The Liturgy of the Hours is considered the common prayer of the entire Church (in addition to the Mass). It’s one of our greatest devotional gifts as Catholics, but also a very misunderstood and confusing one.
Priests and religious are required to pray the hours daily, but this is not just a prayer for them. The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours says that “Gatherings of laity are encouraged to fulfill the churches office”, and “the family… should also celebrate some parts of the Liturgy of the Hours, so as to enter more deeply into the life of the Church”. The daily routine of a breviary is a great spiritual tool. The scriptures are opened up, and the lives of the saints are glorified, and the prayer is in connection with the universal church.
Praying the breviary is a noble ambition, but can be quite confusing for the uninformed. When first approaching the Liturgy of the Hours, the terms can quickly become very overwhelming – Divine Office, Liturgy of the Hours, Breviary. This doesn’t even get into the many terms for different prayers and parts of the hours. Coffee and Canticles has a decent overview of the terms with their introduction to the four-volume breviary. Their site also hosts a great, albeit in-depth discussion of the Liturgy of the Hours that is updated regularly. For our purposes, it is enough to understand that Divine Office and Liturgy of the Hours are the same. The breviary is the physical book and will be the focus of this article.
The Liturgy of the Hours are easy to find and start praying online. Right now iBreviary is one of the most popular, while DivineOffice.org, another popular site, is unfortunately temporarily closed to new users. Google is your friend here – there are many great sites and apps offering the Liturgy of the Hours in various digital formats. Find whichever one works best for you. This is a great way to get started, and to know what to expect with the devotion before dropping $30+ on a new breviary, or a complete set of them.
I highly recommend the purchase of an actual, physical breviary. The breviary is more than just a daily prayer book- it’s a guide map to your spiritual life. A wonderful aspect of the breviary is filling it with prayer cards and devotional items – you can’t do this digitally. Most breviaries have leather covers that are stuffed with prayer cards and devotional booklets. Prayer cards are also used as extra bookmarks. A martyr relic card I have bookmarks the common for martyrs in my breviary. Also, praying from a breviary is a visible witness. Praying from an iPhone or computer doesn’t quite have the same visible impact on others.
Buying a breviary can be a bit confusing. It took me a lot of internet research and looking around in the liturgical shop I visited to get the answers I needed. Going into the shop I was dead set on getting the $150, four-volume set. After comparing the single volume and the four-volume I came to the conclusion that the four volume simply wasn’t needed for most uses. I am more than happy with my single volume of Christian Prayer. The single volume contains all the common prayers, morning, evening, and night prayers for each liturgical season. This is everything that is needed to pray the basic hours for the entire year. There is a bit more page flipping and referencing than with the larger set but it is nothing too overwhelming. The most confusing part is the title – the four-volume set with all the prayers of the day (morning, mid-morning, afternoon…) is simply called The Liturgy of the Hours. Each volume is a liturgical season. This makes sense when shopping for a breviary. When looking for the Liturgy of the Hours it makes sense to find and buy just that. The single volume is simply called Christian Prayer, by the Catholic Book Publishing Co. This conjures images of a simple daily devotional reader, not a complete breviary. Christian Prayer, however, is the breviary that most people are looking for, and I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to grow in their catholic faith.
Christian Prayer can be purchased online, but I recommend visiting a physical store to get a feel for it before you purchase it. Like most things, you will get out of a breviary what you put into it.
For a great primer on setting your tabs and using a breviary, take at look at these posts by Philip Kosloski:
- Instructions for the single volume Christian Prayer
- Instructions for tabs and use of the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours
Have questions? Need help? Let me know in the comments!