Canonical hours

Canonical hours

Canonical hours are divisions of time which serve as increments between the prescribed prayers of the daily round. A Book of Hours contains such a set of prayers.

In western Catholicism, canonical hours may also be called offices, since they refer to the official set of prayer of the Roman Catholic Church that is known variously as the Divine Office (from the Latin officium divinum meaning "divine service" or "divine duty"), and the Opus Dei (meaning in Latin, "Work of God"). The current official version of the hours in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Liturgy of the Hours (Latin: Liturgia horarum) in North America or Divine Office in the British Isles.

In the Anglican tradition, they are often known as the Daily Office or Divine Office, to distinguish them from the other Offices of the Church.

Chanters singing on the kliros at the Church of St. George, Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In the Orthodox Church, and among Eastern Catholics, the canonical hours may be referred to as the "Divine Services", and the Book of Hours is called the Horologion (Greek: ῾Ωρολόγιον). There may be numerous small differences in practice according to jurisdiction; but the overall order is the same among eastern Christians who follow the Byzantine style of services (the usage among the Oriental Orthodox Churches will differ from the Byzantine in a number of ways).

The practice of daily prayers grew from the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at set times of the day: for example, in the Book of Acts, Peter and John visit the Temple for the afternoon prayers (Acts 3:1). Psalm 119:164 states: "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws."

This practice is believed to have been passed down through the centuries from the Apostles, with different practices developing in different places. As monasticism spread, the practice of specified hours and liturgical formats began to develop and become standardized. Around the year 484, Sabbas began the process of recording the liturgical practices around Jerusalem. In 525, Benedict of Nursia wrote the first official western manual for praying the Hours. With the Cluniac reforms of the 11th century there was a new emphasis on liturgy and the canonical hours in the reformed Benedictine priories with the Abbey of Cluny at their head. The Holy See did not issue an official Roman breviary until the 11th century, as part of the reforms that were designed to bring all the variant usages of Christian churches in the West into conformity.

Already well-established by the ninth century, these canonical offices consisted of eight daily prayer events and three (or four) nightly divisions (called "nocturns", "watches," or "vigils"). Building on the recitation of psalms and canticles from scripture, the Church has added (and, at times, subtracted) hymns, hagiographical readings, and other prayers.



Judaism and the Early Church

As is noted above, the canonical hours stemmed from Jewish prayer. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelite priests to offer sacrifices of animals in the morning and evening (Exodus 29:38-39). Eventually, these sacrifices soon moved from the Tabernacle to the Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem. During the Babylonian Exile, when the Temple was no longer in use, the first synagogues were established, and the services (at fixed hours of the day) of Torah readings, psalms, and hymns began to evolve. This "sacrifice of praise" began to be substituted for the sacrifices of animals.

After the people returned to Judea, the prayer services were incorporated into Temple worship as well. As time passed, the Jews began to be scattered across the Greco-Roman world in what is known as the Diaspora. By the time of the Roman Empire, the Jews (and eventually early Christians) began to follow the Roman system of conducting the business day in scheduling their times for prayer. In Roman cities, the bell in the forum rang the beginning of the business day at about six o'clock in the morning (Prime, the "first hour"), noted the day's progress by striking again at about nine o'clock in the morning (Terce, the "third hour"), tolled for the lunch break at noon (Sext, the "sixth hour"), called the people back to work again at about three o'clock in the afternoon (None, the "ninth hour"), and rang the close of the business day at about six o'clock in the evening (the time for evening prayer).

The first miracle of the apostles, the healing of the crippled man on the temple steps, occurred because Peter and John went to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1). Also, one of the defining moments of the early Church, the decision to include Gentiles among the community of believers, arose from a vision Peter had while praying at noontime (Acts 10:9–49).

As Christianity began to separate from Judaism, the practice of praying at fixed times continued. The early church was known to pray the Psalms (Acts 4:23-30), which has remained a part of the canonical hours and all Christian prayer since. By 60 AD, the Didache, the oldest known liturgical manual for Christians, recommended disciples to pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day; this practice found its way into the canonical hours as well. Pliny the Younger (63 – c. 113), who was not a Christian himself, mentions not only fixed times of prayer by believers, but also specific services—other than the Eucharist—assigned to those times: “they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity ... after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal. .”[1]

By the second and third centuries, such Church Fathers as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian wrote of the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer, and of the prayers at terce, sext, and none. The prayers could be prayed individually or in groups. By the third century, the Desert Fathers (the earliest monks), began to live out St. Paul's command to "pray without ceasing" (I_Thessalonians 5:17) by having one group of monks pray one fixed-hour prayer while having another group pray the next prayer.

Middle Ages

As the format of unbroken fixed-hour prayer developed in the Christian monastic communities in the East and West, longer prayers soon grew, but the cycle of prayer became the norm in daily life in monasteries. By the fourth century, the characteristics of the canonical hours more or less took their present shape. For secular (non-monastic) clergymen and lay people, the fixed-hour prayers were by necessity much shorter. In many churches and basilicas staffed by monks, the form of the fixed-hour prayers was a hybrid of secular and monastic practice.

In the East, the development of the Divine Services shifted from the area around Jerusalem to Constantinople. In particular, St. Theodore the Studite (c. 758 – c. 826) combined a number of influences from the Byzantine court ritual with monastic practices common in Asia Minor, and added thereto a number of hymns composed by himself and his brother Joseph (see Typicon for further details).

In the West, St. Benedict in his famous Rule modeled his guidelines for the prayers on the customs of the basilicas of Rome. It was he who expounded the concept in Christian prayer of the inseparability of the spiritual life from the physical life. St. Benedict was known to have said "Orare est laborare, laborare est orare" ("To pray is to work, to work is to pray"). Thus, the fixed-hour prayers came to be known as the "Divine Office" (office coming from the Latin word for work). The Benedictines began to call the prayers the Opus Dei or "Work of God."

