Liturgy of Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer of the Universal Catholic Church. It is a prayer of the whole Church, for the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world, prayed by all clergy, religious Orders, secular Orders, lay groups, families and individuals. The Liturgy of the Hours, like other liturgical services, is not a private matter, but belongs to the whole Body of the Church, whose life it both expresses and affects. The Liturgy of the Hours is a structured form of prayer that includes antiphons, hymns, psalms, canticles, readings, intercessions and more. It is recited at various times of the day and celebrates the lives of saints, special days and feasts according to the liturgical year.

The Liturgy of the Hours was developed over the centuries and accumulated a large volume of prayers and readings that over time was abridged to arrive at its present form. This a bridgement received the name of Breviary, which was suitable as according to the etymology of the word, it was an abridgment. The Breviary itself is structured and organized into many sections, beginning with general and introductory information: Decree, General Instructions, Principal Celebrations of the Liturgical Year, General Roman Calendar and General Principles. Then follows the core of the Breviary: Proper of Seasons, Solemnities, Psalter, Proper of Saints, Commons, Office For The Dead, and Hymns. The last section contains: Music for the Liturgy of the Hours, Office Of Readings, Poetry, Two year cycle of scriptural passages and indices.


The Christian Prayer Book or Breviary contains all that is needed to recite the Liturgy of the Hours. Today, its present form is the result of a process of growth that began from its inception in the first century, that continually took new form up until the fifth century, with even further development and expansion up until the eleventh century and emerging in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the breviary began to take its shape. From this point until present day, with the exception of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which were a time of many schisms and saw a decline in its growth, the breviary developed in what can be referred to as a period of reform.
Up until the twelfth century, the breviary was primarily used by Benedictines, Roman Basilicas and other hierarchy of the Church. Under Innocent III (1198-1216), the use of the breviaries began to spread to all in the Church. The Order Friars Minor, the Franciscans were primarily the ones who popularized its use. Unlike their Benedictine and Cistercians brothers, Franciscans were not bound to a monastery. For Franciscans, as St. Francis so desired, the world was a monastery that the brothers were to be active in, preach and perform missionary work. The prayers up to this time were of great volume and to accommodate the need of the Franciscans to carry this prayer with them, an abridged version was created, a single volume version, that could easily accompany the Franciscan brothers on their travels. As a result the Franciscans successfully spread the use of the Breviary everywhere they went. As a further positive consequence of this effort, Nicholas III adopted the Breviary of the Friars not only for the Curia and the Basilicas, but extended it’s use to become the prayer of the Universal Church.


Christ taught us, “You must pray at all times and not lose heart” (Lk 18:1). The Church fulfills this precept not only in the celebration of the Eucharist, but through the Liturgy of The Hours. An important aspect of the Liturgy of the Hours is that it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and night. The purpose of the Liturgy of The Hours is to sanctify the day and entire range of human activity. The structure of prayer has been revised in such a way as to make each hour correspond as much as possible, to the natural time and take into account the circumstances of today’s life.


Our sanctification is accomplished and worship is offered to God in the Liturgy of The Hours in such a way that an exchange or dialogue is established between God and us. In the Liturgy of The Hours, God speaks to His people and His people respond with both prayer and song. During the Liturgy of The Hours we have access to holiness of the richest kind through the life giving word of God. It is during the Liturgy of The Hours that faith is deepened as participants raise their minds to God, offering their worship and receiving His grace.


From the tradition of the Universal Church, lauds (morning prayer) and vespers (evening prayer) are the two hinges on which the daily office turns and as such, are considered to be the chief hours to be recited. From the many elements of the morning prayer, it is clear that it is intended and arranged in such a way as to sanctify the morning. Saint Basil the Great gives the following description:
It is said in the morning in order that the first stirring of our mind and will may be consecrated to God and that we may take nothing in hand until we have been gladdened by the thought of God, as it is written: ‘I was mindful of God and was glad’ (Ps 77:4) or set our bodies to any task before we do what has been said: ‘I will pray to you, Lord, you will hear my voice in the morning; I will stand before you in the morning and gaze on you’ (Ps 5:4-5).”Celebrated as the light of a new day, the liturgy of the hours also recalls the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As Saint Cyprian states,”There should be prayer in the morning so that the resurrection of the Lord may thus be celebrated.”
When evening approaches and the day is far spent, evening prayer is celebrated in order that we may give thanks for the gifts of that day. We express our gratitude for God’s guidance and assistance in all that we have done well during the day. When we do pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we should endeavor to do so with harmony of mind and voice. The Liturgy of the Hours is a worthy celebration to be prayed with recollection, attention, reverence and devotion. Although it is permissible to include particular intentions at both morning and evening prayer, the focus of our prayer intentions should be for the entire Church. Universal intentions should take precedence over all others, namely for: the Church and its ministers, secular authorities, the poor, the sick, the sorrowful, the needs of the whole world such as peace and other intentions of this kind.