The Divine Office: What is It?
The Divine Office is the universal prayer of the Church. It’s also know as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Breviary. Ordained priests, deacons, and religious are required, to varying extents, to pray the Divine Office every day. There are five different times of prayers, also known as “Hours” during the day. Given the worldwide usage and differing timezones, the Liturgy of the Hours is literally being prayed at every moment of the day.
The Liturgy for the Hours is broken up into five different “Hours.” Ordained priests and religious pray all five hours, while permanent deacons are obligated to pray two of the hours each day. The hours are broken down into these parts: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. The time it takes to pray each “hour” is between 15-30 minutes, with the exception of Night Prayer which can take 10 minutes.
Each Hour is composed, generally speaking, of 3 psalms, a short reading, and a few other prayers. It’s a highly structured liturgical form of prayer which ensures that everyone praying the Divine Office is praying the exact same thing. In that way, the Liturgy of the Hours has the same beauty as the Mass in it’s universality.
The Liturgy of the Hours isn’t just for the clergy. It’s for all people of prayer. The awesome part about being so structured is that it provides a ready-made plan for daily prayer. It’s intense and requires commitment, but it’s utterly beautiful. The way in which the Hours are broken out enables us to be regularly and consistently praying throughout our day.
There are many ways to get started with the Liturgy of the Hours. I’d suggest that you start with just one “Hour” a day, and then grow from there. The full volume is 4 books, and it can cost up to $120. I’d recommend starting with the iBreviary app, which is free. If you’d like a slightly different version than the 4 volume set, “Christian Prayer” or “Shorter Christian Prayer” are good places to start. They're the Liturgy of the Hours designed for the laity.
There’s a beauty in the structure of prayer. There’s a deeper sense of awe when considering the millions of other Catholics around the world who are praying with you each time you enter into this prayer.