As the Divine Office grew more important in the life of the Church, the rituals became more elaborate. Soon, praying the Office began to require various books, such as a Psalter for the psalms, a lectionary to find the assigned Scripture reading for the day, a Bible to proclaim the reading, a hymnal for singing, etc. As parishes grew in the Middle Ages away from cathedrals and basilicas, a more concise way of arranging the hours was needed. So, a sort of list developed called the Breviary, which gave the format of the daily office and the texts to be used. The spread of breviaries eventually reached Rome, where Pope Innocent III extended its use to the Roman Curia. The Franciscans sought a one-volume breviary for its friars to use during travels, so the order adopted the Breviarium Curiae, but substituting the Gallican Psalter for the Roman. The Franciscans gradually spread this breviary throughout Europe. Pope Nicholas III would then adopt the widely-used Franciscan breviary to be the breviary used in Rome. By the 14th century, the breviary contained the entire text of the canonical hours.

Roman Rite since the Council of Trent

Roman Rite Book of the Hours with a Rosary


Revision by Pope Pius V

The Council of Trent, in its final session on 4 December 1563, entrusted the reform of the Breviary to the Pope.[2] On 9 July 1568, Pope Pius V, the successor of the Pope who closed the Council of Trent, promulgated an edition, known as the Roman Breviary, with his Apostolic Constitution Quod a nobis, imposing it in the same way in which, two years later, he imposed his Roman Missal and using language very similar to that in the bull Quo primum with which he promulgated the Missal, regarding, for instance, the perpetual force of its provisions, the obligation to use the promulgated text in all places, and the total prohibition of adding or omitting anything, declaring in fact: "No one whosoever is permitted to alter this letter or heedlessly to venture to go contrary to this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult declaration, will decree and prohibition. Should anyone, however, presume to commit such an act, he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul."[3]

Further revision before the Second Vatican Council

Later Popes altered the Roman Breviary of Pope Pius V. Pope Clement VIII made changes that he made obligatory on 10 May 1602, 34 years after Pius V's revision. Pope Urban VIII made further changes, including "a profound alteration in the character of some of the hymns. Although some of them without doubt gained in literary style, nevertheless, to the regret of many, they also lost something of their old charm of simplicity and fervour."[4] For the profound revision of the book by Pope Pius X see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X.

Pope Pius XII also began reforming the Roman Breviary, allowing use of a new translation of the Psalms and establishing a special commission to study a general revision, with a view to which all the Catholic bishops were consulted in 1955. His successor, Pope John XXIII, made a further revision in 1960.

Revision following the Second Vatican Council

Latin typical editions
Liturgy of the Hours in a monastery of Carthusian nuns.

Following the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church's Roman Rite simplified the observance of the canonical hours and sought to make them more suited to the needs of today's apostolate and accessible to the laity, hoping to restore their character as the prayer of the entire Church.

The Council itself abolished the office of Prime, and envisioned a manner of distributing the psalms over a period of more than 1 week.[5] In the succeeding revision, the character of Matins was changed to an Office of Readings so that it could be used at any time of the day as an office of Scriptural and hagiographical readings. Furthermore, the period over which the entire Psalter is recited has been expanded from one week to four. Since 1985, with the publication of the second typical edition of the Latin liturgical books, the Latin hymns of the Roman Office were once again restored to their pre-Urban revision.

What was called the Roman Breviary is now published by Catholic Book Publishing Corp. under the title Liturgia Horarum ("Liturgy of the Hours") in four volumes, arranged according to the liturgical seasons of the Church year.

  • Volume I: Advent & Christmastide
  • Volume II: Lent, the Sacred Triduum & Eastertide
  • Volume III: Weeks 1 to 17 of the Year
  • Volume IV: Weeks 18 to 34 of the Year

The current liturgical books for the celebration of the Hours in Latin are those of the editio typica altera (second typical edition) promulgated in 1985. The official title is Officium Divinum, Liturgia Horarum iuxta Ritum Romanum, editio typica altera.

Official English translations

Two English translations are in use.

The Divine Office (non-ICEL) The Divine Office is translated by a commission set up by the Episcopal Conferences of England and Wales, Australia and Ireland. First published in 1974 by HarperCollins, this edition is the official English edition for use the above countries, as well as many Asian and African dioceses. This title comes complete in three volumes:

The psalms are taken from the 1963 Grail Psalms, while the Scriptural readings and canticles are taken from various versions of the Bible, including the Revised Standard Version, the Jerusalem Bible, the Knox Bible, the Good News Bible, and the New English Bible.

Collins also publishes shorter editions of The Divine Office:

  • Daily Prayer - comprising the complete Divine Office, except for the Office of Readings
  • Morning & Evening Prayer - comprising the complete Morning, Evening and Night prayers from the Divine Office
  • Shorter Morning & Evening Prayer - comprising the Psalter for Morning, Evening and Night prayers and a selection of texts from the liturgical seasons and feasts

Between 2005 and 2006, Collins republished The Divine Office and its various shorter editions with a new cover.

Liturgy of the Hours (ICEL) The Liturgy of the Hours is translated by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). First published in 1975 by Catholic Book Publishing Company in the USA, this edition is the official English edition for use in the USA, Canada and several other English-speaking dioceses. This title comes complete in four volumes in an arrangement identical to the original Latin typical edition.

The psalm are taken mainly from the 1963 Grail Psalms, while the Scriptural readings and canticles are taken from the New American Bible.

Shorter editions of the Liturgy of the Hours are also available from various publishers: Christian Prayer (Daughters of St Paul and Catholic Book Publishing Company) and Shorter Christian Prayer (Catholic Book Publishing Company only). In 2007, Liturgy Training Publications released the new Mundelein Psalter, which provided the complete Morning, Evening and Night Prayers from ICEL's translation set to chant tones.

Both these editions are based on the Latin 1971 editio typica.

