A tradition, dating back to early Christian times, has been the recitation of the Liturgy of the hours. The Liturgy of the Hours first began within local Churches during the celebration of the Mass. It was considered an essential accompaniment to the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that the fullness of worship in the Eucharist, may pour over into each hour of the day. Slowly, the Liturgy of the Hours developed into an instrument for individual prayer, “as a source of piety, and nourishment”. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 90) Now, by using this form of prayer, one is able to respond to the Lord’s call to pray without ceasing.
The Liturgy of the hours contains prayer for each interval of the day, including Morning Prayer (Lauds), Mid-Morning Prayer (Terce), Mid-Day Prayer (Sext), Mid-Afternoon Prayer (None), Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline). It is designed in such a way to fill one’s whole day with praises to God. While religious communities engage in the full office throughout each day, the Laity may take part in the hours that coincide with their day-to-day activities. Lauds and Vespers are considered to be the hinges of the entire Divine Office and retain the most important role. The format of Lauds and Vespers begins with a hymn corresponding to the liturgical season, followed by an Antiphon, or response. The Psalms are then recited, and the Liturgy concludes with a scripture reading and prayer for intercession. Along with each day’s prayer is the Office of Readings, which can be recited at any hour of the day. The Readings, derived from Holy Scripture, continue on a four week cycle. This cycle, although different from the cycle of readings for mass, are selected in such a way as to harmonize with the mass readings. The passages selected for the Office of Readings are to offer a common precept and “have been chosen to present, in the course of the year the principal stages of history of salvation.” (Liturgy of the Hours, Advent Season 15)
The Liturgy of the Hours comes in both a one volume and a four volume set. The one volume Christian Prayer is a condensed version of the four volume Liturgy of the Hours. The one volume includes the same morning, daytime, evening, and night prayers. However, contains an abbreviated office of readings, and different hymns to be sung at the commencement of each prayer. Each version of the Liturgy of the Hours (one volume and four volume) includes a small booklet called the St. Joseph’s Guide, which basically serves as a map to help one navigate through the book. Beginning the Liturgy of the Hours may seem daunting at first. However, a full commitment is not necessary at once. Rather, a gradual devotion is what many people find most practical. One should keep in mind that an earnest and faithful effort is what we are called to as Christians, not immediate success.
The Liturgy of the Hours is constructed in such a way as to reach to each member of the Church, taking into account the different vocations all are given. For that reason, the Liturgy of the Hours continues to be the official prayer life of the Church, while also being a fruitful means of prayer for the laity.
Second Vatican Council, constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1964.
The Liturgy of the Hours, Advent Season, 1975