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.

33 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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    6. It's really quite inexplicable and sad to me that we in the Roman Church decided arbitrarily in 1955 to sacrifice the dusk-to-dusk celebration of the liturgical day, and suppress all First Vespers except those of Sundays and This move is contrary to every single tradition in the history of the Church's Office, East or West, and going back to Jewish times.

      I, for one, find it a rather poignant and intimate example of the reality of the communion of saints when two seemingly unrelated saints "meet" at 1st/2nd Vespers, and the one whose day is just ending gets a commemoration after the one whose feast is just beginning. I think there's something very powerful in that, and it's a pity that we Latins have lost it.

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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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  7. Can the Office of Sext be recited at 11:45am? Thanks

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    1. None of this is set down in an official document, but I've always understood that anything fom 1130 to 1 or 130 works. It's sort of a lunch hour prayer. Terce is 9 to 11. None is 130 to 330 or 4.

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    2. Do I Recite Office of Readings/Vigils/Morning Prayer Between 12:00 A.M to 04:00 A.M on Sundays?

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    3. I believe I was told that the Office of readings can be said the evening before following Vespers of that current day. i.e Vespers 1 of Passion (palm) Sunday followed by the Office of readings. As far as Morning Prayer goes I believe you can recite Morning Prayer from the moment you wake up till about 11:30. Is this more or less correct Daria?

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    4. Yes, and also--Office of Readings may be said any time of day at all. Doing it in the morning of the previous evening is traditional, but any other time of day is fine as well. The important thing is to use this wonderful hour of prayer, scripture, and Church Fathers.

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  8. Hi Maria, have you ever covered the little office of the blessed virgin Mary? This is an excellent book to begin with to pray the hours. There are two versions, one from baronius press which is pre-vatican II and one from catholic book publishing which is pigsty Vatican II.

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    1. Sorry I meant Daria and post Vatican II. MY PHONES spell check taking over.

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    2. Freudian slip?

      Just kidding, of course.

      In all seriousness, there is also a cheaper version of the pre-V2 Little Office by Angelus Press (at $19.99 it is $10 cheaper than Baronius, slightly lower quality binding and no Gregorian notation, but it does include the Office of the Dead as well, which BP doesn't).

      Also, a note on "liturgical vs. devotional" prayer -- there is no "liturgical" version or editio typica approved by the Vatican of the post-V2 LOBVM, because their goal was basically to have everyone move over to the LOTH. So, if one tends to get hung up on whether one's praying liturgically (a somewhat arbitrary distinction IMHO but that's a whole other discussion), one should stick to the 1962 version.

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  9. Hi open question to anyone I'm in desperate need of some help as the Easter octave is fast approaching I'm spun out a bit by how the weeks are mixed up i.e instead of it being 2nd, 3rd, 4th Sunday of Easter etc its weeks, 2, 4, 6 and 3 and 5 in terms of sundays they don't go in sequence and I'm finding it somewhat confusing and slightly putting me off the Office any help would be extremely appreciated thanks.

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    1. One solution is to look at universalis.com and click on future days shown on their calendar (sidebar).

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    2. I can't go in detail now, but be aware that he octave uses the psalter of Easter Sunday every day. Will look up the rest later but that should hold you for the next week.

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  10. Thank you Daria its been a few years since Iv said the Full Office so I'm extremely rusty in this full form of the Office

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  11. Is there any chance I could get some advice please iv recently taken on the full Office since Easter Sunday and have been doing okay with it however I'm getting thrown with the amount of saint days there are in Eastertide. I'm unsure wether to step down to Morning and Evening prayer till 1st Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and resume the full Office from there. Thing is as well is I'm contemplating a vocation to the Priesthood and the Easter season is putting me off the full Office till Monday after Pentecost. Any help would be greatly appreciated thank you.

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    1. I just have to echo what Michael Demers said - if it's too hard to figure out every day in the book, why not just use iBreviary or Universalis to pray your Office? The point is the content, not the delivery mechanism. The Divine Office is not in any way lessened because you made use of a tool to save you from having to manually figure things out all the time.

      Also, general-interest note for all readers/cause for great jubilation: I was setting up for evening prayer last night when I realized that the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter has restored First Evensong for the Feast of St Mark, suppressed in the Roman rite since 1955. So I proceeded to go through the Ordo for this year and sure enough, it looks like ALL days ranked Feast and above (!) have had their proper First Vespers restored in the Ordinariate!

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    2. It shouldn't be all that difficult to commemorate the saints. You do not have to do a separate office for them. Today, being St. Mark, is a feast, so instead of MOnday of the second week of Easter, you follow the instructions for the feast of St. Mark in the proper of saints. As for any other saints days that are ranked as Memorials, all you do is the office of the weekday, but just substitute any element in the proper of saints, which in most cases is the second reading for the Office of REadings, and the concluding prayer. You do not have to use the common of martyrs, common of virgins, etc. (that instruction is only there for churches, communities, or individuals who consider that saint to be a particular patron and thus want to reflect that in their prayers that day.) And if a saints day says "optional memorial" you are free to use the elements in the proper of saints OR ignore them altogether and just do the weekday office. More important, try not to get stressed about keeping up the full office. The instructions on the Office repeatedly urge lay people to adapt it to their needs and situation in life--and our situation can change very frequently. You should feel free to reduce the number of liturgical hours you pray whenever it makes sense to do so. You could always add them back later if the opportunity and the desire to do so return. It is wonderful that you are considering a priestly vocation, and of course if you are seriously discerning, you will be speaking to a spritual director. This person can also help you with decisions about how much of the Office to pray each day.

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