Current practice

Priests are required by canon law to pray the entire Divine Office each day while deacons are required to pray the morning and evening hours. All clerics are free to use the Liturgy of the Hours or the traditional Roman Breviary, according to the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, to fulfill this obligation. The practice among religious communities varies according to their rules and constitutions. The Second Vatican Council also exhorted the Christian laity to take up the practice, and as a result, many lay people have begun reciting portions of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The modern Liturgy of the Hours usage focuses on three major hours and from two to four minor hours:

  • Invitatory (not an hour properly called, but the introduction to the first hour said on the current day, whether it be the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer).
  • the Office of Readings (formerly Matins), major hour
  • Morning prayer (Lauds), major hour
  • Daytime prayer, which can be one or all of
    • Midmorning prayer (Terce)
    • Midday prayer (Sext)
    • Midafternoon prayer (None)
  • Evening prayer (Vespers), major hour
  • Night Prayer (Compline)

Major hours

The major hours consist of the Office of Readings (formerly Matins), Morning (or Lauds) and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).

The Office of Readings consists of:

  • a hymn
  • one or two long psalms divided into three parts
  • a long passage from scripture, usually arranged so that in any one week, all the readings come from the same text
  • a long hagiographical passage, such as an account of a saint's martyrdom, or a theological treatise commenting on some aspect of the scriptural reading, or a passage from the documents of the Second Vatican Council
  • on nights preceding Sundays and feast days, the office may be expanded to a vigil by inserting three Old Testament canticles and a reading from the gospels
  • the hymn Te Deum (solemnities, feasts, and Sundays outside of Lent)
  • the concluding prayer
  • a short concluding verse (especially when prayed in groups)

The character of Morning Prayer is that of praise; of Evening Prayer, that of thanksgiving. Both follow the same format:

  • a hymn, composed by the Church
  • two psalms, or one long psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle (taken from the Old Testament in the morning and the New Testament in the evening)
  • a short passage from scripture
  • a responsory, typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
  • a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) for evening prayer
  • intercessions, composed by the Church
  • the Lord's Prayer
  • the concluding prayer, composed by the Church
  • a blessing given by the priest or deacon leading Morning or Evening Prayer, or in the absence of clergy and in individual recitation, a short conclusion

Minor hours

The daytime hours follow a simpler format, like a very compact form of the Office of Readings:

  • a hymn
  • three short psalms, or, three pieces of longer psalms; in the daytime hours it is usual to begin one part of the longest psalm, psalm 119
  • a very short passage of scripture, followed by a responsorial verse
  • the concluding prayer
  • a short concluding verse (especially when prayed in groups)

Night prayer has the character of preparing the soul for its passage to eternal life:

  • an examination of conscience
  • a hymn
  • a psalm, or two short psalms, or simply Psalm 91
  • a short reading from scripture
  • the responsory In manus tuas, Domine (Into Your Hands, Lord)
  • the Canticle of Simeon, Nunc dimittis, from the Gospel of Luke, framed by the antiphon Protect us, Lord
  • a concluding prayer
  • a short concluding blessing
  • a hymn to Mary, the mother of Jesus

In each office, the psalms and canticle are framed by antiphons, and each concludes with the traditional Catholic doxology.

Liturgical variation

In addition to the basic four-week cycle of praying nearly the entire set of Psalms with each of the canonical hours, the Church also provides an alternate collection of hymns, readings, psalms, canticles and antiphons, for use in marking specific dates on the Roman Calendar, which sets out the order of celebrations for the liturgical year. These alternate selections are found in the 'Proper of Seasons' (selections for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter), and the 'Proper of Saints' (selections for feast days of the Saints). A breviary is generally keyed to help the user navigate these overlays in the liturgy.

Eastern Orthodox usage

Historical development

From the 4th century on, the history of the eastern Office is parallel with the development of monasticism. In his Lausaic History, Palladius of Galatia, Bishop of Helenopolis, records that the early Christian hermits not only prayed the Psalms, but also sang hymns and recited prayers (often in combinations of twelve).[6] With the rise of Cenobitic monasticism (i.e., living in a community under an Abbot, rather than as solitary hermits), the cycle of prayer became more fixed and complex, with different ritual practices in different places.

Egeria, a pilgrim who visited the Holy Land about 381–384, recorded the following about the Canonical Hours:

But among all things it is a special feature that they arrange that suitable psalms and antiphons are said on every occasion, both those said by night, or in the morning, as well as those throughout the day, at the sixth hour, the ninth hour, or at lucernare, all being so appropriate and so reasonable as to bear on the matter in hand. (XXV, 5) [7]

The standardization of Byzantine Orthodox worship began with Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (439–532), who recorded the Office as it was practiced at his time in the area around Jerusalem, passing on what had been handed down to him by St. Euthymius the Great (377–473) and St. Theoktistos (c. 467). This area was at the time a major center of both pilgrimage and monasticism, and as a result the daily cycle of services became highly developed. St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (560–638) revised the Typicon, and the material was then expanded by St. John Damascene (c. 676 – 749). This ordering of services was later known as the Jerusalem or Sabbaite Typicon.

Later, in the 8th century, the center of liturgical development moved to Constantinople, particularly to the Monastery of the Stoudios, where the services were further developed and sophisticated, in particular with regard to Great Lent and the Pentecostarion. It is in this form that the Typicon is used today in most Slavic churches.

In the 19th century the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople made a number of revisions and modernizations to the Typicon and published it for use in churches under its jurisdiction. This revised Typicon, known as The Ecclesiastical Typikon according to the Style of the Great Church of Christ - Τύπικον της εκκλησιάστικον κατα το ηυχος της του Χριστού Μεγάλης Εκκλήσιας/Tupikon Ekklisiastikon kata to ifos tis tou Christou Megalis Ekklisias (Konstantinos Protopsaltis, Constantinople, 1839), is in use in most Greek-speaking churches to this day.

The Divine Services used by Eastern Christians are highly developed and quite complex. The various cycles combine so that it is infrequent for the exact same combination to reoccur within one person's lifetime. In addition to this, new services are being composed all the time as new saints are being glorified in the Church. While being inexorably rooted in Sacred Tradition, the cycle of prayer is a living and continuously evolving expression of the timeless worship of the Church.

