Introduction to the Divine Office, for Laymen: part 1

I suggested in my pre-lent posting possibly taking up part of the “divine office”. What is it anyway? This is intended as a sort of introduction.

In general, the Divine Office is a series of liturgical prayers which take place at different periods of the day. It consists mainly in the praying of the Psalms (from the book of psalms in the Bible). Clergy and members of religious orders are obligated to celebrate the divine office. It is known under a number of different names including: The Divine Office, The Hours, The canonical Hours, The Breviary, the Liturgy of Hours. These prayers are part of the Church’s liturgy, and as such are public corporate prayer of the whole Church (this is the nature of liturgical prayer, even when said privately by individuals it is a participation in the universal prayer of the whole Church).

7 times

Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy just judgments.” Psalm (118)119:164. There are seven canonical “Hours” each day. They are Matins (aka- Vigils or Office of Readings) Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. You can see how the Church sanctifies time by her liturgy. Both the year with feasts fasts and seasons, and also the day with the Divine Office. This practice has it’s roots in the Old Testament morning and evening sacrifices and daily cycle of temple liturgy. It has carried over and developed naturally from old covenant to new.

How to get started?

I am planning on following this up with a post on the different forms of the Divine office; books, resources and such. For now though, I will offer some simple ways to join in this practice. First, I think it is unrealistic for a laity to think they will celebrate the entire office throughout the day in the manner of a monastic. It seems better to adopt one particular office to start with.

The easiest way to experience the office is by attending public celebrations of it. Unfortunately, while there are exceptions, this is now unheard of in Roman Catholic Churches. Most parish priests say their breviary privately and most laity are ignorant of its existence. You can see if there are any religious orders in your area. Monasteries and similar religious houses usually have their ‘horarium’ or schedule of Hours published. Check their websites, information pamphlets or on signs near the entrance. If that doesn’t work Eastern Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican/Episcopal (and some Lutheran) churches often have public offices, though the form is somewhat different. In Easten Churches there are often public Vespers on Saturday evenings and Matins Sunday morning before Divine Liturgy (Mass). In Anglican/Episcopal (and Catholic Anglican Use) parishes choral morning-song (Matins and Lauds) and evening-song (Vespers and Compline) is a strong tradition. I know some Catholics may have scruples about attending ‘services’ outside our church. Follow your conscience on this. Personally I don’t find it too troubling since it is our own prayer tradition that is being maintained by them, while we are neglecting it. It ought to implore us to restore our tradition in our own church.


For private celebration by laymen I would suggest the best place to start is Compline. It’s short, it’s sweet and the monastic form of it is the same every day. You can make it your evening, or before bed prayer. In most monasteries it is said from memory with minimal lighting.

Here are links containing the office of Compline to get you started, they are mostly unofficial translations of the medieval office, don’t worry about singing… unless you want to. –

From-Monastic diurnal noted (does not include the psalms, they are- #s 4,91,134)

Anglican Compline 1 –

Anglican Compline 2

Extraordinary Form Roman (1962 not the same everyday) –

As practiced currently at New Melleray Abbey Iowa, modern language-



Part 2

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2 Responses to Introduction to the Divine Office, for Laymen: part 1

  1. Pingback: A Layman’s introduction to the divine office: part 2 | Under the Mantle

  2. Pingback: Divine Office for Laymen, Resources | Under the Mantle

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