Thursday, March 16, 2017

Divine Office Vocabulary Primer

This is a post for those of you who are just beginning to learn about the Liturgy of the Hours, or maybe to share with friends to whom you are trying to explain what this is.  A major roadblock to many is that there is so.much.vocabulary. that the more experienced people bandy about, that beginners can become hopelessly confused. In fact, there are often two terms for the exact same thing, e.g. Morning Prayer=Lauds.

So here is a list of some basic terms.  Bookmark it for future reference.
Note: This list is pretty comprehensive for those who use the Liturgy of the Hours as promulagated after the Second Vatican Council. If you are using an older breviary, or an Anglican ordinary, then there will be additional terms to learn, and some of these below will not apply.

Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours: official prayer of the Catholic Church, constituting, along with the Mass, the Church's liturgy. A repeating cycle of psalms, biblical readings, and other prayers, coordinated to the liturgical season and/or the feasts of the Church. The word "office" comes from a Latin word meaning "service" or "ceremony".

Breviary: the book in which one finds the Divine Office. A commonly used American edition is titled "Christian Prayer." The full breviary contains four volumes. One volume breviaries contain the full morning, evening, and night prayer for the year, but not the full Office of Readings. Some one volume breviaries also contain the full office of Day time prayer.

Antiphon - the verse said before and after each psalm and canticle.

Canticle - a psalm-like passage from a part of the Bible other than the book of Psalms.

Invitatory - The psalm that is recited before the first liturgical hour that you say each day. Usually Psalm 95

Benedictus - Latin for the Canticle of Zachariah
Magnificat - Latin for the Canticle of Mary
Nunc Dimittis - Latin for the Canticle of Simeon

Morning Prayer/Lauds - one of the two main hours or "hinges" of the liturgical day, morning prayer may be said any time from when you wake up until mid -morning.

Evening Prayer/Vespers - the other main hour or "hinge" of the liturgical day, evening prayer may be said between 4 and 7PM.

Night Prayer/Compline - to be said later than evening prayer, usually close to bedtime.

Daytime Prayer - a liturgical hour with 3 subdivisions: Mid-morning (terce); midday (sext); midafternoon (none). It is recommended that generally, lay people and parish priests choose one of these as their daytime hour of prayer. Monastics (or anyone who is a real Divine Office fanatic)  may still use all three.

Office of Readings- also known as Matins, this was the hour that monastics traditionally rose during the night to pray. It may be prayed at any time of day, although generally it is done preceding morning prayer, or after evening prayer on the previous day. The Office of Readings consists of psalms followed by two longer readings; one from the Bible and one from the writings of the fathers/doctors/saints of the Church.

Vigils: an extra set of psalms and readings used on Saturday nights in conjunction with Sunday's Office of Readings. You know how the Easter Vigil liturgy has lots of extra readings and psalms? Vigils is analogous to that. A way to make each Sunday a "little Easter".  

Ordinary - rather inadequate instructions on how to pray the office, buried about one-third of the way through the breviary. That's one reason this blog exists: to answer questions that remain once you've looked at the Ordinary. 

Proper of Seasons-the first third of the breviary. It gives all the readings and prayers substituted for what's in the 4 week Psalter during the seasons of  Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.

Proper of Saints - gives the dates, and prayers for saint's feasts and memorials, plus directions on which of the Commons to use if you want to do the day's  hours  in honor of  the saint, rather than just going with the psalter. 

Commons - these are all purpose or generic offices for celebrating a feast of Our Lady or of a saint, with headings such as Apostles, Martyrs, virgins, holy men, pastors, doctors of the church, etc.

As always, comments are welcome. Those of you who are  veterans may suggest any terms that I might have left out.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Table of Liturgical Precedence, or, Do We Do 1st Vespers of St. Joseph on Sunday night?

Whenever a Solemnity laps up against a Sunday (occurring on a Saturday or a Monday) we who navigate the breviary on our own have to stop and figure out what to do.