Liturgical books

The Horologion (Greek: Ωρολόγιον; Church Slavonic: Chasoslov, Часocлoвъ), or Book of Hours, provides the fixed portions of the Daily Cycle of services (Greek: akolouthies, ἀκολουθίες) as used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.

Into this fixed framework, numerous moveable parts of the service are inserted. These are taken from a variety of liturgical books:

  • Psalter (Greek: Ψαλτήριον, Psalterion; Slavonic: Ѱалтырь or Ѱалтирь, Psaltyr' )—A book containing the 150 Psalms divided into Kathismata[8] together with the Biblical Canticles which are chanted at Matins.[9] The Psalter is used at Vespers and Matins,[10] and normally contains tables for determining which Kathismata are to be read at each service, depending upon the day of the week and the liturgical season of the year.
  • Octoechos (Greek: Παρακλητική, Paraklētikē; Slavonic: Октоихъ, Oktoikh or Осмогласникъ, Osmoglasnik)—Literally, the Book of the "Eight Tones" or modes. This book contains an eight-week cycle, providing texts to be chanted for every day of the week at Vespers, Matins, Compline and (on Sundays) the Midnight Office. Each week, the hymns are sung in a different liturgical Mode or Tone. The origins of this book go back to compositions by St. John Damascene.
  • Menaion (Greek: Μηναίον; Slavonic: Минеѧ, Mineya)—A twelve-volume set which provides liturgical texts for each day of the calendar year.[11] The twelve volumes correspond to the months of the year. The liturgical year begins in September, so the first volume of the Menaion is September.
  • Menologion—A collection of the lives of the saints. The selection for the day is read after the Kontakion and Oikos at Matins.
  • Triodion (Greek: Τριῴδιον, Triodion; Slavonic: Постнаѧ Трїωдь, Postnaya Triod' ; Romanian: Triodul)—Also called the Lenten Triodion. During Great Lent the services undergo profound changes. The Lenten Triodion contains propers for:
  • Pentecostarion (Greek: Πεντηκοστάριον, Pentekostarion; Slavonic: Цвѣтнаѧ Трїωдь, Tsvetnaya Triod' , literally "Flowery Triodon"; Romanian: Penticostar)—This volume contains the propers for the period from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints. This period can be broken down into the following periods:
    • Bright Week (Easter Week)—The seven days from the Pascha (Easter Sunday) through the following Saturday
    • Paschal Season—The period from Thomas Sunday until Ascension
    • Ascension and its Afterfeast
    • Pentecost and its Afterfeast
    • All Saints Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost)
  • Synaxarion (Greek: Συναξάριον; Romanian: Sinaxar)—The Synaxarion contains brief lives of the saints for each day of the year, usually read at Matins.
  • Irmologion (Greek: Ειρμολόγιον, Heirmologion; Slavonic: Ирмологий, Irmologii)—Contains the Irmoi chanted at the Canon of Matins and other services.
  • Euchologion (Greek: Ευχολόγιον, Eukhologion; Slavonic: Слѹжебникъ, Sluzhebnik)—Contains the portions of the services which are said by the priest and deacon.
  • Gospel Book (Greek: Ευαγγέλιον, Evangelion)—Book containing the Gospel readings that are used at Matins, Divine Liturgy, and other services. Among the Greeks the Evangélion is laid out in order of the cycle of readings as they occur in the ecclesiastical year, with a section in the back providing the Gospel readings for Matins, Feasts and special occasions. In the Slavic usage, the Evangélion contains the four gospels in canonical order (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) with annotations in the margin to indicate the beginning and ending of each reading (and an index in the back).
  • Epistle Book (Greek: Απόστολος, Apostolos; Slavonic: Апостолъ, Apostol)—Contains the readings from the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles (the Apocalypse is not read during Divine Services in the Orthodox Church). It also contains the Prokeimenon and Alleluia verses that are chanted with the readings. The Apostól is laid out in the same manner as the Evangélion, depending on whether the book was prepared for the Greek or Slavic usage.[12]
  • Collections (Greek: Ανθολόγιον, Anthologion; Slavonic: Сборникъ, Sbornik)—There are numerous smaller anthologies available, taking portions from the books mentioned above, or from other sources. For instance, the Festal Menaion contains only those portions of the Menaion that have to do with the Great Feasts; and the General Menaion contains propers for each class of saints (with blank spaces for the name of the saint) which may be employed when one does not have the propers for that particular saint; etc.
  • Typicon (Greek: Τυπικόν, Typikon; Slavonic: Тѵпикъ, Typik)—A book which contains all of the rules for the performance of the Divine Services, giving directions for every possible combination of the materials from the books mentioned above into the Daily Cycle of Services.

Liturgical cycles

Various cycles of the liturgical year influence the manner in which the materials from the liturgical books (above) are inserted into the daily services:

These materials are found for the most part in the Octoechos. However, portions of them are found in the Horologion and Sluzhebnik (i.e., prokeimena and dismissals), as well as the Lenten Triodion (particularly in the triodes).

The Weekly Cycle also determines which Kathismata (selections from the Psalter) will be read at the Divine Services, though the season of the liturgical year also affects this. During most of the year, the entire Psalter is read through in the course of a week, but during Great Lent, the Psalter is read twice each week.

