Liturgy of the Hours
What is the Liturgy of the Hours all about?
When I first saw “LOTH” my mind immediately flashed to LOTR (Lord of the Rings.) Then I thought of Lothlorien which is the place where the elves live in LOTR and it is also the name of a weird hippie co-op in Madison Wisconsin where my daughter used to live.
Thank God I was able to get past these goofy and irrelevant associations and learn to make this amazing system of prayer the foundation of my daily devotions. It has been a source of joy and holiness in my life and I hope that you will have the same experience.
LOTH is the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office. Nowadays Catholics are most familiar with it as the Breviary, the prayers that priests are required to pray everyday. We may also have a dim familiarity with the Latin names of some of the parts of the LOTH such as matins, lauds, vespers, etc and we may associate them with monks or classical music.
Basically, the Liturgy of the Hours is a system of several daily prayers based on the Psalms. LOTH is an outgrowth of the daily prayers of the Jews that Jesus grew up praying and is related to the five times daily prayers of the Muslims. In the early Church it was prayed publicly by the laity but gradually became shared prayer in religious communities and the private prayer of the clergy. The Rosary developed as a sort of “lite” popularized version of the LOTH. The 150 Hail Marys in a full original (three sets of mysteries) Rosary correspond to the 150 Psalms. Vatican II brought LOTH back into the life of the laity.
Yes, there is a lot of interesting history here, but I urge you to fight your impulse to turn this into a research project!
Before you do anything else – go straight to the prayers themselves* and just start praying them. The only thing you really need to know is that they are approved (indeed, highly recommended) by the Catholic Church. All the rest is just details and distractions for now. Just start praying.
Don’t Google it – pray it!
Don’t buy it on Amazon – pray it!
Don’t worry about the different versions – pray it!
Don’t try to figure out how it is put together – pray it!
*OK! Pray right now:
If it is before noon go here.
If it is after noon go here.
If it is late at night and you should be in bed go here.
These links will always take you to the prayers for the current day. You can also see these links over in the right column of this website, under the Mass reading.
Use these links to pray the LOTH again tomorrow and the next day and the next… for at least a month. You don’t need to pray all the parts every day. Just try to pray at least one part each day.
You can bookmark these three web pages on your computer or you can use the links in the upper right column of this web site or you can print the pages out every morning or whatever works for you. There are also smartphone apps for the LOTH.
After you have done this for a month and you have gone through the full cycle of Psalms, you may want to add the Office of Readings.
Here is a beautiful post about what it is like to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
If you live in a populated area or near a religious community I would recommend that your next step should be to try to find other people with whom to pray the LOTH. The LOTH was meant to be prayed in groups and doing this will benefit you in countless ways. Don’t be shy. Ask around. The worst thing that could happen is that no one will know what you are talking about and you will get to introduce this wonderful devotion into the lives of others.
STOP HERE unless you are already regularly praying the Liturgy of the Hours!
Only after you have done all the above and you have built a firm foundation of devotions with the Liturgy of the Hours should you delve deeper into the history and inner workings. Do not allow the details to become a distraction from the prayer. The prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours stands alone and you do not need anything beyond this point.
You have reached this point because you love the LOTH and you want to deepen your understanding and participation.
When it comes to research, there are two directions you can go as you seek to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours. One direction is to learn about how it is put together and how to pray it using a book instead of the internet. The other direction is to explore the history and meaning of the prayers.
I strongly recommend that you follow the second path and work next on deepening your appreciation of the beauty and significance of the prayers and to reading commentaries and discussions of the Psalms and Canticles.
I highly recommend The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians by John Brook. This is a truly amazing book and I recommend it even if you have no desire to pray the LOTH. Read about The School of Prayer on Amazon. There are also many other fine commentaries on the Psalms that can enrich your LOTH devotions.
The other thing you may want to do, after you have made the LOTH a part of your daily devotions, after you have found a group to pray with, and after you have deepened your understanding of the prayer… You may want to explore the structure of the LOTH and learn how to pray it with a book instead of the internet.
Why do I leave getting a LOTH book to the very end and try to dissuade you from it?
It is not easy to learn. Many people become so completely bogged down and discouraged in trying to learn to pray the LOTH from a book that they give up and never really pray it at all.
