How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours
In the Roman Catholic Church, priests are required by canon law to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours each day, while deacons are required to pray the morning and evening hours. The practice among religious communities varies according to their rules and constitutions. The Second Vatican Council also exhorted the Christian laity to take up the practice, and as a result, many lay people have begun reciting portions of the Liturgy of the Hours.
The major hours consist of the Office of Readings, Morning (or Lauds) and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).
The Office of Readings consists of:
- opening versicle or invitatory
- a hymn
- one or two long psalms divided into three parts
- a long passage from scripture, usually arranged so that in any one week, all the readings come from the same text
- a long hagiographical passage, such as an account of a saint’s martyrdom, or a theological treatise commenting on some aspect of the scriptural reading, or a passage from the documents of the Second Vatican Council
- on nights preceding Sundays and feast days, the office may be expanded to a vigil by inserting three Old Testament canticles and a reading from the gospels
- the hymn Te Deum (on Sundays, solemnities, and feasts, except in Lent)
- the concluding prayer
- a short concluding verse (especially when prayed in groups)
The character of Morning Prayer is that of praise; of Evening Prayer, that of thanksgiving. Both follow a similar format:
- opening versicle or (for morning prayer) the invitatory
- a hymn, composed by the Church
- two psalms, or parts of psalms with a scriptural canticle. At Morning Prayer, this consists of a psalm of praise, a canticle from the Old Testament, followed by another psalm. At Evenning Prayer this consists of two psalms, or one psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle taken from the New Testament.
- a short passage from scripture
- a responsory, typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
- a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) for evening prayer
- intercessions, composed by the Church
- the Lord’s Prayer
- the concluding prayer, composed by the Church
- a blessing given by the priest or deacon leading Morning or Evening Prayer, or in the absence of clergy and in individual recitation, a short concluding versicle.
An Invitatory precedes the canonical hours of the day beginning with the versicle “Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Ps 50/51 v.17), and continuing with an antiphon and the Invitatory Psalm, usually Psalm 94/95 .
All psalms and canticles are accompanied by antiphons.
Unless the Invitatory is used, each Hour begins with the versicle “God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps 69/70 v.2), followed by a hymn. Each Hour concludes with a prayer followed by a short versicle and response.
Matins or the Office of Readings is the longest hour. Before Pope St. Pius X’s reform, it involved the recitation of 18 psalms on Sundays and 12 on ferial days. Pope Pius X reduced this to 9 psalms or portions of psalms, still arranged in three “nocturns”, each set of three psalms followed by three short readings, usually three consecutive sections from the same text. Pope Paul VI’s reform reduced the number of psalms or portions of psalms to three, and the readings to two, but lengthened these. On feast days the Te Deum is sung or recited before the concluding prayer.
After St. Pius X’s reform, Lauds was reduced to four psalms or portions of psalms and an Old Testament canticle, putting an end to the custom of adding the last three psalms of the Psalter (148-150) at the end of Lauds every day. The number of psalms or portions of psalms is now reduced to two, together with one Old Testament canticle chosen from a wider range than before. After these there is a short reading and response and the singing or recitation of the Benedictus. Vespers has a very similar structure, differing in that Pius X assigned to it five psalms (now reduced to 2 psalms and a New Testament canticle) and the Magnificat took the place of the Benedictus. On some days in Pius X’s arrangement, but now always, there follow Preces or intercessions. In the present arrangement, the Lord’s Prayer is also recited before the concluding prayer.
Terce, Sext and None have an identical structure, each with three psalms or portions of psalms. These are followed by a short reading from Scripture, once referred to as a “little chapter” (capitulum) , and by a versicle and response. The Lesser Litany (Kyrie and the Lord’s Prayer) of Pius X’s arrangement have now been omitted.
Prime and Compline also were of similar structure, though different from Terce, Sext and None.