Yes, yes, I know about the St. Joseph's yearly guide you can buy. But most of  us want to understand the principle of the thing so that we can figure this out for ourselves, rather than blindly following someone else's instructions of "psalter, page XXX, proper of seasons, page YYY, common of male martyrs with red hair and freckles,  page ZZZ."    And let me tell you, that St. Joseph's guide occasionally gets it wrong, too. And sometimes the online breviaries goof up as well. Not often, but every once in a while.

Anyway, next Monday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. A big deal. Does that mean we do Evening Prayer I of St Joseph this Sunday night? *


Suppose the Assumption comes on a Saturday. Do we have Evening Prayer II of the Assumption that evening, or Evening Prayer II of whatever August Sunday in ordinary time that happens to be?**

The answers, my friend, are NOT blowin' in the wind. (If you get that reference you are well over 50 years old.) The answers are to be found in the Table of Liturgical Days According to Order of Precedence.

Those of us lucky enough to have a four-volume breviary will find this in the beginning of volume I, just after the General Instruction. But it's a pain to have to go find your volume I (Advent/Christmas) book in the middle of lent when you are using Volume III. And if you only have a single volume breviary,you don't have this wonderfully clarifying resource at your fingertips.

So instead, go to this link, courtesy of Benedictines who understand our problems.  Print it, if you can, and tuck it into your breviary for future reference.


Friday, March 3, 2017

St. Katherine Drexel Today

It's the optional memorial of St. Katherine Drexel.

Poor saints with commemorations during Lent! Well, it's not as if they care in the least about when or how their day is observed down here. I suppose, in keeping with the virtue of humility, these lenten saints are pretty pleased with the way things have turned out.

But it is important for us Americans to take note of our own. Especially St. Katherine Drexel, a role model in so many ways. Her work with Native Americans and African Americans was a great act of reparation for the injustices done to these people by white men.   Her detachment from material wealth--of which she had TONS--is something we should all strive for in some degree.

And as a Pennsylvanian, I am doubly proud of this amazing woman.

If you wish to remember St. Katherine in your liturgical prayer today, be sure to use her concluding prayer which you will find on,, and  It should also be here on the website.   

Want to learn more about this saint? Here is an ebook for your middle-school aged kids, a reprint from the early 1960s.

For adults, I'd recommend this title, which was very helpful to me when I recently did some research on the saint's life.

Okay, we are three days into lent. Was it nice and confusing trying to figure out which week to use in the psalter for these days after Ash Wednesday?   I don't think any printed breviary actually spells this out. (It's week IV) But it all becomes clearer with the first Sunday of Advent, where we start at week I, go through the four weeks in a row, start over with week I on the Fifth Sunday, and so forth.

Are you doing anything special with the Liturgy of the Hours for Lent? Say, adding an extra hour, or just making the effort to be more faithful? Waking up earlier in order to have time to do the Office of Readings in less of a rush?  I'm trying to sing the traditional breviary hymns (out loud) for every hour from Father Weber's Hymnal for the Hours.

As usual, questions, comments, and any assorted relevant remarks are welcome in the comments.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Gaze of God Envelops Us

Friends, I am still struggling with trying to get back to regular blogging but that goal continues to elude me.

But you don't need my mediocre meditations when you have the words of St. Benedict with commentary from authentic Irish Benedictine monks.

So enjoy this piece and bring it's teaching to mind as you pray the Liturgy of the Hours today. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

All things Live for Him

Friends, I haven't been around much lately. I hinted about a month ago that both my mother and my brother had been very ill and asked for prayers.

My mother passed away on January 20th, at the age of 92 and after years of suffering with Alzheimers.

This weekend, we'll bury  my brother, David, who entered Eternity last Saturday afternoon, after a brief struggle with an extremely fast-acting brain tumor.

