Divine Office

What is Divine Office?

“From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfills the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world.”

-Office of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship.

So what is the Liturgy of the Hours?
The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the whole People of God. In it, Christ himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” His members participate according to their own place in the Church and the circumstances of their lives. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office either with the priests, among themselves, or individually.

The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours demands not only harmonizing the voice with the praying heart, but also a deeper “understanding of the liturgy and of the Bible, especially of the Psalms.”

The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the psalms into the age of the Church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated. Moreover, the reading from the Word of God at each Hour with the subsequent responses or troparia and readings from the Fathers and spiritual masters at certain Hours, reveal the deeper meaning of the mystery being celebrated, assist in understanding the psalms, and help one prepare for silent prayer. The lectio divina, where the Word of God is so read and meditated that it becomes prayer, is thus rooted in the liturgical celebration.

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.

The worship “in Spirit and in trugh” of the New Covenant is not tied exclusively to any one place. The whole earth is sacred and entrusted to the children of men. What matters above all is that, when the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the “living stones,” gathered to be “built into a spiritual house.” The Body of the risen Christ is the spiritual temple from which the source of living water emanates. Incorporated into Christ by the Holy Spirit, “we are the temple of the living God.”

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Two, Section One, Chapter Two.

How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours

In the Roman Catholic Church priests are required by canon law to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours each day while deacons are required to pray the morning and evening hours. The practice among religious communities varies according to their rules and constitutions. The Second Vatican Council also exhorted the Christian laity to take up the practice, and as a result, many lay people have begun reciting portions of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Current Roman Catholic usage focuses on three major hours and from two to four minor hours:

– The Officium lectionis or Office of Readings (formerly Matins ), major hour
– Lauds or Morning prayer, major hour
– Daytime prayer, which can be one or all of:

o Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer
o Sext or Midday Prayer
o Non or Mid-Afternoon Prayer

– Vespers or Evening Prayer, major hour
– Compline or Night Prayer

All hours, including the minor hours start with the verse Ps 69/70 v.2 (whereas as did all offices before the Council except Matins and Compline) “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me”, followed by the doxology. The verse is omitted if the hour begins with the Invitatory (Lauds or Office of Reading). The Invitatory is the introduction to the first hour said on the current day, whether it be the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer. The opening is followed by a hymn. The hymn is followed by psalmody. The psalmody is followed by a scripture reading. The reading is called a chapter (capitula) if it is short, or a lesson (lectio) if it is long. The reading is followed by a versicle. The hour is closed by an oration followed by a concluding versicle. Other components are included depending on the exact type of hour being celebrated.

In each office, the psalms and canticle are framed by antiphons, and each concludes with the traditional Catholic doxology.


Liturgy of the Hours / Divine Office / Breviary

All three names refer to the same reality, the official prayer of the Church offered at various times of the day in order to sanctify it. Clergy and religious have a canonical obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as official representatives of the Church. Increasingly, the laity are also praying it, though they do not do so in the name of the Church.

Liturgy of the Hours – From liturgia horarium (L) and the Greek litourgia, a service performed by an official.

Divine Office – From officium divina ( L.), a divine service or duty.

Breviary – From breviarium (L.), a compendium (of the canonical hours).

The Divine Office is also called the Opus dei (Work of God).


The Divine Office owes its remote origin to the inspiration of the Old Covenant. God commanded the Aaronic priests (c.1280 BC) to offer a morning and evening sacrifice (Ex. 29:38-29). During the Babylonian Exile (587-521 BC), when the Temple did not exist, the synagogue services of Torah readings and psalms and hymns developed as a substitute for the bloody sacrifices of the Temple, a sacrifice of praise. The inspiration to do this may have been fulfillment of David’s words, “Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119:164), as well as, “the just man mediates on the law day and night” (Ps. 1:2).

After the people returned to Judea, and the Temple was re-built, the prayer services developed in Babylon for the local assemblies (synagogues) of the people were brought into Temple use, as well. We know that in addition to Morning and Evening Prayer to accompany the sacrifices, there was prayer at the Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours of the day. The Acts of the Apostles notes that Christians continued to pray at these hours (Third: Acts 2:15; Sixth: Acts 10:9; 10: 3, 13). And, although the Apostles no longer shared in the Temple sacrifices—they had its fulfillment in the “breaking of the bread” (the Eucharist)—they continued to frequent the Temple at the customary hours of prayer (Acts 3:1).

Monastic and eremitical (hermit) practice as it developed in the early Church recognized in the Psalms the perfect form of prayer and did not try to improve upon it. The practices were quite individual from monastery to monastery. At first some tried to do the entire Psalter (150 Psalms) each day, but eventually that was abandoned for a weekly cycle built around certain hours of the day. Among the earliest Psalter cycles of which we have a record is the division given by St. Benedict in his Rule ch. 8-19 (c.550), with canonical hours of Lauds (Morning Prayer) offered at sunrise, Prime (1st hour of the day), Terce (3rd hour, or Mid-morning), Sext (6th hour or Midday), None (9th hour or Mid-Afternoon), Vespers (Evening Prayer) offered at sunset, and Compline (Night Prayer) before going to bed. In addition, the monks arose to read and pray during the Night. This Office of Matins (Readings) likewise had its divisions, into nocturnes, corresponding to the beginning of each of the “watches of the night” (Ps. 63:6), that is, 9 pm, midnight and 3 am. With the reforms of the Second Vatican Council the traditional one-week Psalter cycle became a four-week cycle.

Although the Divine Office has gone through various forms, and reforms, including that of Vatican II, its basic structure, combining Psalms, prayers, canticles and readings, has been relatively constant since the 11th century. Originally the practice of monks, it was also used by the canons of cathedrals and other great churches. The Roman Breviary, perhaps as old or even older than the Benedictine, was originally the Office of the canons of St. Peters and the other Roman Basilicas. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) extended its use to the Roman Court (curia). When the Franciscan Order was looking for a convenient one volume Office for its much-traveled friars to use, it adopted this Breviarium Curiae, but substituting the Gallican (French) Psalter for the Roman. This modified Roman Breviary was then spread throughout Europe by the Franciscans. Pope Nicholas III (c.1270) would then adopt this popularized Franciscan version of the Breviary as the Breviary of Rome itself.

After the Council Trent, and its reforms, the Roman Breviary became the Office of the entire Latin Church. It should be noted that religious orders have a right to their own version, though many simply use the Roman Office.

Liturgical Gestures

Sign of the Cross – normal way unless indicated

1. Invitatory. At the words: Lord, open my lips. Made with right thumb on the lips.

2. Opening Antiphon (unless preceded by the Invitatory). At the words: God, come to my assistance.

3. Gospel Canticles (Morning and Evening Prayer). Made on first verse of the Canticle (Blessed be the Lord …, or, My soul magnifies the Lord …).

4. Dismissal. Either when the blessing is given by a priest or deacon, or, when lead by a lay person, at the words: May the Lord bless us…


The liturgical bow for the Names of the Persons of the Trinity (an incline of the upper body of about 30 degrees) is given throughout the Liturgy of the Hours when called for (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit …).

The bow of the head at the name of Jesus.

Postures During the Liturgy of the Hours

There is some variety upon the common pattern. Some communities, for example, stand for the antiphons and doxology during the Psalter, even when they sit for the Psalms themselves. The general pattern is:
Stand – Invitatory, Opening Antiphon, Psalm and Hymn
Sit – Psalmody, Reading, Responsory
Stand – After the Responsory until the end