Praying the Divine Office at Home in the Domestic Church

The subject of the Divine Office is one that I like to raise from time to time and it often brings with it a swell of interest and curiosity. Usually going hand in hand with this is a series of questions about how one can go about praying it. This is very encouraging for in terms of the various forms of prayer that one might undertake, the Divine Office should rank very high as a primary consideration -- it, after all, forms a part of the Church's liturgical prayer and is a source of very great comfort and liturgical formation. By adopting this worthy practice you are allowing yourself not only to be imbued with the richness of the psalms and sacred scripture, you are also being formed liturgically, following the liturgical calendar and seasons of the Church more closely and allowing the liturgical prayer of the Church to penetrate and form your day, each and every day, and not solely on Sundays.

At the same time, however, there can also be a reservation expressed by some who feel that the Divine Office is simply too much work, too time consuming, too 'clerical' or 'monastic' for the laity the pursue and so (the thinking goes) the laity should just stick with other devotions and not trouble themselves with the breviary.

With regard to this objection let me state categorically and unequivocally that it is misplaced and a myth. On average I would estimate that a prayerful reading of the Office, one that is said neither too rapidly nor slowly in other words, will probably you see invest 10-15 minutes for each of the major hours of Lauds and Vespers for example -- and approximately 10 minutes for Compline (understanding, of course, that when one is first learning something, it always takes a bit longer than it normally will otherwise).  Of course the other mistake that often influences this idea that the Divine Office is "too long" is the misunderstanding that if one is going to pray the Divine Office one needs to pray all of the hours.  This is not the case -- and in point of fact I wouldn't recommend it for laity (unless you are home-bound or retired).


As for this other idea that the Office is too clerical, that certainly isn't what the Church says or thinks and in 2011 Pope Benedict XVI offered his own reflection on this at a Wednesday general audience:
I would like to renew my call to everyone to pray the Psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Our relationship with God can only be enriched by our journeying towards Him day after day
You will note that the Pope also made specific reference to Lauds, Vespers and Compline -- Morning, Evening and Night Prayer. These are key hours of the Divine Office and it is these three offices that I would likewise encourage people to make their goal to take up each and every day.  There are various reasons for this, but amongst them include the fact that this separation of hours help penetrate one's day at the beginning, end and in between with the liturgy and prayer of the Church. As well, these offices bring with them a greater variety of psalms, not to mention the great canticles of the Benedictus and Magnifcat, and are penetrated more deeply by the proper of the season.  While some have chosen to take up praying minor hours such as Terce or Sext, possibly because of this aforementioned time concern, I would certainly encourage them to advance onwards to Lauds and Vespers. In fact, if there were only one or two hours of the day that you could pick, I would strongly recommend that it be one of these two -- or both ideally.

So then, with that setting the framework of our discussion, let's move on to considering some practical tips on how to go about praying the Divine Office.

Establishing the Habit and Routine of Prayer

The key to praying the Office is, like all forms of prayer, establishing the habit of it. Our lives can get busy and with that it can be easy to neglect or forget things. This is the case whether you are talking about prayer or about even the most basic activities of day to day life.  So then, speaking from personal experience, one will be most successful by establishing a routine around it.  That might be a specific time or it might be tied to other events (i.e. other routines) at particular periods of the day.  So then, that could mean praying Lauds every day at a specific time, or it could mean that you pray Lauds immediately upon rising or after eating breakfast, regardless of whether that be 5am, 7am or 9am. Likewise, Vespers might be something you do at a specific time of the day, or perhaps you do it immediately when you get home from the office, or before or after supper. Each approach can be equally effective but more than likely one will be what works better for you personally. Speaking for myself, I take the latter approach of attaching it to my other routines rather than a specific time as I find that best meshes with my own schedule on weekdays and weekends, providing some needed flexibility on the one hand, but which is still rooted in a stable and reliable routine.

