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Liturgy of the Hours


Ora and Labora (Work and Prayer)[1]

THE BENEDICTINE MONASTIC OFFICE

The Divine Office is at the center of the Benedictine life. Through it the monk lifts heart and mind to Almighty God, and uniting himself to his confreres, the Church and the entire world in offering God praise and thanks, in confessing his sins, and in calling on God for the needs of all people. The office punctuates the day of the monk; like a leaven awakening his soul to make the entire day, indeed the whole of life, a gift of the self to God. Praying the hours puts the monk into the real world, sanctifying his whole life and assisting him toward his goal of unceasing prayer Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus.

The Benedictine Office is a rich collection of prayer that is based on the Rule of St. Benedict. Historically it is distinct from the Roman Office also recently called the Liturgy of the Hours which, after the Second Vatican Council, was reshaped to simplify and make more practical the prayer of the hours for the secular clergy, as well as the religious who use it, and the laity who make it a part of their life of prayer.

In 1966 the Breviarium Monasticum was the universal order of Divine Office for Benedictines. In that year the monks were given a period of time for liturgical experimentation, allowing each congregation of monasteries to adapt the tradition for its particular use, under certain guidelines. To this day the Breviarium Monasticum remains official and the time of experimentation is still in effect. In that circumstance, communities are using various forms of the Divine Office, and a few communities have even elected to take the new Roman Office (Liturgy of the Hours) as a convenient guideline because of its universal use among the secular clergy.

The following is a brief, general description of the centuries old Benedictine tradition of prayer in word and action. Reference is made occasionally to the Roman Office as another point of reference. The structure of the Office described below and outlined is according to the use at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama.


Traditional Monastic Hours
(which became the standard for the Roman Office)
New Roman Office (Liturgy of the Hours)
(American English version uses terms in parentheses)
Matins (Vigils)
Matins (Office of Readings) – any time of day
Lauds
Lauds (Morning Prayer)
Prime
Prime omitted in New Roman Office
Terce
Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer)
Sext
Sext (Mid-Day Prayer)
None
None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer)
Vespers
Vespers (Evening Prayer)
Compline
Compline (Night Prayer)


MATINS (VIGILS)


After the last prayers of the day, called Compline, there begins the grand silence lasting through the night. Early the next morning, the monk awakes in the darkness, goes to the oratory (church) and approaches God. At a signal he stands with his confreres and makes the sign of the cross on his closed lips and sings O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Traditionally, according to the Holy Rule, this is sung three times, there being a preference for threes in the liturgy for obvious reasons.


LAUDS


Sharing the same basic structure, Lauds and Vespers are the hinges of the Divine Office, i.e., the day opens and closes on them. The sun rises, light appears, and the day is born as Lauds is being sung. The sun sets, light wanes and the day begins to die away at Vespers. They are the natural and most important times of prayer.


THE LITTLE HOURS OF PRIME, TERCE, SEXT & NONE


These hours punctuate the day between the hinge hours of Lauds (sunrise) and Vespers (sunset), calling the monk to pray unceasingly, offering all of his day his entire life to God. The little hours bear only slight resemblance to the others, and have always had a subordinate place in the liturgy. Though Prime is now suppressed in the Roman Office, that does not effect monastic prayer; some monasteries retain the hour.


VESPERS


Sung toward evening, Vespers is the second of the two hinge hours. It is a service of praise, but with a stronger accent on thanks for the days blessings. Vespers is often related to the Eucharist because of its note of thanksgiving and its time of day. In fact many of its psalms are Eucharistic, including those sung at the Lords Supper, the Hallel (Pss. 112-117), and the Gradual Psalms (119-133) sung by pilgrims making their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. Four psalms, each with its antiphon, are sung. Again the structure is that of Lauds.


COMPLINE


After Vespers and just before bedtime, Compline is prayed. While Vespers praises God as one looks in gratitude at the day ending, Compline is the prayer of the person aware of his weakness and sin, seeking the peace that is rest and protection in God. It is St. Benedicts composition and, unlike the other offices, it begins with no call to prayer but with a blessing and with a Scripture passage that reminds all to be sober and watchful in the face of evil. This is followed by an examination of conscience and an act of contrition. We seem to join Christ in Gethsemane, and the themes of darkness (evil), light (God), and sleep (death) predominate, and we pray for a happy death. In contrition, petition and confidence, we cry out, Do not forsake us, O Lord, our God. Compline concludes with all bidding good night to the Blessed Mother.


