The Liturgy of the Hours

Hermits, no less than monks, have traditionally recited the Prayers of the hours.
“The Liturgy of the Hours (Latin: Liturgia Horarum) or Divine Office (Latin: Officium Divinum) or canonical hours, often referred to as the Breviary, is the official set of daily prayers prescribed by the Catholic Church to be recited by clergy, religious institutes, and the laity.
It consists primarily of psalms supplemented by hymns, readings and other prayers. Together with the Mass, it constitutes the official public prayer life of the Church…The Liturgy of the Hours also forms the basis of prayer within Christian monasticism.
The Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Eucharist, has formed part of the Church’s public worship from the earliest times. Christians of both Eastern and Western traditions (including the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches) celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours under various names. Within Catholicism, the Liturgy of the Hours, once contained within what was called the Roman Breviary, is in its present form found in what in English editions is called either The Liturgy of the Hours (arranged in four volumes) or The Divine Office (in three volumes).
In Greek the corresponding services are found in the Ὡρολόγιον (Horologion), meaning Book of Hours. Within Anglicanism, the Liturgy of the Hours is contained within the book of Daily Prayer of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, as well as in the Anglican Breviary…
By the end of the 5th century, the Liturgy of the Hours was composed of seven offices. Of these seven, Compline seems to have been the last to appear, because the 4th century Apostolic Constitutions VIII iv 34 do not mention it in the exhortation “Offer up your prayers in the morning, at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, the evening, and at cock-crowing”. An eighth office, Prime, was added by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. These eight are known by the following names, which do not reflect the times of the day at which in the second millennium they were traditionally recited, as shown by the use of the word “noon”, derived from Latin (hora) nona, to mean midday, not 3 in the afternoon:
• Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office
• Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
• Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
• Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
• Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
• None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
• Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”, generally at 6 p.m.)
• Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)
This arrangement of the Liturgy of the Hours is attributed to Saint Benedict. However, it is found in Saint John Cassian’s “Institutes” and “Conferences”, which describe the monastic practices of the Desert Fathers of Egypt.”

“The Horologion (Greek: Ὡρολόγιον; Church Slavonic: Часocлoвъ, Chasoslov, Romanian: Ceaslov) or Book of Hours provides the fixed portions of the Daily Cycle of services (Greek: akolouthiai, ἀκολουθίαι) as used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.
Into this fixed framework, numerous moveable parts of the services are inserted… The Horologion is primarily a book for the use of the Reader and Chanters (as distinguished from the Euchologion, which contains the texts used by the Priest and Deacon). Several varieties of Horologia exist, the most complete of which is the Great Horologion (Greek: Ὡρολόγιον τò μέγα, Horologion to mega; Slavonic: Великий Часословъ, Velikij Chasoslov, Romanian: Ceaslovul Mare).
It contains the fixed portions of the Daily Office (Vespers, Compline (Great and Small), Midnight Office, Matins, the Little Hours, the Inter-Hours, Typica, Prayers before Meals). The parts for the Reader and Chanters are given in full, the Priest’s and Deacon’s parts are abbreviated. The Great Horologion will also contain a list of Saints commemorated throughout the year (with their Troparia and Kontakia), selected propers for Sundays, and moveable Feasts (from the Menaion, Triodion and Pentecostarion), and various Canons and other devotional services. The Great Horologion is most commonly used in Greek-speaking churches.
Various editions of the Horologion are usually shorter; still giving the fixed portions of the Daily Office in full, but with the other texts much more abbreviated (all of which are found in full in the other liturgical books). In addition, such texts often also contain Morning and Evening Prayers, the Order of Preparation for Holy Communion, and Prayers to be said after receiving Holy Communion.”
“The Coptic cycle of canonical hours is largely monastic, primarily composed of psalm readings. The Coptic equivalent of the Byzantine Horologion is the “Agpeya”.
Seven canonical hours exist, corresponding largely to the Byzantine order, with an additional “Prayer of the Veil” which is said by Bishops, Priests, and Monks (something like the Byzantine Midnight Office). The Coptic terms for ‘Matins’ and ‘Vespers’ are ‘The Morning Raising of Incense’ and ‘The Evening Raising of Incense’ respectively.
The hours are chronologically laid out, each containing a theme corresponding to events in the life of Jesus Christ:
• “The Midnight Praise” (said in the early morning before dawn) commemorates the Second Coming of Christ. It consists of three watches, corresponding to the three stages of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 25:1-13 ).
• Prime (Morning Raising of Incense): is said upon waking in the morning or after the Midnight Praise the previous night. Copts pray this prayer upon waking up. It symbolises Jesus Christ’s incarnation, death and Resurrection.
• Terce (9 a.m.) reminds us of three events, Christ’s trial by Pilate, his ascension to the heavens and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost.
• Sext (noon) commemorates the Passion of Christ.
• Terce and Sext are prayed before each Divine Liturgy.
• None (3 p.m.) commemorates the death of Christ on the Cross. This hour is also read during fasting days.
• Evening Raising of Incense (Vespers) (sunset) commemorates the taking down of Christ from the Cross.
• Compline (9 p.m. – before bedtime) commemorates the burial of Christ, and the Final Judgment.
• Vespers and Compline are both read before the Liturgy during Lent and the fast of Nineveh.
• The Veil is reserved for bishops, priests and monks, as an examination of conscience.”
Agpeya 2
For an on-line text of the Agpeya in English, see: and
The best introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours generally is Robert Taft’s “The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office” [Liturgical Press, 1986; Second Revised edition, 1993]. The early chapters on the Hours in the Desert Tradition are of particular interest.
“’The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West’ is a thorough historical/theological treatment delving back to the beginnings as exemplified in Christian prayer in the New Testament and its Jewish background, daily prayer in the preconstatinian church to the Roman Office, and up through how the hours were found in the churches of the Reformation. Complete with footnotes and a select topical bibliography.”
See also:
Paul F. Bradshaw “Daily Prayer in the Early Church: A Study of the Origin and Early Development of the Divine Office” [Wipf & Stock Pub, 2008]
Gregory W. Woolfenden “Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology” (Liturgy, Worship and Society Series) [Ashgate Pub Ltd, 2004]
Liturgy and time
A. G. Martimort, I. H. Dalmais, and P. Jounel (Editors)
“The Liturgy and Time” (The Church at Prayer: An Introduction to the Liturgy, Volume IV) [The Liturgical Press, 1985]


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