Both Mom and David were strong believers. Mom was one of the few Catholic parents during the 60s and 70s who perceived the sorry lack in post-Vatican II catechetics, and saw to it that we studied more traditional catechisms and scripture at home, and made us understand that sometimes, in those confused times, Sister X.  and even Father Y might teach or preach something that was not quite in line with Catholic teaching.   She also started a firm custom of the family rosary nearly every evening, starting when I was about 8 years of age. That habit stayed with my two siblings and I.   Furthermore, she (and my Dad) created a family atmosphere where spiritual things (such as saint's lives, reports of possibly modern apparitions,miracles and whatnot) were seen as interesting, worth discussing and reading about.  

Like all of us, Mom was not perfect. But she got it right in the things that mattered most. I couldn't be more grateful.

David, my big brother, overcame the youthful handicap of being that introverted, un-athletic, nerdy kid who had tended to be rejected by all but a few peers. (A family pattern: my sister and I were his female counterparts.) His passion for history lead to a career as a county archivist, where he distinguished himself as an expert in local history, and author or editor of several books about the Civil War and about slavery in the northern colonies/states.  He was always an ardent Catholic, and members of his parish study group tell me that his insights and comments would "light up" every meeting.  What I admire most about David was his selfless care of our Mom during her years in the nursing home, visiting almost every single day, coming up with creative ideas to stimulate her diminishing mind, and far surpassing the patience of the staff in getting her to eat a good dinner each day.   My sister and I, raising big families in far off locations, were grateful and relieved that David was able to take on Mom's care as his vocation. We are sorry that after she passed, David was not able to go on to years of pursuing his own interests free of concerns for her care. But God's will be done! We can   presume that even the most pleasant earthly pursuits pale in comparison to what awaits, and all that makes us happiest on earth will find it's super-counterpart in Eternity.

Thanks in advance for your prayers and kind thoughts; if you want to do something special for Mom and David, substitute part or all of the Office for the Dead on any upcoming day where there is no obligatory memorial (E.g. today, tomorrow, or any day next week except Wednesday) and offer it for them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Psalter and Depression: Singin' the Blues with Psalm 77

I meant to post this yesterday, but was travelling across  Pennsylvania on I-80, and they tell me you shouldn't blog while driving. Yesterday, Psalm 77 headed up Morning Prayer. My Facebook pal, Harold Koenig, whose interesting little FB blurb on Praise of God appeared here pretty recently, has some new thoughts to share on Psalm 77. His first encounter (or maybe head on collision) with Psalm 77 came long ago, before he was Catholic, and while in a state of mind and soul that we children of the 1970s referred to as "messed up". So look what happened.

An acquaintance wrote that she went to Episcopalian "Evening Prayer," in search of solace, but "The Scripture reading[s] were not right for me tonight,..." I'd suggest reversing the phrasing thus, "I was not right for the Scripture readings tonight."

I'd suggest that it's too early to tell. Sometimes the Holy Word sneaks by our consciousness and is planted more deeply.  Some phrase or story may return unbidden.

When I was in college, dissolute, confused, and depressed.  I began to pray Compline from some Episcopalian book. I was, let's say, unmoved. But by grace, I stuck with it. And little by little, it soaked in.  "The devil walketh about ... seeking whom he may devour!" That was fun to think of.

Then we were assigned to write an analysis of a poem of our choice. I was at a loss, until Psalm 77 bloomed in my mind. It speaks to a depressed heart! 
"Is his mercy clean gone for ever? * and is his promise come utterly to an end for evermore?
  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? * and will he shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure?
And I said, It is mine own infirmity; * but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most Highest.
This is the blues!  You sing out your worst feelings until an answer comes! The answer: Remember the mercy, even a terrifying and mysterious mercy!

The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee, and were afraid; * the depths also were troubled.
The clouds poured out water, the air thundered, * and thine arrows went abroad.
The voice of thy thunder was heard round about: * the lightnings shone upon the ground; the earth was moved, and shook withal.
Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters, * and thy footsteps are not known.
You're at the point where you feel like saying. "That's okay God.  This is too scary!" Then the Psalmist speaks gentleness!

