This page is not aimed at priests and religious who have an obligation to recite the Office. It is aimed at the laity who want to acquire this good and beneficial habit.
How to recite the Hours
This is an informal summary of the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours. The full text can be found in most breviaries (at the start of Vol. 1 of multi-volume sets).
In contrast with the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is relatively free in its specification of how things should be done. The texts, psalms, and prayers are the important things, and after that, many variations are allowed according to local circumstances and tradition.
The General Instruction concerns itself with public celebration of the Divine Office. In private recitation you should adopt whatever posture seems reasonable and appropriate. Similarly, in recitation within a small group (such as a family) the aim is to assist the devotional aspect of the Office and not to cause a distraction-- frequently, an unvarying posture (standing or sitting) is best. For your information, however, here is a brief summary of what happens in a public celebration:
- All stand during the introduction to the Office and during the opening hymn (if there is one: this site does not contain them).
- All sit during the readings (except Gospel readings).
- All stand during the Magnificat, Benedictus, or Nunc Dimittis, and during the concluding prayers.
- During the psalms, people may sit or stand, according to local custom.
- All cross themselves at the start of each Hour and at the start of the Magnificat, Benedictus, or Nunc Dimittis.
Reciting the psalms
Each psalm in the Divine Office has a title, which is not intended to be read out, but which helps in the understanding of its significance.
Each psalm is also given an antiphon. The antiphon may be said once, at the beginning of the psalm; or once at the beginning and once at the end (after the Glory Be). The Invitatory Psalm can additionally have the antiphon repeated after every verse of the psalm. Which of these methods is chosen is up to whoever is organizing the recitation: if you are doing it on your own, then you have to choose for yourself.
In a celebration of the Hours by more than one person, it is also possible to alternate the verses, between two choirs or two parts of the congregation. In this case it is probably less appropriate to insert the antiphon after every verse.
When a longer psalm has been split into parts, each part can be treated as a separate psalm, or the parts can be united into a single, longer psalm, with the Glory Be said only once, at the very end.
Lauds and Vespers have short Biblical readings. It is always permissible to substitute appropriate longer readings for these: for instance, the Mass reading of the day.
Responsories follow readings in the Liturgy, and help to meditate on the significance of those readings. In individual recitation, the repeated part of the responsory can be omitted, unless the meaning demands that it be kept.
These start with an introduction and a short response, and there then follow a number of intentions, each of which is in two halves. Here are the two methods recommended by the General Instruction:
- The priest or minister says the introduction and the people give the response. Then the priest says both halves of each intention and the people repeat the response.
- The priest or minister says the introduction and the people give the response. Then the priest says the first half of each intention and the people say the second half (the response is not repeated every time).
When reciting the Office on your own, choose whatever is most comfortable. The second method usually works better.
It is permissible to add special intentions at Morning Prayer and at Evening Prayer.
Universalis uses a translation of the Roman Breviary, but individual Episcopal Conferences usually modify the prayers and intercessions quite extensively.
The Office of Readings
This may be said at any time - even after Vespers of the previous night. It helps, though, to try to say it at a regular time each day.
Joining different Offices together
Where circumstances require it, the public celebration of a particular Hour may be merged with the Mass, or with another Hour. The rules for doing this are rather complicated, and can be found in the General Instruction referred to at the start of this page.