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.

Current Roman Catholic usage focuses on three major hours and from two to four minor hours:

  • The Officium lectionis or Office of Readings (formerly Matins ), major hour
  • Lauds or Morning prayer, major hour
  • Daytime prayer, which can be one or all of:
      * Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer
      * Sext or Midday Prayer
      * Non or Mid-Afternoon Prayer
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer, major hour
  • Compline or Night Prayer

All hours, including the minor hours start with the verse Ps 69/70 v.2 (whereas as did all offices before the Council except Matins and Compline) “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me”, followed by the doxology. The verse is omitted if the hour begins with the Invitatory (Lauds or Office of Reading). The Invitatory is the introduction to the first hour said on the current day, whether it be the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer. The opening is followed by a hymn. The hymn is followed by psalmody. The psalmody is followed by a scripture reading. The reading is called a chapter (capitula) if it is short, or a lesson (lectio) if it is long. The reading is followed by a versicle. The hour is closed by an oration followed by a concluding versicle. Other components are included depending on the exact type of hour being celebrated.

In each office, the psalms and canticle are framed by antiphons, and each concludes with the traditional Catholic doxology.

Major 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.

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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.

Source: Wikipedia.org
The English translation of The Liturgy of the Hours (Four Volumes) ©1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission by Surgeworks, Inc for the Divine Office Catholic Ministry. DivineOffice.org website, podcast, apps and all related media is © 2006-2016 Surgeworks, Inc. All rights reserved.

28 thoughts on “How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours

  1. BOBBICK….HOW IS YOUR SON? I HAVE HIM ON PRAYER LINES AND THEY LIKE ONCE IN A WHILE IF IT IS OK TO GET AN UPDATE SO THAT THEY CAN ZERO IN ON WHAT TO PRAY FOR….IE DOCTOR’S APPTS…TESTS..ETC. PRAY FOR HIM EVERY DAY AND HOPE AND PRAY YOU ARE BOTH DOING WELL IN GOD’S LOVING HANDS. FREDI

    • Thank you so much for praying for my son Kevin.. He has tumors in esophagus, lungs, lymph node and on his tongue. He started radiation this week. He was supposed to get a feeding tube today, but couldn’t get it done as tumor too large. They will try to go under skin to stomach. He needs to eat, he is so thin. He waiting now for Dr to call. It doesn’t look good and I am trusting God is in control. He has 4 living children and 9 grandchildren and one due to be born Friday. They are a close knit family and are very concerned for their dad and their mother who is taking this very hard. Again thank you for praying and God bless you and your prayer chain.. Bobbie

      • Lord Jesus, Kevin is seriously ill. May he find in each day renewed strength and a deeper faith and trust in You. Help him to develop a greater awareness of Your presence in every area of life. May he turn to You in prayer and accept love and support that family members and friends so want to give. And, Lord if it is in the Fathers plan, restore health to Kevin so he might continue to serve You as a witness to Your love and healing power. Amen

      • Continued prayers for Kevin, you who care for him, and the professionals who treat him. Joe K

  2. I used to be able to listen to the office but now I keep getting into the welcome message instead of the office. Do I have to make a contribution in order to receive this service?

    • Hello, here is what you need to know and do:
      It is your browser that is caching the “welcome” page in place of the correct page. It should be enough to press shift-reload (CTRL+R for Windows) on any given page to force the browser to load everything from the server instead of using the copy stored on your local computer. If that doesn’t work, please try this:

      – make sure you don’t have the Divine Office welcome page open in any browser window
      – empty your browser cache (here is a handy how-to http://www.refreshyourcache.com/en/home/ )
      – log-in to Divine Office from this URL: http://divineoffice.org/login/
      – only then, access the prayer you need

      A simple search with google for how to empty browser cache for, let’s say, Safari on iPhone, will get you the instructions you need if that link I sent is not useful.

    • In a book from my Fraternity called The Divine Office for Dodos (Devout, Obedient Disciples of Our Savior) there is a chart for times of prayer. Office of Readings anytime in the day. Morning Prayer between 6 and 11 a.m. Evening between 4 and 11 p.m. Night before bedtime. Hope that helps.

      • I notice that Morning Prayer may be said between 6am-11am. I am awake between 1-2am so say my morning prayer at that time. Is this acceptable or not?

      • Veronica-I believe that this is fine. I sometimes say the office of readings the night before the feast for the following day. I think it is more important to say it when you can PRAY IT.
        GOD BLESS YOU

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  4. Thank you for creating this iBreviary app. I have been using it to grow deeper into my prayer life.

    Something that is not clear, do we say all 4 Psalms of the invitatory? I’m a lay Catholic trying to say at least the morning and evening prayers, and it is not paricularly clear. Maybe, if we are meant to only some of the psalms, a sentence can be added to the instructions such as: “Choose any x-number of the following 4 Psalms to be prayed as Invitatory.”

    If we are meant to say all 4 Psalms of the invitatory, then maybe adding a link to jump back up to the appropriate Psalm after the Hymn would also be very helpful.

    On another note, I notice that there are a lot of prayers associated to different Religious Communities, most especially the Franciscans, but I have not seen any prayers associated to the Carmelites. If it were possible to add some prayers from this ancient Order, I am sure that it would bring joy to many people who use this app for their prayers, including myself.

    Thank you and may God continue to bless your Holy work.

  5. Pingback: How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours | Handicap

  6. Would it be possible to use both the former Latin names of each hour along with the newer English names? For instance,
    Office of Readings MATINS…Morning Prayer LAUDS, etc. For us older folks, it provides a kind of continuity with the past.
    Thank you

  7. Pingback: Do You Pray The Liturgy of The Hours?

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  11. iam glad that my sister share the website and i learned all the prayers.. it helps me to be always connected to GOD anytime of the day , despite of being resricted here in KSA to pronounced our faith but here i am praying to continue my thanksgiving, my salutation to our dear GOD. My faith is becoming more alive by being connected by HIM through YOU..the Holy spirit moves us stronger to continue as one community of faithful .. we have a small prayer grouphere who secretly commune in prayer known as healing community and so many members with cancer had been healed through our prayers.. Praise be to GOD the great HEALER..

    • @Br Sean-Francis, regarding your lost booklet, I believe you are talking about St. Joseph’s guide. We don’t sell them, but you can buy them on Amazon.com and a few other places.

  12. This is a wonderful resource and I am delighted to have discovered it. I belong to the Holy Spirit Interactive (HSI) community based in the Middle East and have been praying the Divine Office with fellow members for years now. This resource allows those who cannot join us to pray on their own. God bless your work.

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