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 outside Lent, on days within the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and on solemnities and feasts)
  • 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 © 2006-2019 Surgeworks, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

  1. Having trouble learning how to pray the Christian Prayer Large type edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. I have Edition #407/10

    However I have guide 2019 for # 406/G What I need is the guide 2019 for # 407/10 but can’t seem to be able to find it.

    This book is very confusing to follow and if I am not on the internet and dependent on the book , I am totally lost. Help Help

    • don’t get discourage, keep praying! It takes awhile to learn the format of the book, where ribbons should be, etc. God knows your heart’s intention and He will enlighten your knowledge of the prayer book in His time. Read and reread the instructions until it sinks in, even if it takes a year, which is how long it took me (I’m very slow, lol). If you happen to pray the wrong readings on a particular day, it may be that you needed to learn something from that day. Trust and Persevere in prayer…one day, you won’t need the guide anymore…thanks be to God!

    • Dear WaltMar,
      The LotH is complicated, but you can follow the guide you have (#406/G).

      From the Catholic Company website, publication #406/G is the guide for the one-volume “Christian Prayer” (the Liturgy of the Hours). So you have the guide for CP in regular print size. The guide for your large print edition (#407/10) is #407/G.

      But the only difference between the guides is print size. The page numbers are the same.

      Take an example. This site (divineoffice.org) gives the page references for Christian Prayer. We see that tonight’s Night Prayer reference is:
      Christian Prayer:
      Page 1052

      That means that Friday Night Prayer starts on p. 1052 in Christian Prayer, regardless of print size. And that’s where I am going to start Night Prayer in a few minutes.

      I hope this helps, at least a little (I learned a few things by working it out!). And I hope you keep at it. The rewards are great. As another commentor says, if you don’t do it perfectly, God will take your intentions into account.

      Best,

  2. My day starts here. It is a blessing to have this at my disposal. Since singing is praying twice, I thank those who chant.
    May your ministry continue to help many people like myself.

  3. I am in bed mostly n chronic pain and a number of lung chest throat n stomach and back issues. Cannot express how much this site blesses me. Thank you for this site and bless all who keep it up. It means a lot to me and many like me. Keep comments positive. We need to encourage one another. I can’t wait to see His face!

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