Recently in a little study group that I conduct, the question came up: What is meant by the Divine Office? The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, as it’s more officially called, is the system of prayers which all priests and deacons and many religious in perpetual vows are obliged to say each day for the benefit of the Church and the entire world. It is composed basically of the psalms in the book of the psalter, as it’s called, and then a number of other canticles and hymns found in the Bible, and then readings from the works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.
In monasteries, convents, and other institutions where priests and religious live together, the Liturgy of the Hours is usually said, or chanted, or sung in common. It has been composed by the Church over the centuries and provides the backbone for the official prayer by which the Church praises and honors God. It also provides a prayer system by which the clergy and religious of the Catholic world sanctify themselves and pray for the needs of the entire human community and especially of the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ.
It is divided into seven “hours” as they are called, but they certainly don’t take an hour to recite or even to sing. Those “hours” are Morning Prayer (formerly called Lauds), Midmorning Prayer (formerly called Terce), Midday Prayer (formerly called Sext), Midafternoon Prayer (formerly called None), Evening Prayer (formerly called Vespers), and Night Prayer (formerly called Compline.)
The whole thing can be done in about an hour, but should be spread out over the various times of the day as the Church intends. The Liturgy of the Hours is closely calibrated with the celebration of Mass each day, so that together they make up the celebration either of a solemnity, or a feast, or a memorial, or simply a weekday within our religious calendar. It is a tremendous advantage to have this prayer system by which we are to praise God each day, to fulfill the obligation of the Church to worship the Lord our God every day, and to pray for people and needs. Now that the Liturgy of the Hours is in the vernacular, many laypeople all over the world are joining with the clergy and religious in praying this way.
We are expected to be men and women of prayer, and the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the best ways to accomplish this, second only to the attendance and active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.