It is time consuming. The task of figuring out and finding the correct readings and flipping back and forth can take more time than the prayer itself. This is especially an issue if you miss some prayers and need to reposition your ribbons. Time was not a big deal in the year 513 or 1013 or 1513 when there wasn’t that much else going on but you probably already have a lot on your plate every day without adding this.
It can be a minefield of distracting details. Even after you master it, the mechanics can pull you away from the focus of your devotion.
It can be expensive. The full four volume set of LOTH will cost you over $120. Even the abridged one volume editions are at least $30. Wouldn’t it be better to put that money in the collection basket?
It is just so unnecessary for most people in the 21st century. When you want to know what time it is, do you take your watch apart? When you want to travel do you dismantle your car? Modern technology has freed us from an enormous amount of tedious detail and effort in every aspect of our lives and weirdly enough, that includes praying the LOTH.
The people who have a compelling reason to learn to pray the LOTH from a book include:
People who have a vocation and are required to learn to pray from a book.
People who live in or spend time in extremely remote locations with no internet.
People who are very “old school” and love the feel of a book in their hands.
People who are nerdy and love taking things apart to see how they work.
But most people are merely curious and just want to check the process out for themselves. And it is pretty cool actually!
What is it like to pray the LOTH from a book? The thing that will hit you right away is that the book has a lot of ribbons to keep track of and there is a lot of flipping back and forth all over, all the time. You will probably also need reference cards and bookmarks too.
If you are old (or traditional) enough to be familiar with missals, it is a lot like that but much more complicated.
If you you have never used a missal but you are old enough to remember a slide rule, it is a lot like that but with prayers instead of numbers.
If you are young, you may find it to be like the part of a role playing game where you have to find a lot of little pieces from all over and then assemble them together before you can do anything.
If you still want to do this, before you spend any money, go to The Rosary Shop and put in your email address to get the Discovering Prayer guide. They will send you a link to a free pdf. This is the same thing that would cost you $20 on Amazon. They will also give you download links to reference cards and other helpful material. Read through enough of this to give yourself an idea of what you are getting into.
Next you will need to buy a book. The LOTH comes in three basic sizes: 1) the full four volume version, 2) an abridged one volume version called Christian Prayer: the Liturgy of the Hours, and 3) a very short “pocket” version called Shorter Christian Prayer: The Four-Week Psalter of the Liturgy of the Hours. There are also different translations and arrangements from different publishers.
I hesitate to try to influence your decision too much, but I think that if you are already praying the LOTH from the internet you will not be satisfied with the Shorter Christian Prayer version. But if you are just getting started and need to pray from a book the Shorter Christian Prayer can be a great way to learn the basics. It is also nice if you need something super portable. The main difference between the four volume versions and the one volume Christian Prayer version is that the one volume versions do not include much of the Office of Readings.
Stay away from anything written by Phyllis Tickle! These are non-Catholic oddball new-age adaptations that you do not want.
Don’t buy the Open my Lips or Discovering Prayer books! (Unless you want to give them as a gift.) They are the same thing you already downloaded free from the Rosary Shop web site.
I’ve never tried the Divine Office for Dodos book. Some people love it and some people hate it.
The different publishers (Catholic Book Publishing and Pauline Books) arrange the contents of LOTH in slightly different ways but I think that the decision of which one is best is a matter of personal choice.
I suggest you go to Amazon and spend some time reading about all the different versions and their reviews. If there is a Catholic book store near you they may have some different editions that you can compare. If you decide to go with the four volume set, I would advise you to buy them one at a time (start with the current season) unless you can get someone to buy them all for you as a gift. The leather editions are not that much more expensive than the cloth or vinyl and since this is a lifetime purchase, you may want to get something that will hold up to a lot of wear.
(I have a one volume CBP leather edition because I like to go camping in the middle of nowhere and because I am old school. And I am also somewhat nerdy.)
The final thing you will certainly want to do is share your experience with the Liturgy of the Hours with others. Anyone who is currently praying the Rosary is an excellent candidate for the LOTH. And, as John Brook points out in The School of Prayer, the LOTH is something that even protestants can pray with enjoyment. It is based entirely on the Bible, especially the Psalms, so there is nothing in it that would upset even our most separated brethren. So go ahead and share this wonderful devotional resource with your friends and family. God bless you.