  • Fixed Cycle—Commemorations on the fixed cycle depend upon the day of the calendar year—both specific calendar dates, and specific days of the week that fall on or near specific calendar dates. This material is taken primarily from the Menaion.
  • Moveable Cycle or Paschal Cycle—Commemorations on the moveable cycle depend upon the date of Pascha (Easter). Found in the Pentecostarion, Octoechos, and Lenten Triodion. The Sunday Matins Gospels and the daily Epistle and Gospel readings for Liturgy also depend upon the Paschal cycle. Thus the Paschal Cycle, just like the Fixed Cycle, runs through the entire year.
  • Octoechos—The eight Tones, found in the Octoechos. Dependent, like the Moveable Cycle on the date of Pascha:
    • Each day of Bright Week (Easter Week) uses propers in a different tone (Sunday: Tone One, Monday: Tone Two, etc.—excluding Tone Seven, the "grave" tone).
    • Then, each week from Pascha to Pentecost uses one of the Tones in order (again excluding Tone Seven).
    • Starting on the Sunday of All Saints (i.e., the Sunday after Pentecost), the eight tones run uninterrupted until Palm Sunday of the following year.
  • Matins Gospels—Eleven Gospel readings (all accounts of the Resurrection of Christ) are appointed to be read at Sunday Matins. The cycle begins with the first Gospel (Matthew 28:16–20) on the Sunday after Pentecost (All Saints Sunday), reading one Gospel each week, in order, and repeating the cycle until the next Palm Sunday. There are also hymns appointed to be sung at Matins that correspond with the particular Gospel read that Sunday.
  • Daily Cycle—The cycle of services (acolouthia) which repeats every single day, and during which all of the fixed and changeable parts of the services are chanted.

Daily Cycle of services

The Daily Cycle begins with Vespers at sunset[14] and proceeds throughout the night and day according to the following table:

Name of service in Greek Name of service in English Time of service Description/purpose
Hesperinos (Ἑσπερινός) Vespers At sunset The beginning of the (liturgical) day. Meditating on Christ as the "Light."
Apodeipnon (Ἀπόδειπνον)
lit. "after-supper"
Compline At bedtime Meditating on our final falling asleep, i.e. our death.
Mesonyktikon (Μεσονυκτικόν) Midnight Office At midnight Prayed in monasteries in the middle of the night.
Orthros (Ὄρθρος) Matins or Orthros At dawn Prayer in the watches before dawn. Praising God at the rising of the sun.
Prōtē Hōra (Πρῶτη Ὥρα) First Hour (Prime) At ~7 AM Meditating on the Creation, Banishment of Adam and Eve from Paradise, the appearance of Christ before Caiaphas.
Tritē Hōra (Τρίτη Ὥρα) Third Hour (Terce) At ~9 AM Meditating on the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which happened at this hour.
Hektē Hōra (Ἕκτη Ὥρα) Sixth Hour (Sext) At noon Meditating on Christ's crucifixion, which happened at this hour
Ennatē Hōra (Ἐννάτη Ὥρα) Ninth Hour (None) * At ~3 PM Meditating on the death of Christ, which happened at this hour.

* To this list could be added the Typica, a service which is read whenever the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated. Though not strictly one of the Canonical Hours, the Typicon calls for it to be chanted either before or after the Ninth Hour (depending upon the liturgical season).[15]

During the Lesser Fasts (Nativity Fast, Apostles Fast, Dormition Fast) in addition to the services listed above, each of the Little Hours (First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours) has a special brief service appended to it called an Inter-Hour. Inter-Hours follow much the same format as the regular Hours, only they are slightly briefer.

In cathedrals and monasteries it is more common to find someone present at the church praying these prayers at each of these hours. In many, chiefly Slavic, churches, the Third and Sixth Hours are read prior to the Divine Liturgy; however, among the Greeks and Arabs, Liturgy is usually preceded by Orthros (Matins). There is usually little or no pause between the end of one and the beginning of the next.

A sundial showing the four Tides and the five Canonical hours, based on the example on the Bewcastle Cross.

There are seven Canonical Hours in the Orthodox Church (excluding Midnight Office), in accordance with the psalmist, "Seven times a day will I praise Thee..." (Psalm 118:164 [ LXX ]).

The Midnight Office is a particularly monastic practice, which arose as a response to Psalm 118:62, "At midnight I arose to give thanks unto Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness." Although not normally prayed by the laity (either privately in the home or publicly in parishes), the Midnight Office does comprise the first part of Paschal Vigil and is therefore read in parishes at that time.


According to the Slavonic Typicon, the different Canonical Hours (including Midnight Office and Typica [sic]) may be grouped together into aggregates so that there are three major times of prayer a day: Evening, Morning and Midday. This is to conform with Psalm 55:17, "Evening, morning, and noonday will I tell of it and will declare it, and He will hear my voice." While the aggregations will vary depending upon the liturgical season, the most common groupings are as follows:

  • Evening—Ninth Hour, Vespers [16]
  • Morning—Midnight Office,[17] Matins, First Hour

On the eves before Great Feasts and Sundays in some traditions, Vespers, Matins, and the First Hour are served together in an aggregation called the All-Night Vigil. In other traditions it is more common for the Ninth Hour and Vespers to be served separately the evening before, and for Matins to be served in the morning before the Liturgy. Some Great Feasts prescribe a Vesperal Divine Liturgy to be served on the afternoon before; in these cases, Great Compline is substituted for Vespers during the All-night Vigil.

In addition to these public prayers, there are also private prayers which are said both by monastics and by laypersons. These include Morning and Evening Prayers (said privately in one's room), canons to be prayed in preparation for receiving the Eucharist, and also devotional akathist hymns and canons regarding specific subjects, and which may be addressed directly to God or to a saint, asking that saint to convey the petitions to God. Devotional canons and akathists may also be inserted at specific points in the prayers of the hours.

Oriental Orthodox usage

Coptic usage

The Coptic cycle of canonical hours is largely monastic, primarily composed of psalm readings. The Coptic equivalent of the Byzantine Horologion is the Agpeya.

Seven canonical hours exist, corresponding largely to the Byzantine order, with an additional "Prayer of the Veil" which is said by Bishops, Priests, and Monks (something like the Byzantine Midnight Office).

