The Divine Office (Latin: Officium Divinum) or Work of God (Latin: Opus Dei) describes a the practice of reciting specific prayers at each of the canonical hours. The Divine Office is the official set of prayers "marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer". It consists primarily of psalms supplemented by hymns, readings and other prayers and antiphons. Together with the Mass, it constitutes the official public prayer life of the Church. The Divine Office also forms the basis of prayer within Christian monasticism.
Celebration of the Divine Office is an obligation undertaken by priests and deacons intending to become priests, while deacons intending to remain deacons are obliged to recite only a part. The constitutions of religious institutes generally oblige their members to celebrate at least parts and in some cases to do so jointly ("in choir"). The laity are under no public obligation to do so, but may oblige themselves to do so by personal vow, and "are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually".
The Divine Office, along with the Eucharist, has formed part of the Church's public worship from the earliest times. Christians of both Western and Eastern traditions (including the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutheran, and some other Protestant churches) celebrate the Divine Office under various names. Within Roman Catholicism, the Divine Office, once contained within what was called the Roman Breviary, is in its present form found in what in English editions is called either The Liturgy of the Hours (arranged in four volumes) or The Divine Office (in three volumes).
In Greek the corresponding services are found in the Ὡρολόγιον (Horologion), meaning Book of Hours. Within Anglicanism, the Divine Office is contained within the book of Daily Prayer of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, as well as in the Anglican Breviary. Within Lutheranism, it is contained within the liturgical books used by the various Lutheran church bodies. Other names for the Divine Office within the Latin liturgical rites include Diurnal and Nocturnal Office, Ecclesiastical Office, Cursus ecclesiasticus, or simply cursus.
The early Christians continued the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day or night. In the Psalms are found expressions like "in the morning I offer you my prayer"; "At midnight I will rise and thank you"; "Evening, morning and at noon I will cry and lament"; "Seven times a day I praise you". The Apostles observed the Jewish custom of praying at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, and at midnight (Acts 10:3, 9; 16:25; etc.). The Christian prayer of that time consisted of almost the same elements as the Jewish: recital or chanting of psalms, reading of the Old Testament, to which were soon added readings of the Gospels, Acts, and epistles, and canticles. Other elements were added later in the course of the centuries.
An Invitatory precedes the canonical hours of the day beginning with the versicle "Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise" (Ps 50/51 v.17), and continuing with an antiphon and the Invitatory Psalm, usually Psalm 94/95.
All psalms and canticles are accompanied by antiphons.
Unless the Invitatory is used, each Hour begins with the versicle "God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me" (Ps 69/70 v.2), followed by a hymn. Each Hour concludes with a prayer followed by a short versicle and response.
Matins or the Office of Readings is the longest hour. Before Pope St. Pius X's reform, it involved the recitation of 18 psalms on Sundays and 12 on ferial days. Pope Pius X reduced this to 9 psalms or portions of psalms, still arranged in three "nocturns", each set of three psalms followed by three short readings, usually three consecutive sections from the same text. Pope Paul VI's reform reduced the number of psalms or portions of psalms to three, and the readings to two, but lengthened these. On feast days the Te Deum is sung or recited before the concluding prayer.
After St. Pius X's reform, Lauds was reduced to four psalms or portions of psalms and an Old Testament canticle, putting an end to the custom of adding the last three psalms of the Psalter (148–150) at the end of Lauds every day. The number of psalms or portions of psalms is now reduced to two, together with one Old Testament canticle chosen from a wider range than before. After these there is a short reading and response and the singing or recitation of the Benedictus.
Vespers has a very similar structure, differing in that Pius X assigned to it five psalms (now reduced to 2 psalms and a New Testament canticle) and the Magnificat took the place of the Benedictus. On some days in Pius X's arrangement, but now always, there follow Preces or intercessions. In the present arrangement, the Lord's Prayer is also recited before the concluding prayer.
Terce, Sext and None have an identical structure, each with three psalms or portions of psalms. These are followed by a short reading from Scripture, once referred to as a "little chapter" (capitulum), and by a versicle and response. The Lesser Litany (Kyrie and the Lord's Prayer) of Pius X's arrangement have now been omitted.
Prime and Compline also were of similar structure, though different from Terce, Sext and None.
In monasteries and cathedrals, celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours became more elaborate. Served by monks or canons, regular celebration required a Psalter for the psalms, a lectionary for the Scripture readings, other books for hagiographical readings, a collectary for the orations, and also books such as the antiphonary and the responsoriary for the various chants. These were usually of large size, to enable several monks to chant together from the same book. Smaller books called breviaries (a word that etymologically refers to a compendium or abridgment) were developed to indicate the format of the daily office and assist in identifying the texts to be chosen.
These developed into books that gave in abbreviated form (because they omitted the chants) and in small lettering the whole of the texts, and so could be carried when travelling. Pope Innocent III made them official in the Roman Curia, and the itinerant Franciscan friars adopted the Breviarium Curiae and soon spread its use throughout Europe. By the 14th century, these breviaries contained the entire text of the canonical hours. The invention of printing made it possible to produce them in great numbers.
In its final session, the Council of Trent entrusted to the Pope the revision of the breviary. With his Apostolic Constitution Quod a nobis of 9 July 1568, Pope Pius V promulgated an edition of the breviary, known as the Roman Breviary, which he imposed in the same way in which, two years later, he imposed his Roman Missal. 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 – he made it obligatory to use the promulgated text everywhere.
He totally prohibited adding or omitting anything: "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."
It is obvious that he did not thereby intend to bind his successors. Pope Clement VIII made changes that he made obligatory on 10 May 1602, 34 years after Pius V's revision. 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." For the profound revision of the book by Pope Pius X see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X.
Many of the complicated rubrics (or instructions) that had governed recitation of the Liturgy were clarified, and the actual method of praying the office was made simpler. Prime had already been abolished by the Second Vatican Council. Of the three intermediate Hours of Terce, Sext and None, only one was to be of strict obligation. Recitation of the psalms and a much increased number of canticles was spread over four weeks instead of one. "Three psalms (58, 83, and 109) have been omitted from the psalter cycle because of their curses; in the same way, some verses have been omitted from certain psalms, as noted at the head of each. The reason for the omission is a certain psychological difficulty, even though the psalms of imprecation are in fact used as prayer in the New Testament, for example, Rv 6:10, and in no sense to encourage the use of curses."
Two typical editions for celebrating the revised Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum) according to the Roman Rite have been published by Rome. The current typical edition for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is the Liturgia Horarum, editio typica altera, promulgated in 1985 (printed between 1985 and 1987, and reprinted in 2000). This uses the Nova Vulgata Latin Bible for the readings, psalms and canticles rather than the Clementina.
It has changed some of the readings and responsories according to the Nova Vulgata, and it provided for the Benedictus and Magnificat on Sundays with three antiphons each that reflect the three-year cycle of Gospel readings. Pope Urban VIII's lamented alterations of the hymns are undone. Verse numberings are added to the Psalms and the longer Scripture readings, while the Psalms are given both the Septuagint numbering and (in parentheses) that of the Masoretic text. And new texts, taken from the Missale Romanum, have been added in the appendix for solemn blessings and the penitential acts.
Thus far, this second Latin typical edition has only been translated in the Liturgy of the Hours for Africa. The earlier edition has appeared in two English translations, one under the title "Liturgy of the Hours", the other as "The Divine Office".
Obligation of recitation
In the Latin Church of the Catholic Church, bishops, priests, and deacons planning to become priests are obliged to recite the full sequence of the hours each day, keeping as far as possible to the true time of day, and using the text of the approved liturgical books that apply to them. Permanent deacons are to do so to the extent determined by their Episcopal Conference. Members of institutes of consecrated life, societies of apostolic life, or other religious associations (e.g., Benedictine oblates, Third Order Dominicans) who are not clerics and are therefore not subject to these obligations are bound according to the norm of their constitutions. Members of such institutes and societies who are deacons, priests, or bishops, remain bound to their more severe obligation as clergy.
Latin Church clerics can lawfully fulfill their obligation to pray the Office using the edition of the Roman Breviary promulgated by John XXIII in 1961 rather than the current edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. While the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum states that communities belonging to institutes of religious life and societies of apostolic life require authorization only by their major superiors to use the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal for their conventual or community Mass frequently, habitually or permanently; it makes no such statement regarding use of the 1962 Liturgy of the Hours, which however could be allowed by their constitutions.
Laity, especially if they are involved in ministries of the Church (lector, cantor, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, catechists, religious education directors or school principals, altar servers, those contemplating religious life or the seminary), are strongly encouraged to participate.
The constitutions of some institutes of consecrated life, in particular many congregations of Benedictine monks and nuns, but also others, oblige them to follow an arrangement of the Psalter whereby all the psalms are recited in the course of a single week, partly through an extension of the Office of Readings, and by maintaining the Hour of Prime.
Judaism and the early church
As is noted above, the canonical hours stemmed from Jewish prayer. 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.
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 attributed to 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). This was at the "ninth hour" of prayer (about three pm), the time at which the "evening" sacrifice was celebrated in the Temple in the New Testament (Second Temple) period. 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). This was at the "sixth hour," the time of the Mussaf prayers associated with additional sacrifices in the Temple on special days.
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."
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" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) by having one group of monks pray one fixed-hour prayer while having another group pray the next prayer.
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. 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.
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