Want to pray the Divine Office? Here is a step-by-step guide for those starting out.
The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is a beautiful and ancient tradition in the Church that is not reserved for priests and religious, but can also be prayed by the lay faithful. The Second Vatican Council highly encouraged the laity to “recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 100).
The foundation of the prayer is simple, praying the Psalms, but in practicality can be quite difficult. If one chooses to purchase a physical breviary (the book that contains the Liturgy of the Hours) it can be challenging especially if no one is there to show you what to do. However, after an initial introduction to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it becomes much easier and soon it will be like clockwork.
Today, we will give you a step-by-step guide through the most common prayer book lay people can pick up to pray the principal hours of the divine office: Christian Prayer. There are other publications of the Divine Office, including digital versions, but for the purposes of this article we will only cover the most common one.
Christian Prayer contains: Morning, Evening and Night Prayer, with an abbreviated section for the Office of Readings and Daytime Prayer. It is designed for the everyday lay person who wants to deepen their prayer life by immersing themselves in the Psalms.
Let’s begin our walk-through. Click on the pages below to start the step-by-step guide.
First of all, as with any breviary, there are the all-important “ribbons.” These are extremely important and allow you to mark the correct parts of the Divine Office.
To begin setting the ribbons, take one of them and open to page 686 where the “Ordinary” and “Invitatory” are located. The Ordinary is the basic “instruction manual” for the Liturgy of the Hours and acts as a reference point if you ever get stuck.
In the Ordinary we abide by the common phrase “Say the Black, Do the Red.” All the words printed in the color red are instructions and all the words printed in black are the prayers you actually pray. There are plenty of instructions and options, so read it all carefully. It is suggested to read through the entire Ordinary before going any further.
The Ordinary also has prayers that are repeated each day such as the Magnificat and Benedictus. These prayers are said at Evening and Morning Prayer and are typically memorized when prayed frequently. Until you have them memorized, you can always turn to the Ordinary to find them.
After you have read the Ordinary, leave your first ribbon where it says Invitatory. This is composed of an antiphon and Psalm 95 and is typically prayed before Morning Prayer (or the Office of Readings). If you are praying the Invitatory on your own, you will say the correct antiphon once, pray Psalm 95 and then recite the same antiphon at the end. When praying with other people, you will recite the antiphon after every stanza.
Before we go any further, a note about Christian Prayer. Unlike the full version of the divine office, the antiphons are only printed once at the beginning of each Psalm. That means after praying a Psalm, you will have to flip the page backwards to recite the correct antiphon. This is important to remember and will be repeated in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, etc.
The second ribbon to be set will be located in the front of the breviary in a section called the “Proper of Seasons.” This section of the breviary has all the prayers according to the “seasons” of the Church: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time.
In this section there are special antiphons and prayers for the hours prayed on Sundays throughout the year. During special seasons such as Lent, there are specific readings and prayers for each day.
As of the publication of this article, you can place the second ribbon on page 613 (**Note: To see the correct page numbers of Christian Prayer for today, click here). It says on the top of the page, “Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.” In order to figure out what week it is, go to USCCB.org and click on their calendar on the right hand side of the page. Alternatively, you can order your own liturgical calendar that says what day it is in the Church year.
This is an important part of the breviary as underneath the current Sunday, it states which “Psalter” we are currently in.
As of this week it reads “Psalter, Week I” below “Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.” This indicates where to put your third ribbon.
This third ribbon will be located in the middle of the breviary and for our purposes is on page 748 (**Note: To see the correct page numbers of Christian Prayer for today, click here). It reads in the middle of the page, “Thursday, Week 1” and is where we want to be. If you ever get confused on which Psalter you are supposed to be in, go back to the Proper of Seasons (second ribbon) and the current Sunday will indicate which one is correct.
The fourth ribbon should be located at the current day for “Night Prayer,” which is much easier to understand, as it only has a single cycle that is repeated each week. As of today, it is located on page 1049 (**Note: To see the correct page numbers of Christian Prayer for today, click here).
The fifth ribbon can be placed in the section entitled, “Proper of Saints,” which contains the special prayers and antiphons for specific saint feast days. For this section all you need to know is the calendar date to know where to put the ribbon. Today it is located on June 9, the Optional Memorial of Saint Ephrem (**Note: To see the correct page numbers of Christian Prayer for today, click here).
Once you have all of the ribbons in place, you can start praying the Liturgy of the Hours every day. If you ever get lost or confused, go to the “Ordinary” (first ribbon) and it will tell you what to do.
At first this type of prayer can be very confusing, but after several days of praying it goes much smoother. After a few years of praying, it is like riding a bike.
It is true that alternatively you could download one of the many apps to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and not have to worry about setting ribbons. However, praying in this “analog” manner is very beneficial. In an age when everything is available at the touch of a finger, it is healthy to learn the art of praying the Divine Office and learn a little patience in the process.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is a beautiful custom, one in which you are united to the entire Church and to priests, religious and lay people from around the world.