by Pat Gohn
The Divine Office
When we think of an office, we usually think buildings, cubicles, rooms, and spaces where people work. Yet there’s another, less familiar, definition for the word: a service or a kindness done for another. When Catholics talk about the Divine Office, we are referring to time spent generously lifting our hearts and offering our prayer to God using the prayers of the Church known as the Liturgy of the Hours.
The prescribed prayers of the Divine Office are offered with daily devotion both day and night around the world. Keyed to the liturgical calendar of the Church, each prayer time contains vocal prayer, hymns, and readings from Scripture. A major portion of the prayers are taken directly from the Psalms. “Prayed by Christ and fulfilled in him, the Psalms remain essential to the prayer of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2586).
The Liturgy of the Hours has five main “hours.” They are the Office of Readings or Matins, Morning Prayer or Lauds, Daytime (Midday) Prayer or Sext, Evening Prayer or Vespers, and Night Prayer or Compline. Some priests and religious, especially in monasteries, add additional prayer times to the day. They often chant the Hours, too.
The Liturgy of the Hours sanctifies our time — our days and nights.
The Liturgy of the Hours [is] the public prayer of the Church which sanctifies the whole course of the day and night. Christ thus continues his priestly work through the prayer of his priestly people (CCC, Glossary, Divine Office definition).
Stop and imagine the graces being poured out: Not only is Mass being celebrated right now in different time zones around the world, but thousands of Christians are coming before God in prayer using the Divine Office. They made hold a printed breviary, or they might use a smartphone or tablet with the prayers, thus creating a cycle of ongoing, constant prayer being lifted to the Lord hour by hour.
It is just as St. Paul taught: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
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” [See Sacrosanctum Concilium, 84; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18] (CCC, 1174).
An invitation for the laity
In the past, many Catholics considered the Office the daily prayer regimen of priests and religious alone. Yet a careful reading of the Catechism suggests otherwise.
The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually (CCC, 1175).
Many benefits are discovered by people who pray the Liturgy of the Hours: increased devotion to God’s Word in Scripture and the Mass, a daily link to Church seasons and feasts, and a sense that one is never alone in prayer — but united with the whole Church in heaven and on earth. Finally, the Liturgy of the Hours is connected to the Eucharist and can help us grow in love of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The Liturgy of the Hours, which is like an extension of the Eucharistic celebration, does not exclude but rather in a complementary way calls forth the various devotions of the People of God, especially adoration and worship of the Blessed Sacrament (CCC, 1178).
Why not try it? Many people start with just one “hour” (which can be prayed in much less time than an actual hour). Try adding Morning Prayer or Night Prayer to you or your family’s routine. Or join with others if the Hours are offered in your parish or in a local religious community that welcomes guests to their chapel.
In this “public prayer of the Church,” the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. 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” (CCC, 1174).
LITURGY OF THE HOURS RESOURCES
Liturgy of the Hours, four-volume set (Catholic Book Publishing Corp.)
Christian Prayer, a single volume (Catholic Book Publishing Corp.)
The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey (Servant Books, 2013)
Apps and online versions: