Liturgy: The Forgotten Liturgy

by Jay Chin


What comes to mind when someone says the word liturgy is the Eucharistic Feast where the Sacrifice of Christ is made present again. The Latin Church calls this the Mass, which comes from the Latin word misere. In the Byzantine Church, it is called The Divine Liturgy among the Saints John Chrysostom, which is a codification and shortening of the Liturgy of St. Basil. However, this is not the only kind liturgy. The other liturgy is the Liturgia Horarum, the Liturgy of the Hours.

This liturgy is a set of seven prayers that are sung throughout the day. There are three “major” hours: the Office of Readings, Lauds, and Vespers. There are also four non-obligatory “minor” hours: Terce, Sext, None, and Compline. Each hour has the same basic structure. They begin with the vesicle of Psalm 70:69, which says, “God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me.” Following is the doxology: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.” After comes a hymn, which tends to vary between communities. Next comes the Psalmody, the most ancient element of the Liturgy of the Hours, which traces its origin to the early monastic tradition of reciting most, and sometimes all, of the Psalms on any given day. The psalmody is composed of an antiphon and one or two Psalms. Next come a set of readings: Biblical texts, which succeed one another on any given week, and hagiographical texts, which are accounts of the remembered saint of the day or a theological commentary on the same Biblical texts read. Finally comes the Ambrosian Hymn, the Te Deum, which begins, “We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee: the Father everlasting.” It finalizes with a short prayer and a Biblical verse.


The current Liturgia Horarum, like the Novus Ordo Misae, comes from an older tradition that was modified after the Second Vatican Council. There are a few differences; there is no distinction between major and minor hours, it is to be recited only in Latin, and there is an eighth hour, the Prime, which was first instituted by St. Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. There are also various similarities with the Byzantine Rite’s daily prayers, most of which stem from the many Typicons of the Eastern Church.


This liturgy is obligatory for only clerics: monks, deacons, priests and bishops. However, all the laity is invited to partake in these daily prayers, not only as a form of private devotion, but also as a public service and as something to celebrate as a community.


There are various online sites that provide the daily texts. The Roman Breviary, in which the traditional Catholic Liturgy of the Hours is contained, is available on the iPhone.


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