LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Friday, 22 January 2010

re : The Divine Office

A couple of days ago I put up a post called 're: Apostolate for the Divine Office', based on a post on New Liturgical Movement about Lay recitation of the Divine Office; and I suggested that this was a very good thing, to be encouraged . . . so this is the first of an 'occasional series' of posts about the Office, in the hope that it will stimulate people to say the Office.

One of the things which the NLM post highlighted was that people were concerned about the time it takes to say the Office; and another was knowing how to say it.

Obviously both of these are important issues; but obviously how to do it is potentially quite a complex topic : so as a quick starter, let me just try and give some idea about the time involved : and at this point I'm specifically talking about the time involved in saying 'The Divine Office'.

(That's the UK version of the modern Office in English; although in fact the US version wouldn't be very different, and the Latin version - which is what I use now - is also very much the same.)

The Divine Office for any given day consists of six parts :

The Invitatory
this is just a single psalm, with a repeated Antiphon, said before the first Office of the day

The Office of Readings
this is usually said first thing in the morning; but can be said at any time after noon the previous day, or (as many Monasteries do) during the night

Morning Prayer (Lauds)

Prayer during the Day

Evening Prayer (Vespers)

this is sometimes called 'Night Prayer', and is said before bed - which may make it after midnight

Thinking of time, the question of how you say the Office is obviously important. If you say it all aloud, then it will take longer; if you literally just read it, then much less time. Traditionally, one said the Office, but without vocalising it; your lips had to form the words, but they were not meant to be audible. As that is how I have always said it when alone, those are the timings I know . . . adjust to suit your own technique. (Equally, some people say the Office quite quickly, others want to linger over every verse of every psalm. My timings are for a reverent, but continuous, recitation . . . again, adjust to suit.)

For me, the Invitatory takes about a minute and a half; and the Office of Readings for an average day takes about 20 minutes.

Lauds and Vespers (which have the same format) take about ten minutes each, Prayer during the Day not much over five (sometimes less); and Compline perhaps a little over five.

Now : I bought my first copy of The Divine Office in (I think) 1974 - so I'm fairly familiar not only with my way about the books, but also with the words - I have, after all, said every psalm many times; all of which may mean that my timings are a little faster than yours will be (at least to start with) . . . but it gives you an idea of the scale of the commitment.

May I say, finally, that if you have not done it before, I would start off with Lauds and Vespers, with or without Compline; and then add in Readings (perhaps only at weekends to start with), and finally Prayer during the Day. Lauds and Vespers are probably the most important bits of the Office, and provide a good starting point; and once you're used to them, the rest of it really will follow quite easily.

As you will see, even saying the whole Office should take a total of (say) an hour a day; which is hardly an unreasonable commitment - especially when you think that it is providing the best possible bedrock of prayer for the rest of your spiritual and devotional life.

Next Time . . . I don't know; whatever you'd like to know seems quite a good idea !


  1. I work as a teacher and a compromise way of saying the office when time is more limited it to say Lauds and Vespers but add the two readings from the Office of Readings to one or the other. Usually, I add them to Lauds in the holidays and Vespers in term time. I do say Compline when I can.

  2. An interesting solution to a common problem.

    If you read this, Robert, it would be interesting to know whether, if you are adding them to Vespers, you are adding today's or tomorrow's.

  3. I add them to today's whether I do so at lauds or vespers.
    Many people say thay find sunday morning psalms repeated daily in the Christmas & Easter Octaves irksome. I substitute the Office of Readings psalms on some of the days in the octave.
    The Addistional Curates' Society has now reprinted the "frequently Recurring texts" booklet whcih includes the Benedictus & Magnificat. I long ago lost the insert which came with the books.
    Are you, incidentally, a Dominican as you mention Blackfriars, Oxford from time to time?

  4. The absence of a source of supply for replacement laminated cards is an irritation for many !

    Sadly no, not a Dominican; just lucky enough to have many Dominican friends, at Blackfriars and elsewhere.

  5. I should like to meet Aidan Nichols, or hear him speak. I have joined his supporters group on Facebook.
    I do have Latin inserts as well which a friend got from abroad.

  6. Robert;
    why not try contacting Blackfriars in Cambridge to find out what Mass he's saying on a given Sunday ? Don't forget - being the Order of Preachers, there is always an Homily at Mass !

    The Latin cards are readily available; it's only the English ones which don't appear to be available separately.

  7. For many years now we have been saying Morning Prayer every weekday before Mass in our parish. Books are available for those who don't have their own breviary (Morning and Evening Prayer with Night Prayer - Collins)and I found it an
    excellent way to begin Praying the Office.

    Once familiar with the format of Morning Prayer, it was simple to add Evening and Night Prayer too when at home. I've yet to work out how people manage to fit in Midday Prayer!

  8. Miss Ellen;
    splendid - if only ALL parishes did that !

    It's not actually 'Midday Prayer', it's 'Prayer during the Day'; and in fact the book provides variants for 'Before Noon', 'Midday' and 'After Noon' - so you do it at any time to suit yourself. In my case, during the week it's quite often immediately before Vespers !

  9. The English ones are now available from the Additional Curates society, an Anglo-Catholic publisher. They are £2.50. Many A/C clergy use the Roman Breviary. Tel: 0121 382 5533.

  10. Robert;
    many thanks for that useful tip - I know so many people who want new ones !

    By the way - watch this space (so to speak) - as a new blog solely about the Divine Office will be arriving shortly, and will be announced here.

  11. I am a Jesuit missionary priest presently posted to a small rural parish outside Monrovia, Liberia. The day after my arrival on November 3, 2009, I introduced the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer in the small church. About 7 people (including the catechist) join me for morning prayer while just prior to evening Mass, we recite (and sometimes even chant) Vespers. We have been faithful to this practice every day since. And I do this not merely for the benefit of the laity but equally important, so that I may remain faithful as a priest to the promise I made on my day of [priestly ordination to pray daily the Divine Office (at least the major Hours).
    I have been a missionary priest for nearly 21 years and wherever I have had the joy of serving as such, I have always introduced the same practice. In my two Nigerian parishes where I served a total of 12 years, the response of the laity was tremendous (dozens for weekday and hundreds for Sunday Morning and Evening Prayer). The paucity and expense of the printed psalter forced us to type up and print our own weekly Prayer Sheets containing the Morning and of Evening Prayer...
    After Holy Mass, the Divine Office is my daily spiritual-liturgical sustenance (followed by the Holy Rosary of course, which here, in Liberia, I also pray daily WITH the people). This is the secret - to pray not only FOR the people but also WITH the people.
    God bless your blog. I am very new to this technology as I am only now - and for the first time - connected almost daily to the internet.
    Oremus pro invicem!
    EJD, SJ
    PS. As for the Office of Readings (the Hour I love most), I often do this while traveling on the road. When the occasion permits it - which if often here in Africa - even this Office is recited WITH the passengers...