Also extremely useful is to have access to a liturgical calendar. Nowadays these are readily accessible through apps and from websites, but if that is not to your taste then a liturgical wall calendar or Ordo will also work. Whatever you use, the value is that this will provide you with quick and easy access to the liturgical calendar for those times when the liturgical seasons are in transition, or even just to be sure you remember which week one is in in the liturgical year. That makes it quite simple to be sure you are praying from the correct propers. (And you will take note of how even this activity is already helping to unite you more closely to the ebb and flow of the Church's liturgical year.)

Which Breviary To Use?

Which breviary you wish to use is an intensely personal question unless you are in a situation where you are canonically required to pray a particular form of it (which most laity are not). I would take this opportunity to comment up front that some have chosen to utilize the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary as their foray into the Divine Office. Here too, just as with those who presently opt to pray the minor hours instead of the major,  I would encourage those who do so to consider making the move to adopt the Divine Office proper. The Little Office, praiseworthy though it is, is necessarily limited in scope and doesn't give the full liturgical benefit or enrichment of the Divine Office proper. At the most basic level, I would encourage you to select a breviary that includes Lauds, Vespers and Compline and has the full psalter and proper of season -- more on this below.

A second consideration is which liturgical calendar you wish to follow and be formed by. In the case of the Roman rite, fundamentally this becomes a question of the traditional calendar of the ancient Roman rite or the reformed calendar of the modern Roman rite. For those who, like me, prefer and more strongly identify with the ancient Roman rite, you will want to select something like the older Roman breviary (Breviarium Romanum) or the Monastic breviary (Breviarium Monasticum) as it will follow that liturgical calendar and sanctoral, giving you access to times like Septuagesimatide and so on. (In fact, for those who have this preference but do not have access to a regular Mass in the usus antiquior, this can be an effective means to help fill that liturgical gap in part.) If, on the other hand, the modern Roman rite is what you are more attached to, you will be looking for the Liturgy of the Hours.  In both of these instances, these come in either multi-volume or single volume editions. Single volume editions (depending on the breviary) might involve a little more back and forth page-flipping but also are quite a bit more affordable.  Having used both single and multi volume versions, I can say that I am personally indifferent as to which I use.

For those who have no particular attachment to either liturgical form, and have no particular desire to be formed by one or another calendar, your considerations will be a bit more broad and influenced by additional factors such as the structure of the breviary and so on -- the older form of the breviary, for instance, sees one praying more psalms at the various hours than one does in the modern breviary. Personally I would recommend the ancient form if you find yourself in this situation.

One will also need to determine if they wish to pray the Office in Latin, in English or in both Latin and English. Many of the older breviaries that are now available come with the benefit of having parallel Latin and vernacular texts akin to a pew missal. This is more difficult to find in the modern Liturgy of the Hours (and, in point of fact, I am not even certain it exists for that version) but if your intent is to pray the modern Office in the vernacular, it won't be an issue for you.

Other Aids to Praying the Breviary

When I was first learning to pray the Divine Office I was doing it essentially on my own in the days prior to the internet. Fortunately I had access to a friend who prayed it as a member of a Third Order and he was able to assist me with any questions I had. With the advent of the internet things have gotten much easier and more readily accessible -- though obviously if you do have friends who pray the Office, don't discount the value of mining their practical knowledge and experience, especially if they are local to you and you can pray the Office with them from time.

As noted above, there are apps and sites out there now which actually give you the text of the office of the day (for example, Divine Office, iBreviary, Breviarium Meum, Universalis). There are also websites that offer similar functions; some are free, others are subscription based. Someone could, of course, simply choose to pray from these if they wished, or they could also use them as guides for setting up their breviaries if they were ever uncertain about something. Personally, I prefer a book in hand, but this doesn't matter to everyone equally.

In addition, one can find Facebook community groups now, such as the Breviary and Divine Office Discussion Group, which have thousands of members praying various forms of the Office, and these sites exist for people to ask questions, to learn, etc. I would highly recommend utilizing a resource such as this -- and if you are just starting to toy with praying the Office, this could be a good place to go and ask questions to help pick the form of the breviary which will be the best fit for you.

