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.

16 comments:

  1. Great post thanks. Norman + Happy St Pat's day

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  2. Hello, Daria. First, thank you for your blog which is a treasure and an immense help as I am just starting to pray the LOH. Can you please tell me why for March 18th in the Proper of Saints (CBC Christian Prayer), only Morning Prayer changes are included for St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and not Evening prayer as well (which seems to be the case for most commemorations.)? Especially since he is noted as Doctor of the church, it seems odd. Thank you , Cathy

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    1. Sunday begins with Evening Prayer on Saturday.

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    2. Hi Cathy, As Mike said above, Saturday evening Prayer is the beginning of Sunday. Just as mass said Saturday evening is the liturgy of Sunday, similarly, Saturday evening prayer also belongs to Sunday. Next year, when St. Cyril's feast falls on Sunday itself, his day will not be commemorated at all. But the year after that, when his day is on a Monday, all the liturgical hours, including evening prayer, will be in his honor. I'm glad you find the blog useful.

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    3. Actually, the reason there is no evening prayer antiphon for St. Cyril of Jerusalem is that evening prayer of March 18 is always evening prayer 1 for the solemnity of St. Joseph (except, of course, in years like 2017, when March 18 falls on a Saturday and we use evening prayer 1 for the Sunday).

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    4. Thank you so much for explaining this to me, I was still confused as to why this would be the case when March 18th fell on a weekday. It now makes perfect sense. I appreciate your clearing it up for me !

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    5. Of course, Stephen! I missed that little factoid. I'm sure St.Cyril is happy to give way to St. Joseph every single year.

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  3. Hi Daria, wishing you and all who pass by your blog a happy St Joseph's day.
    Best wishes...

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  4. having come across a book of the shorter Morning and Evening Prayer, of a relative of mine I understand how it is just standard Psalter week with the seasons and the Feast days but they don't appear to have the seasonal hymns except one for Easter and one for Christmas so should one use the hymns as printed in the psalter or should one print off hymns for the relevant seasons such as Lent Advent etc?

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    1. One could certainly do what you suggest, however, the whole point of the book you mention is to make it easy for those who are new to the Liturgy of the Hours and would be put off if they thought they had to do the extra work you describe. The person who uses this book could certainly use any seasonal hymns that they wish, but it's okay to continue to use the ordinary time hymns so long as it didn't have a theme that was especially inappropiate for the season, e.g. alleluias during lent.

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  5. Why are Red Crosses placed in the Psalms and Canticles other than the Benedictus,Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis?

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    1. Those little red crosses, in conjunction with the asterisks that you see in some editions, are meant to guide people (mostly in monasteries) who chant the verses of the psalms back and forth in two groups. It helps them see where it is time to change from one repeated chanting note to another. Someday I should make a video where I chant a psalm while the viewer follows a close-up of the text, but that may not happen for a long time.

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  6. Having been able to adapt The Divine Office (just morning evening and night prayer) around my schedule (at last!) I discovered in my Year book for the 24th it didn't prescribe 1st Vespers of the Annunciation, so should evening Prayer of Friday week 3 be recited or use 1st Vespers of the Annunciation? Thanks.

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    1. Rule of the Thumb: If the next day is a Solemnity(except if it is on a Monday),then you recite 1st Vespers.

      Of course,I Defer to Mrs. Sockey to clarify this.

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    2. I can't think of any exceptions to your rule off the top of my head.

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    3. BTW,I am No longer fond of Certain Acts and Objects of Popular Piety(except the Holy Rosary and a few others)because they are a Distraction to the Divine Office.

      For Giving Me the Chance to Clarify,I Say: Peace and Blessings,Many Thanks.

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