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.