My point is drawing your attention to all of these resources is not because they are necessary or because the Office is a burden to learn otherwise; that isn't the case. It is only to highlight the fact that people now have more options than ever to say the Office or learn the Office -- and fewer excuses not to.

Print Versions: The Ancient Roman Liturgical Calendar and Form

Outside of the electronic options above, for the breviaries that follow the ancient liturgical calendar there are two that are in print that I'd highly recommend.

For the Roman breviary there is the three volume Latin-English edition published by Baronius Press. It is out of stock at the moment but a new edition will be ready for purchase in the next few months LAJ is told -- at which time we will review it anew incidentally.  This one is a bit more of an investment of course, but it's an investment well worth making -- and for it you get a highly quality set bound in the liturgical tradition, complete with gilt edges, onion skin paper, red rubrics and sewn ribbons. It should last you a lifetime and beyond.

Another that is highly recommended is the Monastic Diurnal published by St. Michael's Abbey Press.  This is a very handy single volume edition that follows the ancient liturgical calendar and it comes in at a very nice price point and with the same quality as the Roman breviary above.  This is a parallel Latin-English translation as well.

Both of the above editions also come with the benefit that the English utilized is hieratic liturgical English.

If you're willing to purchase in the secondhand market (see ABEbooks), a good starter option is Lauds, Vespers and Compline which is an abbreviated, single volume edition of the Roman breviary as published in Collegeville. It includes, as the title notes, the key hours of Lauds, Vespers and Compline, though it should be noted that it is English only so if you're looking for parallel Latin text, this isn't the one for you. It isn't a leather binding but it is, however, a great choice to begin with and it often begins as low as $15-20 in the secondhand market.  This would also be a good option for someone who is toying with switching to the ancient form of the Roman breviary from the modern Liturgy of the Hours.

Another option on the secondhand market is The Roman Breviary translated by Christine Mohrmann. This is a single volume, English only translation as well, though it tends to be pricier than the aforementioned volume, in part because it includes all of the hours. For my part, if I were going to spend the sort of money usually asked for this volume (typically over $100 USD), I'd rather put it toward either the Baronius breviary or Monastic Diurnal.

Print Versions: The Modern Roman Liturgical Calendar and Form

For those who would prefer to use the modern Roman form, there are various editions that are in print.

There is the four volume Liturgy of the Hours edition and also a single volume edition of the same called Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours.  These are English only of course and the translation is of a modern, non-hieratic form.

Another edition of the same, coming from the UK, is The Divine Office which comes in a three volume edition. A shorter one volume edition titled Daily Prayer is also published.

If I were to pick from one of these two editions of the modern Roman breviary, I would likely choose The Divine Office for reason of the particular translations utilized -- though it is again worth noting that this is not hieratic.

Final Thoughts

It's worth always remembering that anything that is new always seems more complicated at first and due to our lack of familiarity, it's natural to expect it to take a little more time at first -- and sometimes be accompanied by a little frustration as well.  Whether we are speaking about the Divine Office, the Mass, the Rosary, a new job, or anything else, this simply how it is when we start something new.  With a little time and practice, however, that quickly fades away and it begins to become second nature to us. Spend a little time with the Divine Office and it will soon flow out from you as easily as your Mass responses do or at least as easily as you are able to flip through and follow your pew missal.

I mentioned earlier that I would encourage people to take on Lauds, Vespers and Compline. For the person who is truly newly starting out, they might wish to start with only one of these hours at first. If you're a morning person, go with Lauds. If you find your schedule is better attuned to the evening, start with Vespers -- but I would recommend that you start with one of these two specifically because once you have one of them down, the rest will easily flow from that.

Finally, remember there is no shame in asking questions. That's why groups exist online and there you will find people who have been saying the office for decades and those who are fairly new at it. You will generally find too that people who pray the Divine Office have a real passion for it and are eager to help see it grow. This is because they know its power and the comfort to be found in penetrating your day with the liturgical prayer of the Church. One should take note of that conviction because it says something.  Once you set into the routine yourself, you'll wonder why you hadn't started it sooner.

In fact, why not start looking into it now?
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