The hours are chronologically laid out, each containing a theme corresponding to events in the life of Jesus Christ:

  • "Midnight Praise" (said in the early morning before dawn) commemorates the Second Coming of Christ. It consists of three watches, corresponding to the three stages of Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane ( Matthew 25:1-13 ).
  • Prime (dawn) is said upon waking in the morning or after the Midnight Praise the previous night. Associated with the Eternity of God, the Incarnation of Christ, and his Resurrection from the dead.
  • Terce (9 a.m.) commemorates Christ's trial before Pilate, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  • Sext (noon) commemorates the Passion of Christ.
Terce and Sext are prayed before each Divine Liturgy.
  • None (3 p.m.) commemorates the death of Christ on the Cross. This hour is also read during fasting days.
  • Vespers (sunset) commemorates the taking down of Christ from the Cross.
  • Compline (9 p.m. – before bedtime) commemorates the burial of Christ, the Final Judgment.
Vespers and Compline are both read before the Liturgy during Lent and the fast of Nineveh.
  • The Veil is reserved for bishops, priests and monks, as an examination of conscience.

Every one of the Hours follows the same basic outline:

  • Introduction, which includes the Lord’s Prayer
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving
  • Psalm 50 (LXX).
  • Various Psalms
  • An excerpt from the Holy Gospel
  • Short Litanies
  • Some prayers (Only during Prime and Compline)
  • Lord Have Mercy is then chanted 41 times (representing the 39 lashes Christ received before the crucifixion, plus one for the spear in His side, plus one for the crown of thorns)
  • Prayer of "Holy Holy Holy..." and Lord's Prayer
  • Prayer of Absolution
  • Prayer of Every Hour

Syrian usage

East Syrian

The East Syrian Rite (also known as the Chaldean, Assyrian, or Persian Rite) has historically been used in Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Malabar. The nucleus of the Daily Office is of course the recitation of the Psalter. There are only three regular hours of service (Evening, Midnight, and Morning), with a rarely used Compline. When East Syrian monasteries existed (which is no longer the case) seven hours of prayer were the custom in them, and three hulali (sections) of the Psalter were recited at each service. This would accomplish the unique feat of the common recitation of the entire Psalter each day.

The present arrangement provides for seven hulali at each ferial night service, ten on Sundays, three on "Memorials", and the whole Psalter on Feasts of the Lord. At the evening service there is a selection of from four to seven psalms, varying with the day of the week, and also a Shuraya, or short psalm, with generally a portion of Psalm 118, varying with the day of the fortnight. At the morning service the invariable psalms are 109, 90, 103:1–6, 112, 92, 148, 150, 116. On ferias and "Memorials" Psalm 146 is said after Psalm 148, and on ferias Psalm 1:1–18, comes at the end of the psalms.

The rest of the services consist of prayers, antiphons, litanies, and verses (giyura) inserted—like the Greek stichera, but more extensively—between verses of psalms. On Sundays the Gloria in Excelsis and Benedicte are said instead of Psalm 146. Both morning and evening services end with several prayers, a blessing, (Khuthama, "Sealing" ), the kiss of peace, and the Creed.

The variables, besides the psalms, are those of the feast or day, which are very few, and those of the day of the fortnight. These fortnights consist of weeks called "Before" (Qdham) and "After" (Wathar), according to which of the two choirs begins the service. Hence the book of the Divine Office is called Qdham u wathar, or at full length Kthawa daqdham wadhwathar, the "Book of Before and After".

The East Syrian liturgical Calendar is unique. The year is divided into periods of about seven weeks each, called Shawu'i; these are Advent (called Subara, "Annunciation"), Epiphany, Lent, Easter, the Apostles, Summer, "Elias and the Cross", "Moses", and the "Dedication" (Qudash idta). "Moses" and the "Dedication" have only four weeks each. The Sundays are generally named after the Shawu'a in which they occur, "Fourth Sunday of Epiphany", "Second Sunday of the Annunciation ", etc., though sometimes the name changes in the middle of a Shawu'a. Most of the "Memorials" (dukhrani), or saints' days, which have special lections, occur on the Fridays between Christmas and Lent, and are therefore movable feasts; but some, such as Christmas, Theophany, the Dormition, and about thirty smaller days without proper readings, are on fixed days.

There are four shorter fasting periods besides the Great Lent; these are:

  • the Fast of Mar Zaya (three days after the second Sunday of the Nativity)
  • the Fast of the Virgins (after the first Sunday of the Epiphany)
  • the Fast of the Ninevites (seventy days before Easter)
  • the Fast of Mart Mariam (Our Lady) (from the first to the fourteenth of August)

The Fast of the Ninevites commemorates the repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonas, and is carefully kept. Those of Mar Zaya and the Virgins are nearly obsolete. The Malabar Rite has largely adopted the Roman Calendar, and several Roman days have been added to that of the Chaldean Catholics. The Chaldean Easter coincides with that of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as the Julian Calendar is used to calculate Easter. The years are numbered, not from the birth of Christ, but from the Seleucid era (year 1 = 311 B.C.).

West Syrian

The West Syrian Rite, used in Syria by the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites) and Catholic Syrians is in its origin simply the old rite of Antioch in the Syriac language. The translation must have been made very early, evidently before the division in the church over Chalcedon, before the influence of Constantinople over the Antiochian Rite had begun. No doubt as soon as Christian communities arose in the rural areas of Syria the prayers which in the cities (Antioch, Jerusalem, etc.) were said in Greek, were, as a matter of course, translated into Syriac for common use.

In accordance with Psalm 119:164, “Seven times in the day have I praised Thee for Thy judgments, O Righteous One,” the Syriac Orthodox Church observes seven services of prayer each day:

  • Evening or Ramsho prayer (Vespers)
  • Drawing of the Veil or Sootoro, meaning "Protection", from Psalm 91, which is sung at this prayer, "He who sits under the protection of the Most High" (Compline)
  • Midnight or Lilyo prayer (Matins)
  • Morning or Saphro prayer (Prime, 6 a.m.)
  • Third Hour or Tloth sho`in prayer (Terce, 9 a.m.)
  • Sixth Hour or Sheth sho`in prayer (Sext, noon)
  • Ninth Hour or Tsha` sho`in prayer (None, 3 p.m.)

