Breviary Bootcamp

Words and Books

Just so everyone is clear: Liturgy of the Hours = The Divine Office. Two names for the same thing. I tend to use "Divine Office" because it's fewer keystrokes. Liturgy of the Hours is the preferred title since the second Vatican Council,although the Vatican itself still uses both of them interchangeably.

Today I'll help you decide which breviary you might want to use. First decision: digital or printed?

If you are part of the under-50, tech-savvy generation and already do much of your reading from a mobile device or an e-reader, than you probably want to skip buying a breviary--at least for now--and use an online or mobile breviary to learn to pray the Divine Office. There are several good ones.

Next: types of printed breviaries. The most widely used breviary in the United States is put out by the Catholic Book Publishing company(CBP). The 4-volume version (around $125 on Amazon) has all the liturgical hours for every day of the year. If you are committed to praying more than just Morning , Evening and Night Prayer, than you want to get the 4-volume. If this is too big a chunk of change, you may buy one volume at a time for $32.44 a piece. The one to send for now  is volume II- Lent thru Easter.

The more economical thing to do,  is to purchase the one-volume version. (Also from CBP) It include the complete Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer for the entire year.It also has selection from Daytime  Prayer. This is enough for most people, an d probably enough for anyone who is just beginning.

The Daughters of St. Paul used to have a one volume book which I liked better than CBC since instead of wasting pages on a section of hymns, their breviary included the complete Daytime Prayer as well. If you find this breviary, it is for now the best one-volume version. Currently it is out of print. The Daughters are planning on a new edition, but it won't be out until 2012 at the earliest.

CBC also has a slimmer volume titled Shorter Christian Prayer. This is the basic 4-week Psalter for Morning and Evening Prayer. It does not include the variations needed for the Church seasons or feast days.  But a beginner who has this book lying around should use  it for a few months, since it is very easy to learn to use. You can always buy the real thing later.

Young, hip  members of the digital generation might prefer to not bother with books and simply use   All the how-to's on this page are for old and young fogeys who just like to hold a book and turn the pages, and who want to be able to read the Office when there is a power outage. Then again,it's part of being young and hip to go retro now and then, so perhaps digitized persons  will benefit from these instructions as well.

Glossary of Terms - Don't worry, you don't have to memorize all this before you can start praying. It's a list you can refer to if and when you need it. If you like, scroll directly down to Divine Office Boot Camp, and only go back to this glossary if you need to.

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. Usually 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 breviars 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). The general custom is to choose one of these, according to what suits one's schedule. 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 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.

Ordinary - rather inadequate instructions on how to pray the office, buried about one-third of the way through the breviary. Just ask the Divine Office Go-to Girl if  the ordinary leaves you with unanswered questions.

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 celebring a feast of Our Lady or of a saint, with headings such as Apostles, Martyrs, virgins, holy men, pastors, doctors of the church, etc.

Divine Office Boot Camp
All right. You want to start praying the liturgy of the hours. Unless you are  are super-zealous,  it is probably not a good idea to attempt all 5 liturgical hours (or seven since you have the option of doing daytime prayer 3 times instead of just once). The Church recommends that the laity use Morning and Evening   Prayer, calling these two hours the "hinges" of the liturgical day. So that is a worthy goal.

But for  those in the  just -starting- and -not-so-sure-I can-handle-this category, I'm going to recommend you  hold off on the "hinge" thing for a while. Instead, begin  with the hour of Night Prayer. There are several reasons for this:

1. It is shorter than Morning or Evening prayer, ever an advantage to those of us who are piety-challenged.
2. Night Prayer is on a simple 7-day repeating cycle. It does not change during Advent, Lent, or for feast days.  It's in the no-flip zone of your breviary.
3. For those who already  pray around bedtime, there is no huge change in habits to form.
4. The psalms of Night Prayer are just about the best ones there are in terms of beatiful imagery and inspiring one-liners that will soon become part of your spontaneous prayer language. For example, Psalm 130 (the De Profundis for you Latin geeks), and Psalm 91, the "Warrior's Psalm".

Okay, here we go. Note that in the CBC breviary, there is no night prayer for Saturday. Saturday night is called Sunday I (as in the vigil of Sunday) and Sunday is called Sunday II. In the Pauline Media breviary, Saturday is called Saturday.

1.Begin with the sign of the cross while reciting O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me. say the Glory Be. And unless it's lent, you may add Alleluia
2. Do a brief examination of conscience and make an act of contrition.
3. Skip the hymn or poem unless you really like these. These elements are optional suggestions.
4. Recite the antiphon. Recite the psalm and the Glory Be. Repeat the Antiphon. (note: the subtitle and the scripture citation directly under the psalm number is not meant to be recited out loud as part of the Office. It is there for private meditation. Of course, if you are doing this by yourself, the whole thing is private, but I just want you to distinguish the essentials of the prayers from the little extras that are thrown in.)
5. Do this with the second psalm if there is one.
6. Read the reading. Pause a moment for reflection.
7. Recite the responsory.(Into your hands,Lord, I commend my spirit, etc.)
8. Canticle of Simeon (the ultimate bedtime prayer) Aniphon, canticle, Glory Be, Antiphon.
9. Recite the final prayer, and then the concluding verse: May the all powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peacful death. Amen. Then recite one of the traditional Marian Prayers listed. (Hail Holy Queen, Hail Mary, or Ave Maris Stella)
10. Enjoy the peaceful restful mood Night Prayer will give you as you drift off to sleep.

That's it. The whole thing takes 5 minutes. Longer depending on whether you linger, lectio divina style, over the psalms.

Divine Office - Boot Camp II