Thou leddest thy people like sheep, * by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The cosmic terror, he in whose presence nature trembles and begins to fall apart, is a gentle as a shepherd! He cloaks his proper frightfulness in mildness and patience, even for dissolute and depressed college students!

I may have not been right for Compline, but Compline was right for me!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Of Rabbits and Rocks in Psalm 104

Although I haven't brought this up for quite a while, I'm always intrigued  by all things "Nature" in the Psalms. If you click on the "Nature Notes from the Psalms" label you will see what I mean.  From eagles to ravens, from oxen to deer, from snowflakes to hoarfrost to seas and stars, I  pounce on every little bit reference to flora, fauna, weather, geography and astronomny with delight.

This morning as I did the Office of Readings, for the upmteenth time, verse 18 of Psalm 104 got stuck in my craw. Goats in the lofty mountains? Fine. But rabbits finding refuge in the rocks?

Not any rabbits I know. Here in the USA, rabbits hide in tall grass, low shrubbery, and windfalls in fields and on the edges of forests. I'm sure that occasionally a rock with a jutting ledge or depression beneath it comes in handy, but certainly rocks are not the habitual, er, habitat of rabbits here. British and Eurpoean rabbits are the ones that dig holes in the ground, creating colonies known as warrens. So I don't think rocks play a big part for them, either.

Other bible translations have used the word "conies" in this verse, a multi-purpose English word that can mean rabbit but also other large rodents such as marmots and pikas. (Pikas are the cutest little things. Look them up sometime.) But it seems that the rock-loving creature in this psalm is probably the Syrian Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax. The Hebrew word in the psalm transliterates as Shaphan. Here's a picture of some young ones in their rocky habitat:
source: wikimedia commons
Hyraxes measure between 12 and 28 inches long, and weigh anywhere from 5 to 11 pounds. Although they look like rodents, scientists who classify animals believe they have more in common with elephants and manatees.

I'm afraid there's not much in this post to help people grow in holiness or in their understanding of the Liturgy of the Hours. But if, like me, you delight in the beauty and diversity of God's creation, then maybe I've made your day. And maybe the sight of these little creatures, obviously secure under that sheltering rock, will help us reflect on the Lord as our rock, refuge, fortress, and hiding place in times of distress. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why Must God Be Praised?

Essential to understanding and appreciation of the Liturgy (both holy Mass and Divine Office) is knowing the whys and wherefores of praise, aka adoration or giving glory to God. We've discussed that at various times on this blog and there's a section devoted to it in my book.  But it's always good to revisit this topic. Here's a fresh voice from one of my Facebook friends. Harold O. Koenig is a former deputy sheriff, third order Dominican, freelance sheep-shearer, and, in a former, non-catholic life, an Episcopalian priest.  Note that the following was just an informal Facebook post. I'm thinking I'd like to ask him to do some longer and polished-er stuff for this blog in the future. 

They ask us, "Why do you praise God?"
They scoff, "How insecure must a deity be who always demands such praise?"
I answer thus: The sunset does not need you to praise it. YOU need to praise it.
My color vision is defective. Some sunsets leave me unmoved. The sunset does not lose thereby. I am the loser.
When someone calls me to admire a sunset, he wants to share a wonder. He invites me to praise the Good. The Good does not profit by my praise, nor suffer loss if I do not praise. I profit. Or I am deprived.
Therefore, when we speak of prayer and praise as a matter of justice, we ought not to take too ... financial a point of view. We ask of Lay Dominicans that they pray the office not to lay a burden on them but to offer them the gift of doing what is just, of doing something even better than praising the sunset.
Suppose we made a rule that every day you must look west at sunset and see what you can see.I imagine that on rainy or cold days you might wonder what was the point. You might grumble as you rose from your chair and put on your coat.
But what do YOU think would happen over time? I suspect your joy and appreciation would increase.
Who is it that benefits when you do justice? You do.