The Midnight prayer (Matins) consists of three qawme or "watches" (literarily "standings"). As in other traditional rites, the ecclesiastical day begins in the evening at sunset with Vespers (Ramsho). Today, even in monasteries, the services are grouped together: Vespers and Compline are said together; Matins and Prime are said together; and the Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours are said together; resulting in three times of prayer each day.

The Syriac Orthodox Book of Hours is called the Shhimo, "simple prayer." The shhimo has offices for the canonical hours for each day of the week. Each canonical office begins and ends with a qawmo, a set of prayers that includes the Lord's Prayer. At the end of the office, the Nicene Creed is recited. The great part of the office consists of lengthy liturgical poems composed for the purpose, similar to the Byzantine odes.

Armenian usage

The Daily Services in the Armenian Church are made up of nine services. The daily cycle of prayer begins with the Night Service, according to the ancient belief that a new day begins at nightfall.

The Night Service (midnight) Dedicated to the praising of God the Father. Themes of the service are: thanksgiving to God for the blessing of sleep and asking that the remainder of the night pass in peace and tranquility, and that the next day be spent in purity and righteousness.

The Morning Service (dawn) Dedicated to the praising of God the Son. Symbolizes the Resurrection of Christ and his appearance to the Myrrh-bearing Women.

The Sunrise Service (6:00 a.m.)[19] Dedicated to the praising of the Holy Spirit. Symbolizes the appearance to Christ to the disciples after the Resurrection.

The Third Hour (9:00 a.m.) Dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Symbolizes Eve’s original tasting the forbidden fruit and eventual liberation from condemnation through Jesus Christ. The service has a profound penitential meaning.

The Sixth Hour (noon) Dedicated to God the Father. Symbolizes Christ’s Crucifixion. The prayers at the service ask for God’s help towards feeble human nature.

The Ninth Hour (3:00 p.m.) Dedicated to God the Son. Symbolizes Christ’s death and liberation of humanity from the power of the Hell.

The Evening Service (before sunset) Dedicated to God the Son. Symbolizes Christ’s burial, asks God for a quiet night and a peaceful sleep.

The Peace Service (after sunset) Dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Symbolizes Christ’s descent into Hell and liberation of the righteous from torments.

The Rest Service (before retiring for sleep) Dedicated to God the Father. In early times it was the continuation of the Peace Service.

In ancient times all nine services were offered every day, especially in monasteries. At present the following services are conducted in churches daily for the majority of the year:

  • In the morning: Night and Morning Services together
  • In the evening: Evening Service

During Great Lent, all of the services are offered on weekdays (except Saturday and Sunday) according to the following schedule:

  • In the morning: Night, Morning and Sunrise Services
  • In the afternoon: Third, Sixth, Ninth Hours
  • In the evening:
    • Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: Peace Service
    • Wednesday, Friday: Rest Service
    • Saturday, Sunday: Evening Service

The book which contains the hymns which constitute the substance of the musical system of Armenian liturgical chant is the Sharagnots (see Armenian Octoechos), a collection of hymns known as Sharakan. Originally, these hymns were Psalms and biblical Canticles that were chanted during the services, similar to the Byzantine Canon. In addition, the eight modes are applied to the psalms of the Night office, called ganonaklookh (Canon head).

Anglican usage

The Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549 and revised down the centuries, constitutes the basis of the liturgy for Anglicans and Anglican Use Roman Catholics. All Anglican prayer books provide offices for Morning Prayer (often called Mattins or Matins) and Evening Prayer (colloquially known as Evensong when the evening office is sung).

Since the early 20th century, revised editions of the Book of Common Prayer or supplemental service books published by Anglican churches have added offices for midday prayer and Compline. The Book of Common Prayer (1928) also restored the office of Prime, although it has not appeared in later revisions. In England and other Anglican provinces, service books now include four offices:

Most prayer books also include a selection of prayers and devotions for family use. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. also provides an "Order of Worship for the Evening" as a prelude to Evensong with blessings for the lighting of candles and the singing of the ancient Greek lamp-lighting hymn, the Phos Hilaron. In the Church of England, the publication in 2005 of Daily Prayer, the third volume of Common Worship, adds "Prayer During the Day" to the services for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline, and adds a selection of antiphons and responsories for the seasons of the Church Year. The 1989 New Zealand Prayer Book provides different outlines for Mattins and Evensong on each day of the week, as well as "Midday Prayer," "Night Prayer," and "Family Prayer."

In 1995, the Episcopal Church (United States) published the Contemporary Office Book in one volume with the complete psalter and all readings from the two-year Daily Office lectionary.

The traditional structure of Matins and Evensong in most Anglican prayer books reflects the intention by the reforming Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to return to the office's older roots as the daily prayer of parish churches. For this purpose, he eliminated the lesser hours and conflated the medieval offices of Matins and Lauds, incorporating the canticles associated with each: the Benedictus and Te Deum. Similarly, Evening Prayer incorporated both the Magnificat from Vespers and the Nunc Dimittis from Compline. In Cranmer's design, each canticle was preceded by a reading from scripture. This parallelism of two readings, each followed by a canticle, is a distinctive feature of the Anglican daily office. For the sake of simplicity, Cranmer also eliminated responsories and antiphons, although these have been restored in many contemporary Anglican prayer books.

Like many other Reformers, Cranmer sought to restore the daily reading or singing of psalms as the heart of Christian daily prayer. Since his time, every edition of the Book of Common Prayer has included the complete psalter along with a system for reading through all 150 psalms over four weeks. One distinctive contribution of Anglican worship is a broad repertory of Anglican Chant settings for the psalms and canticles.

The daily offices have always had an important place in Anglican spirituality. Until recently Mattins and Evensong were the principal Sunday services in most Anglican churches, sung to settings by notable composers from Thomas Tallis in the 16th century to Herbert Howells in the 21st.

While Evensong with its musical repertory spanning five centuries continues to play an important role in Anglican worship, the eucharist has replaced Morning Prayer as the principal service on Sunday mornings in many Anglican parishes and cathedrals.

