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.