UPDATED 9/9/10 to fix a broken link and add some new ones, and to reflect current prices.
Here is one of the greatest treasures of the Church, one that I lived most of my life knowing nothing of:
The site linked above is a good overview of LOTH.
Here’s my summary: The Liturgy of the Hours, which is sometimes called the “Divine Office” or “Breviary,” is — after the Holy Mass — the greatest prayer of the Church. It is prayed by priests, religious, and some lay people. The Church encourages us all to pray this beautiful prayer, as a sign of unity and to enrich our daily prayer life with the treasure of centuries of Christians, most notably early monastics like St. Benedict. One may even pray constantly by organizing her day around the hours.
The Liturgy of the Hours consists of seven “offices,” generally prayed every three hours: The Office of Readings (usually before Morning Prayer), Morning Prayer (at 6), Midmorning Prayer (at 9), Midday Prayer (at noon), Midafternoon Prayer (at 3), Evening Prayer (at 6), and Night Prayer (at 9). The “major” offices are generally held to be Morning and Evening Prayer, but one can benefit from praying whatever offices suit her schedule. Midmorning, Midday and Midafternoon Prayer are collectively called Daytime Prayer, and some people simply pray one of these offices. In general, each hour consists of a hymn, three psalms/canticles with antiphons, short New Testament readings, and other prayers. The Office of Readings consists of the hymn and psalms, along with a reading from the Scriptures and one from the writings of the early Church Fathers, saints, Vatican II, etc.
There is a great free Website (still under development) that offers the Offices as text and podcasts! An older favorite with excerpts from the LOTH (though in a different translation than the approved set) is at www.universalis.com.
There are three main publications of the LOTH: the complete four-volume set — used one volume at a time (at about $145), Christian Prayer — abbreviated prayers, most notably lacking the Office of Readings ($30), and Shorter Christian Prayer — with the four-week Psalter and Morning and Evening prayer ($12). The four-volume set comes with several useful reference cards and the publisher also sells a very helpful annual guide inexpensively.
For further information, visit:
- www.liturgyofthehours.org (great “frequently asked questions” about the LOTH and a guide to the books)
- www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/breviary.htm (a nice summary of the history and use of the LOTH)
- www.osb.org/sva/obl/pdf/LoHFAQ.pdf (a short Benedictine booklet that describes the history, format, use, etc. of the LOTH).
Finally, if you would like an inexpensive, step-by-step guide to praying this beautiful prayer, I’ve found The Divine Office for Dodos useful.
[N.B. Researching, acquiring and learning to pray different versions of the Divine Office has become a hobby of mine, so I plan a future post to discuss the breviary associated with the Extraordinary Form, the traditional Benedictine breviary, etc.]