The rubrics for the Liturgy of the Hours presents several options for faithful wishing to pray the office in various capacities. In this post we are going to break down a few of the main schemes available to the faithful when praying the hours. We are going to focus on the actual times of each hour, balancing real world needs, and various experience levels. The assumption is that beginners will start with a less intensive scheme and move to a more and more intensive scheme as they develop their liturgical prayer “muscles”.
First Scheme: The whole package
This scheme is for the most experienced and for all laity and religious who are obligated to pray the canonical hours. These individuals pray the Office of Readings, Morning/Evening Prayer, all three day hours (Terce, Sext, None) and Night Prayer. In most cases, the Office of Readings is early in the morning, Morning Prayer around 7am in community, Mid-morning (Terce) at 9am, Mid-day (Sext) at 12pm, Mid-afternoon (None) at 3pm, Evening Prayer in community at 6pm and Night Prayer before retiring at 9pm or later. On Sundays and solemnities one may pray the Office of Readings as a true vigil the night before after Night Prayer which reflects the traditional vigil nature of Mattins which the Office of Readings evolved. In this scheme under the Liturgy of the Hours one would be over-exposed somewhat to the four-week psalter as only one day prayer has psalms provided which change daily throughout the month. For the other two day hours one uses as complimentary psalmody which is repeated throughout the month. Many religious who are obliged to pray the office have specific rubrics and customs provided by their own local ordinary which provide a more rigorous routine of psalms but many also pray the Liturgy of the Hours as the exist today for all faithful.
Second Scheme: The laity’s complete office
The revisions to the breviary made after the Second Vatican Council took specific focus at involvement of the laity and took into deep consideration their needs outside of the church. This is also actually true for priests, who also voiced concern over the burden of the offices against increasing pastoral demands around parishes in the modern church. For this reason, those who are not obliged by canon law to recite the entirety of the Liturgy of the Hours have the option of reciting all of the hinge hours (Office of Reading, Morning/Evening Prayer), one of the day hours (Terce, Sext, None) and Night Prayer. This cycle of prayer will not disrupt the four-week rotation of psalms in any way and you will not miss out on any important prayers, canticles or themes. There are several iterations of this scheme that the rubrics make possible in order to conform the prayers to the routine of your own secular life. For example; one can pray the Invitatory only immediately after waking up and continue the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer before leaving the house to start the work day. Mid-day (Sext) prayer can be done in a quiet place at the ten minutes ending your lunch break during the day. If you did not complete the Office of Readings in the morning, you can read it in the afternoon after coming home from work before starting your evening routine at work (I know people who pray in their parked car before leaving work because it is the only place they can find quiet before the family business in the evenings). Either before supper or after supper you can pray Evening Prayer and before retiring, at your bedside with your spouse, you can recite Night Prayer. Some people are early risers and you can combine Office of Readings with the Invitatory and Morning Prayer with a delicious cup of coffee before anyone in the house has woken up (this works especially well if the sun is rising in front of you during the Morning Prayer portion because that just happens to be the theme of that particular office). And if you are a night owl who stalks the hallways in the middle of the night while the rest of your family sleeps, you can actually get the Office of Readings completed as a vigil the evening before and only stick to the remaining hours (with the Invitatory commencing Morning Prayer) and you are all set.
Third Scheme: The hinge hours
If you are just starting out with the Liturgy of the Hours my recommendation is to start with the hinge or major hours (Morning/Evening Prayer) and night prayer. You can do this with the single-volume Shorter Christian Prayer book, the single-volume Christian Prayer book and the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours complete set. The only real difference between the single-volume sets and the full set is the inclusion of a full set of readings and office for the Office of Readings. This are the richest and best aspect of the entire Liturgy of the Hours in my opinion but they are not required, especially when one is just trying to get a routine and habit of prayer developed. I started with a single-volume Shorter Christian Prayer book nearly 20 years ago when I was in high school after coming across it at a Catholic university bookstore. I learned how to do Morning/Evening Prayer as well as the weekly Night Prayer and I developed the core skills required to build on to my prayer life as I become more mature and developed in my own faith. When you are starting do not get hooked on setting a time, just focus on making the time and patiently going through the process of the prayers. Plus, you have very little idea of what you’ll like so it’s best you give yourself some leeway and try different times and methods to see what works and what doesn’t. By this I mean you can try praying Morning Prayer as soon as you wake up, or after breakfast or on the bus to work. You might use a book or an app– try both and see what you like first. Same for Evening Prayer. For Night Prayer, try and develop a habit of praying at your bedside before retiring. Allow God to be your last thought when you drift off to sleep.