We frequently receive calls from customers looking for the Divine Office or maybe it’s the Breviary or possibly the Liturgy of the Hours. They really aren’t sure what the book is called because it has several names.
If you get requests like this from customers, it’s a good idea to have a little knowledge on your side so you can help them make the right purchase.
First of all, the Divine Office, Breviary and Liturgy of the Hours all refer to the same thing – a book containing prayers that are meant to be said at specific times throughout the day.
History of the Breviary
The hours are an ancient tradition that can be traced back to early Benedictan monastics who took seriously the biblical command to “pray without ceasing”. During the pontificate of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) the use of the Breviary spread beyond the Benedictines to the Roman Papal court.
When the Franciscan Order was founded, they had need of a compact book containing the daily prayers so they created a shorter version of the Breviary that they could take on their travels. This version eventually spread throughout Europe and during the pontificate of Nicholas III (1277-1280) was officially adopted in Rome and eventually by the whole Church.
The Breviary contains a collection of Psalms, Scripture readings, writings of the Church Fathers and other prayers. The Breviary is meant to be prayed at specific times during the day. Before the revision following Vatican II there were many more hours including ones in the middle of the night that have since been dropped.
Organization of the Hours
Prior to Vatican II, the Breviary was divided into sections that were to be prayed about every three hours throughout the day and night. Morning started with Prime at 6am, Terce at 9am, Sext at noon, None at 3pm, Vespers at 6pm, Matins was divided into three parts prayed at 9pm, midnight and 3am and Lauds was prayed at dawn.
Currently the Hours are divided into the Invititory, the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. The hours prayed late at night have been removed.
The pre-Vatican II Breviary is available in a two-volume, hardback set. This set is entirely in Latin. You can also purchase an abbreviated version called the Divine Office which contains the major hours with English translations alongside the Latin. Divine Office is just another term referring to the Breviary.
There are several options available for the post-Vatican II Breviary, usually referred to as the Liturgy of the Hours. The full Liturgy of the Hours is available in both a leather and vinyl cover edition. You can also get a large print version.
You can also get a single volume edition of the Liturgy of the Hours called Christian Prayer (also available in hardback and large print) that contains the major offices but leaves out the Office of Readings which contains all the wonderful writings of the Church Fathers. You can also get Shorter Christian Prayer which contains just Morning and Evening prayer.
There are also several hymnals and other editions and guides available but this summary should provide you with enough information to answer most questions you receive.