Catholic Classroom: The Divine Office
The official prayer of the Catholic Church has many names; the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours and the Breviary each refer to this rich prayer that has undergone various modifications throughout the centuries. At its core, though, the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office/Breviary is meant to sanctify the day with prayer and offer praise to God at all hours.
The Divine Office has its roots in the early Church, when communal prayer at specific hours of the day was common practice. In its early days, the Liturgy of the Hours was prayed only by monks and religious like the Benedictines and Franciscans. They each followed slightly different structures and adapted the prayers to fit with their lifestyle. During the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, the Divine Office became the official prayer of the Latin Church, and the Roman Breviary was more widely distributed.
Today, the Divine Office is made up of five Hours: the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer (Lauds), Daytime Prayer (Terce, Sext, or None), Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline). Each hour is further broken up into prayers, Psalms, Gospel canticles, hymns, and other Scripture readings. Each liturgical season of the Church calls for a different set of prayers, and some feasts and solemnities also have unique corresponding prayers. The Major hours of the Divine Office are the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. These Hours are longer, while the Minor Hours (Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer) are more compact.
According to the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office is “principally a prayer of praise and supplication… it is the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ.” The document continues; “By offering praise to God in the Hours, the Church joins in singing that canticle of praise which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven; it is a foretaste of the heavenly praise sung unceasingly before the throne of God and the Lamb, as described by John in Revelation” (GILH, page 6). When we pray the Divine Office, we give God the glory due to Him but we also receive his Divine Word and get a foretaste of what the angelic praise of heaven is like.
Although only priests and religious are canonically obliged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day, lay people can benefit greatly from this prayer. If you decide to pray the Divine Office, you need not pray all five Hours each day. You could start by praying a shorter Hour like Night Prayer once a day, or you could commit to praying one of the longer Hours once a week. If you're unsure how to pray the Divine Office, we invite you to join CatholicTV for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer led by Bishop Reed and offered every day at 9am and 9pm ET respectively. If you're interested in praying on your own, you can purchase a Breviary or a book like this one, which contains Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer, and abbreviated versions of the Office of Readings and Daytime Prayer. For a digital version, we recomment the iBreviary app.
However you do it, we encourage you to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours in some way! This beautiful way of praying unites us with the entire Church--both on earth and in heaven--and reminds us that every moment of our lives can be sanctified and offered for God's glory.