repeated

     (Silent Prayer)     

Antiphon 2

A psalm

Antiphon repeated

     (Silent Prayer)

Antiphon 3

New Testament Canticle

Antiphon repeated

     (Silent prayer)

SCRIPTURE READING

(Silent Prayer)

SCRIPTURE READING

(Silent Prayer)

SHORT RESPONSORY SHORT RESPONSORY
GOSPEL CANTICLE

Benedictus antiphon

Canticle of Zachariah

Antiphon repeated

 

GOSPEL CANTICLE

Magnificat antiphon

Canticle of Mary

Antiphon repeated

 

INTERCESSIONS

Invocations of praise

 

(silent prayer)

INTERCESSIONS

Prayers of intercession

(final prayer always for the faithful departed)

(silent prayer)

The Lord’s Prayer The Lord’s Prayer
Concluding Prayer Concluding Prayer
BLESSING BLESSING

 

So, why pray the Prayer of the Church?

Primarily because it is the Prayer of the Church – and we are never alone while praying it.  Because it sanctifies the whole twenty-four hours of the day throughout the world, there is always someone, somewhere, praying along with us.  It is also a beautiful form of prayer, being based on the psalms – so rhythmic and beautiful in themselves. Finally, it is, whether prayed alone or in a communal celebration, liturgical prayer.  As Fr A.M Roguet OP points out, in his book the The Liturgy of the Hours: the General Instruction with Commentary,

whether it be a group…of lay people, or even a lay person on his [her] own – if they celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, they are truly praying the prayer of the Church, with Christ, and their celebration is ‘liturgical’ in the fullest sense of the word.”