HISTORY AND THEME IN THE HOURS

Matins
Anticipate the Resurrection and the Parousia.
Lauds
The Resurrection; praise. The Parousia.
Sext
Christ on the Cross; lead us not into temptation.
Vespers
Time of the Last Supper; thanksgiving.
Compline
Christ in Gethsemane; contrition, plea for protection.


Christ in the Desert-hours[2]

Sunday Schedule

4:00 a.m. – Vigils (choral office in church) lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes.
6:00 a.m. – Lauds (in church) followed by breakfast for guests from 6:30 to 7:10 am in the Guests Breakfast Room.
8:45 a.m. – Terce (in church) lasts about 10 minutes.
9:15 a.m. – Conventual Mass (holy Eucharist) followed by refreshments in the Guest Reception Area.
11:30 a.m. – Sext (in church) lasts about ten minutes, followed by Light Meal in the monastic refectory, 11:45 to 12:30 P.M.
4:00 p.m. – None (in church) lasts about ten minutes, followed by Main Meal in the monastic refectory.
5:30 p.m. – Solemn Vespers and Benediction (in church) lasts about 45 minutes.
7:30 p.m. – Compline (in church) lasts about 15 minutes, followed by Nightly Silence.

Daily Schedule

4:00 a.m. – Vigils (choral office in church) lasts about one hour.
5:30 a.m. – Lauds (in church) lasts about thirty minutes followed by Mass. Breakfast for guests in the Guest Breakfast Room from 5:00 – 7:45 A.M.
8:45 a.m. – Terce (in church) lasts about ten minutes.
9:00 a.m. – Work meeting for guests outside the Gift Shop. Work for All.
12:40 p.m. – End of work period.
1:00 p.m. – Sext (in church) lasts about ten minutes, followed by main meal in the monastic refectory.
2:00 p.m. – None (in church) lasts about ten minutes.
5:20 p.m. – Exposition and Eucharistic Adoration (in Church).
5:50 p.m. – Vespers (in church) lasts about thirty minutes.
6:20 p.m. – Light meal until 6:50 P.M. in the monastic refectory.
7:30 p.m. – Compline (in church) lasts about fifteen minutes, followed by nightly silence

Christians at Rome in Post-Apostolic Times

St. Hippoytus was a priest and a person of some importance in the Church in Rome who in his book, “The Apostolic Traditions”, displays the liturgical life of the Christian at Rome in the first centuries. Of interest is the tradition of the hours.
Divine Office:

6 a.m. Prime: "All the faithful, men and women, upon rising in the morning before beginning work, should wash their hands and pray to God."

9 a.m. Terce: "When you are at home, pray at the third hour and praise God. But if you are away when this hour comes, pray in your heart to God. For at this hour Christ was nailed to the Cross."

12 p.m. Sext: "In a similar way you should pray again at the sixth hour. For at the time when Christ was nailed to the Cross, there came a great darkness. Prayer should therefore be said in imitation of Him who prayed at that hour, viz., Christ before His death."

3 p.m. None: "The ninth hour too should be made perfect by prayer and praise . . . in that hour Christ was pierced by the spear."

6 p.m. Vespers: "Once more ought you to pray before you go to bed."

Matins: "At midnight rise from your bed, wash yourself and pray. If you have a wife, pray together in antiphonal fashion. If she is not yet of the faith, withdraw and pray alone and return again to your place. If you are bound by the bond of marriage duties, do not cease your prayers, for you are not stained thereby. It is necessary that we pray at that hour (i.e., Matins), for at that hour all creation is resting and praising God. Stars, trees, water are as if they were standing still; all the hosts of angels are holding divine services together with the souls of the just. They are praising almighty God at that hour." What an inspiring passage!

Sunrise-Lauds: "In like manner rise and pray at the hour at which the cock crows . . . full of hope look forward to the day of eternal light that will shine upon us eternally after the resurrection from the dead." Motivation for these "hour prayers" of the early Christians was the conviction that daily they were reliving Christ's death and resurrection. Every new day was a day of resurrection, and daily they were raised with Christ on the Cross. It is an example that should spur us on to give the Mass, the Breviary, and the Bible the place of honor in our lives.




[1] https://stbernardabbey.com/the-divine-office/
[2]https://christdesert.org/visiting/daily-schedule/

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