Most Anglican monastic communities use a Daily Office based on the Book of Common Prayer but with additional antiphons and devotions. The Order of the Holy Cross and Order of St. Helena published A Monastic Breviary (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow) in 1976. The Order of St. Helena published the St. Helena Breviary (New York: Church Publishing) in 2006 with a revised psalter eliminating male pronouns in reference to God. The All Saints Sisters of the Poor also use an elaborated version of the Anglican Daily Office. The Society of St. Francis publishes Celebrating Common Prayer, which has become especially popular for use among Anglicans.

Some Anglo-Catholics use the Anglican Breviary, an adaptation of the Pre-Vatican II Roman Rite and the Sarum Rite in the style of Cranmer's original Book of Common Prayer, along with supplemental material from other western sources, including a common of Octaves, a common of Holy Women, and other material. It provides for the eight historical offices in one volume, but does not include the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was bound along with many editions of the Breviarium Romanum. Other Anglo-Catholics use the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours (U.S.) or Divine Office (U.K.).

Historically, Anglican clergy are vested in cassock, surplice and tippet for Morning and Evening Prayer, while bishops wear the rochet and chimere. In some monastic communities and Anglo-Catholic parishes, the officiant wears surplice or alb, stole and cope when Evensong is celebrated solemnly.

The canons of the Church of England and some other Anglican provinces require clergy to read Morning and Evening Prayer daily, either in public worship or privately. According to Canon C.24, "Every priest having a cure of souls shall provide that, in the absence of reasonable hindrance, Morning and Evening Prayer daily and on appointed days the Litany shall be said in the church, or one of the churches, of which he is the minister." Canon C.26 stipulates that "Every clerk (cleric) in Holy Orders is under obligation, not being let (prevented) by sickness or some other urgent cause, to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer...." In other Anglican provinces, the Daily Office is not a canonical obligation but is strongly encouraged.

Liberal Catholic usage

The Liberal Catholic Church, and many groups in the Liberal Catholic movement, also use a simple version of the Western canonical hours, said with various scripture reading and collects. According to the Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church, the Scriptures used are generally limited to the readings of the day, and the complete psalter is not incorporated unless at the discretion of the priest presiding, if as a public service, or of the devotee in private use. The Hours of the Liberal Rite consist of: Lauds, Prime, Sext, Vespers, and Complin. Its recitation is not obligatory on Liberal Catholic priests or faithful, according to current directs from the General Episcopal Synod.

A pew edition of the Hours was published in 2002 by St. Alban's Press. However, the Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church also includes the Hours for recitation.

Reformed and Lutheran usage

Some Reformed churches—notably the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ—have published daily office books adapted from the ancient structure of morning and evening prayer in the Western church, usually revised for the purpose of inclusive language.

The New Century Psalter, published in 1999 by The Pilgrim Press, includes an inclusive-language revision of the psalms adapted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible with refrains and complete orders for Morning and Evening Prayer. Simple family prayers for morning, evening and the close of day are also provided.

Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer, published in 1994 by Westminster John Knox Press, includes the daily offices from the The Book of Common Worship of 1993, the liturgy of the Presbyterian Church USA. In addition to Morning and Evening Prayer there is a complete service for Compline. Its psalter—an inclusive-language revision of the psalter from the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer—also includes a collect for each psalm. Antiphons and litanies are provided for the seasons of the church year.

Both books are intended for ecumenical use and can be used with any daily lectionary.

Lutheran worship books usually include orders for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as Compline. Liturgies published by immigrant Lutheran communities in North America were based at first on the Book of Common Prayer. In recent years, under the impact of the liturgical movement, Lutheran churches have restored the historic form of the Western office. Both Evangelical Lutheran Worship published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada as well as the Lutheran Service Book of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod provide daily offices along with a complete psalter.

See also


  1. ^ Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, Book X, Letter xcvii.
  2. ^ Council of Trent, Decree on Reformation, Chapter XXI
  3. ^ In Defense of the Pauline Mass
  4. ^ Breviary in Catholic Encyclopedia. The article also spoke of "blemishes which disfigure this book."
  5. ^ Sacrosanctum Concilium Art 91. So that it may really be possible in practice to observe the course of the hours proposed in Art. 89, the psalms are no longer to be distributed throughout one week, but through some longer period of time.
  6. ^ Lausaic History, Chap. 19, etc.
  7. ^ Tr. Louis Duchesme, Christian Worship (London, 1923).
  8. ^ There is also a Psalm 151 included in the Orthodox Psalter, though it is not actually chanted during the Divine Services.
  9. ^ Originally, these canticles were chanted in their entirety every day, but they gradually came to be replaced by the Canon and are now normally only chanted on weekdays of Great Lent.
  10. ^ During Great Lent, Kathismata are read at the Little Hours also.
  11. ^ On non-leap years, the service for Feb. 29 (St. John Cassian) may be chanted at Compline on Feb. 28 or some other more convenient day.
  12. ^ The Slavonic Apostól will have all of the books of the New Testament (excluding the Gospels and Apocalypse) in their entirety, though not in the same order they are found in most English Bibles (Acts is placed first, etc.).
  13. ^ Including, especially, the Theotokos and the Patron Saint of the local church or monastery.
  14. ^ In accordance with Old Testament practice, the day is considered to begin in the evening (Genesis 1:5).
  15. ^ The Typica [sic] has a certain correspondence to the Missa Sicca of the Mediaeval West.
  16. ^ Compline The evening meal is considered to be a continuation of the liturgical cycle of services. In some monasteries, the Refectory itself is a church, complete with Altar and Iconostasis. In Greek (απόδειπνον/apodeipnon) and Slavonic (Povecherie), the name for Compline literally means, "After-supper prayer."
  17. ^ Midnight Office is usually only chanted in monasteries.
  18. ^ Though the Liturgy (and Typica [sic]) are not, strictly speaking, a part of the daily cycle of services, their placement is fixed by the Typicon in relation to the daily cycle.
  19. ^ Originally, the Sunrise Service was joined to the Morning Service.

External links

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