Our Lord Jesus Christ told us to pray constantly (Luke 18:1). The Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours fulfils this obligation in a structured manner, but for the uninitiated, without special instruction, praying the Divine Office can be confusing or difficult.
The Divine Office is published in a number of ways, but this guide as it pertains to formation for the Permanent Diaconate will refer to the three volume breviary in use in England and Wales.
Everything you need to learn the format of the Divine Office is contained in the General Instruction which can be found at the start of Volume I and reproduced on this site. This page is a simplified version of the General Instruction with a series of tips to help you get used to praying the Divine Office. Some useful additions to this guide are the Ordo for your diocese which should contain your local calendar. It is also useful to discuss the Divine Office and practice with your spiritual director or someone else who is familiar with the rubrics.
Once ordained, a deacon is obliged by vows taken at ordination to pray the Divine Office each day, at least Morning and Evening Prayer. During formation, out of obedience to your Ordinary, it is expected that students will also pray at least Morning and Evening Prayer daily.
Organisation of the Breviary
The Divine Office has several basic sections
- The Proper of Seasons is found at the beginning of each volume. It follows a one-year cycle beginning with Advent and progressing through Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, and another period of Ordinary Time. It contains material specific to each day of the current season.
- Frequently Recurring Texts contains the basic instructions for each celebration: the invitatory, the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.
- The Psalter contains all the basic psalms, readings, and intercessions.
- Night Prayer follows a simple daily cycle through the week.
- The Proper of Saints contains material specific to celebrations of various holy days (memorials, feasts, and solemnities) throughout the year.
- The Common of Saints contains material common to celebrations of various kinds of saints: martyrs, pastors, virgins, and so on.
- The Hymns are located towards the back and contain seasonal hymns that can be used where none is provided or substituted for variety.
The breviary has a number of ribbons. Locate each section of the current volume and place a ribbon there to mark the place for daily reference. At the end of each office, move the psalter and proper ribbons on to the next office that you will say.
Psalms and Canticles
The Psalter contains the psalms and canticles (a piece of scripture said or sung) that form the core of the Divine Office. Each psalm or canticle is recited as follows
- The antiphon
- The psalm or canticle is said slowly and deliberately. Some psalms have stress marks placed above the words to guide you in how to say each line. It is useful to pause for breath at the end of each line. There are daggers and asterisks at the end of some lines as guidance for when the psalm or canticle is sung.
- The Glory Be is said, and as the names of the Trinity are spoken, you bow
- The antiphon is repeated
- Be silent for a moment before continuing on to the next part
The antiphon for some psalms or canticles is identical to the opening lines of the psalm. In this case, the lines are not repeated. You can tell that this is the case by the presence of a dagger at the start of the line where you continue after the antiphon.
The Psalter is divided into four weeks. To determine which week to use, you need to know the number of the week in the Church’s calendar. Weeks that are a multiple of four use Psalter Week 4; so weeks 4, 12 and 24 will be use Psalter Week 4, while weeks 5, 13 and 25 will use Psalter Week 1.
You can enter the current week number here and calculate the psalter week.
- All taking part stand (a) during the introduction to the Office and the introductory verses of each hour; (b) during the hymn; (c) during the Gospel Canticle; (d) during the intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, and the concluding prayer (GILH 263).
- All should sit to listen to the readings (GILH 264).
- When the psalms and canticles are said, the assembly either sits or stands according to local custom (GILH 265).
- In individual, private recitation you may use whatever posture(s) you prefer, including sitting through the entire Office.
The Sign of the Cross
- All make the sign of the cross, from forehead to breast and from left shoulder to right (a) at the beginning of the Hours, when God, come to my assistance is being said; (b) at the beginning of the Gospel Canticles of Zechariah, of Mary, and of Simeon (GILH 266).
- The sign of the cross is made on the mouth at the beginning of the invitatory, at the words Lord, open my lips (GILH 266).
- The sign of the cross can be made at the dismissal/final blessing. (The GILH does not say anything specific about this.)
We will begin with those days on which no solemnities, feasts, or obligatory memorials are celebrated. These days all follow the same basic format.
Sundays are always celebrated as solemnities.
At the beginning of each day, check the day in your Ordo, and orient yourself to the day’s location in both the Psalter and the Proper of Seasons. Then check the day’s calendar date with the Proper of Saints; if the day is not a special celebration, as this example assumes, then leave the ribbon between the last celebration and the next, for future use.
The invitatory belongs at the beginning of each day of prayer. It’s found at the beginning of the Frequently Used Texts, so keep a ribbon permanently at that place. You will begin here every morning. The invitatory begins as follows:
Lord, open our lips.
—And we shall praise your name.
Make the sign of the cross on your lips with the side of your thumb as you say these words, per GILH 266. Then Psalm 95 (or, if preferred, Psalm 100, 67, or 24) and its antiphon follows. The antiphon is taken from the current weekday of the Psalter.
Outside of Ordinary Time (i.e., during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter), the antiphon will be given in the Ordinary according to the calendar dates within that season. The antiphon is recited and immediately repeated, then the psalm is said, followed by the Glory Be, and then the antiphon is recited again at the end of the psalm.
In individual recitation, the antiphon need not be said after each strophe of the psalm.
- The Office of Readings 
- Morning Prayer 
- Prayer During the Day 
- Evening Prayer 
- Night Prayer 
Solemnities, Feasts & Memoria
Special days in the Church’s calendar break the regular pattern of the Divine Office in the breviary.
Solemnities and feasts are always celebrated and will have the psalms of Sunday Week 1 at Morning Prayer. The solemnioty or feast will be laid out in the Proper of Seasons or Proper of Saints. For Evening Prayer, you may be directed to the Common of Saints for part of the office. Read the instructions for the day and mark your breviary appropriately.
The day prior to a solemnity, unless it is a Sunday or another solemnity will have Evening Prayer 1 of the solemnity.
Memoria are generally optional and can be more challenging to put together. You will need to examine the Proper of Saints to see what is available for the saint in question; it may just be a closing prayer, or a Benedictus antiphon. In this case you say the remainder of the office from the ordinary office of the day.
You may elevate the memorial and take additional parts from the Common of Saints. You may find a saint who is not listed in the Proper of Saints in which case you defer to the Common of Saints. To use the Common of Saints, you will need to know the nature of the saint; bishop or pastor, martyr, doctor of the Church, virgin etc.
It is your decision how to deal with memoria but you would normally elevate the memorial when the saint is the patron of your parish, your diocese or you bear the saint’s name as your forename or confirmation name.
Office of the Dead
A special office exists as part of the Common to pray for the dead. This is appropriately used for example as Morning Prayer before a funeral.