Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Divine... Liturgy... of the Hours

I was recently asked the difference between the Missal and the Liturgy of the Hours books.  When my response got to be a page long, I decided I had to share it with more than just one friend!  I hope this is a good primer for anyone curious about Catholic liturgical life.

Liturgy of the Hours: The Divine Office
In Psalm 119, King David said that seven times a day, I praise the Lord. With that tradition ever fresh in Her mind, the Church has since the time of Christ gathered for prayer several times a day. This has been normalized and organized into the Liturgy of the Hours. Deacons, priests and nuns are bound to say 3-7 of these prayers per day depending on their schedule and the discipline of their order; they take 10-20 minutes each. The Poor Clares, for example, say all seven hours daily. They combine them so the first two are prayed together (Matins and Lauds) and the middle three are prayed together (Terce, Sext, and Non). The last two are prayed separate Vespers and Compline.

The time of the day for saying the hours is flexible, always according to one's own time zone, schedule and judgement, but religious communities do (and really should) have a set schedule.

Matins - The Office of Readings. Psalm 95, a hymn, 3 psalms, a Biblical reading, then a non-Biblical spiritual reading, closing prayer
Lauds - Morning Prayer. Hymn, two psalms, a canticle, a reading, a responsory, The Canticle of Zachary in the Gospel of Luke "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel...", petitions, Our Father, closing prayer. 
Terce Sext and Non - Mid-day Prayer. Said mid day at once or in three short spurts. Hymn, Three sets of three psalms each, readings, responsory, closing prayer. Quick and easy.
Vespers - Evening Prayer. Hymn, two psalms, a canticle, a reading, a responsory, The Canticle of Mary in the Gospel of Luke aka the Magnificat "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord...", petitions, Our Father, closing prayer.
Compline- Night Prayer. Hymn, one or two pslams, reading, Canticle of Simeon "Now You let your servant go in peace..." responsory, closing prayer, hymn to Mary. Also quick and easy... so you can head straight to bed!

Each hour begins with "O God come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me" except the first hour of the day when you say "O, Lord open my lips; and my mouth will proclaim your praise." Each hour ends with "May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to ever lasting life" except the last hour, "May the Lord grant us a restful sleep and a peaceful death."

The Church encourages all to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours-- also called the Divine Office -- in order to unite our hearts with God at many points throughout the day as well as to unite ourselves with the entire Church throughout the world. The Liturgy of the Hours is the four-volume book that has all of the psalms and readings in it.

The Divine Liturgy: Holy Mass
Holy Mass is likewise a daily prayer of the Church, but it is unique in that only the Priest (or bishop, pope) may say it. As laity (even if a nun or deacon), we only "assist" at the Mass by hearing and praying along with the priest. It is never possible to have the Mass without a priest.

 The Missal includes all of the prayers of the Mass. In the Latin Mass, it is a bit easier to understand because just one book is always used by the priest. In the English Mass, the missal is split into the Sacramentary and the Lectionary. The Sacramentary has all of the prayers of the Mass besides the readings, and the Lectionary contains just the readings.
This is St. Philip Neri saying the Holy Mass.

Holy Mass is a re-presentation of the very sacrifice that happened upon the Altar of the Cross by Jesus Christ, and given to us as an "everlasting memorial" in most Blessed Sacrament. In the Old Covenant, the Jewish temple rituals were performed just once a day, so a priest may serve a few times in his lifetime. In the Church today, the Mass can take place anywhere at any time because the priest is "in persona Christi" therefore any priest can say his own Mass anywhere and daily. Personally, I find it easiest to recognize the dignity and sublimity of the Holy Mass when I refer to it as the "Holy" Mass, and refer to the priest as "saying" the Mass rather than celebrating. It is a sorrowful yet mysterious gift that Christ has given us: that He would die in order to pour many graces on our souls.

When we assist at Holy Mass, the graces of that sacrifice can fall on our souls. We receive the Most Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion because that's the way that God set up sacrifices. The sacrifice is complete when the people sacrificing partake of the matter given to God (recall the sacrifice of the lambs at the Jewish passover). So, when we come to Mass and we have so many intentions on our hearts, we are able to place those (spiritually) on the host that the priest offers up to become the Body of Christ.

The Mass has two different types of prayers in it: the changeable parts called the Propers and the unchangeable parts called the Ordinary. Once a priest has said the Mass for the day, he has fulfilled the demands of that prayer. It is not more reverent to say more than one Mass (or for the laity: to attend more than one Mass) in one day, and it is only due to a shortage of priests that they are permitted to say more than one Mass per day (called bination).

Often, the Propers of the Mass are on-theme with what is prayed in the Divine Office that day. We can follow along in the Mass by using the Missal in the pew or getting a Missal that has all of the Masses for any day or Saint's feast. One reason I like to attend the Latin Mass is that I have the Missal; most of the time, you can't hear the priest anyhow, and you must read along! The laity were expected to have their Missals and follow along silently as the priest said Mass. I enjoy doing this in the English Mass even though usually, I can both hear and understand the words the priest says. For me, it sinks in better when I can read along.

Pillars of our Faith
A good priest I know said that attending Mass and saying the Divine Office are essential and I should do them as often as possible too. The Church only requires that a Catholic attend Mass once a week, however we are richly blessed in our country to be able to attend Mass so much more often and to have the freedom and ability to pray more often.

These two pillars of our Faith, but, a stool can't have just two legs: it will fall over. So, the third leg is the Holy Rosary, perhaps the most difficult prayer to pray for it involves intense mental discipline to meditate on the Mysteries.


  1. Thank you Mary! I have yet to start the RCIA classes and have been confused by the fact that the Divine Office prayers and the prayers said at Mass are not the same.

  2. first of all, congratulations and welcome! I hope you have a very blessed journey through RCIA and entrance to the Church.

    Great observation! I would love to do a little comparison (and I will get back to you with the results)! What I recall right now is that there are a few days throughout the year when they do line up: saint days, lent and advent.

    I'll get back at ya soon!

  3. I haven't yet been able to check on similarities between the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. If anyone else can leave a comment on this, please do!

  4. I haven't yet been able to check on similarities between the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. If anyone else can leave a comment on this, please do!