Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 16, The Divine Office

Last week we were in Chapter 7 of The Rule of St. Benedict. This week I'm jumping over a bunch of chapters to quote from Chapter 16:
1The Prophet says: "Seven times a day have I praised you." (Psalm 119:164). 2We will fulfill this sacred number of seven if we satisfy our obligations of service of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.
I've jumped over Chapters 8-15 as these chapters mainly have to do with the nitty gritty of what is called the Divine Office, when each Office is to happen and what is to be done during each Office. The main thing I want to point to is the Divine Office itself.

The Divine Office, also called the Liturgy of the Hours, is a set of daily prayers scheduled at regular times throughout the day. The Daily Office structures the day like the liturgical calender structures the year. The content of the Divine Hours is mainly focused on praying the Psalms, although other hymns, texts or prayers are also used. Praying the Psalms in the Divine Office is considered to be the proper work of the contemplative monastic community. The Divine Office is the proper work of the monk.

Inspired by Psalm 119:164 (as noted in The Rule) there are seven periods of prayer during the day, the ones named by Benedict above: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Beyond these seven hours Benedict also discusses Vigils, prayers said during the night. All told, then, there are eight hours in the Divine Hours. The timings of the prayers from Wikipedia for the Roman Catholic tradition:
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.) 
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.) 
  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.) 
  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon) 
  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.) 
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer ("at the lighting of the lamps", generally at 6 p.m.) 
  • Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.) 
  • Vigils (during the night, at midnight with some)
Non-monastics tend to simplify the Divine Hours. A common routine for those practicing fixed hour prayer is observing Prime, Sext, Vespers and Compline. That is, observing Morning Prayer, a Noontime Prayer, an Evening Prayer and Compline, the prayer before bedtime. This is the structure I try to keep, though I often forget Noontime prayer (lunch hour meetings often getting in the way) and Evening prayer (dinnertime and family time often getting in the way). But most days I'll pray Morning Prayer and Compline.

That's two out of eight. So I'm 25% monk. For this Lenten season one the things I'm trying to do is commit to the morning, noon, evening, and compline prayer rhythm.

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3 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 16, The Divine Office”

  1. Mine was a New Years resolution, but the same pattern: Morning, Noon, Evening/Compline (schedule dependent).

    I am still adjusting to the impact, but the pattern does seem to break up the day, to cause me to refocus. Theologically, I like how liturgy marks time; the cycle of prayers provides the structural framework in which work and study can flourish.

  2. It has been said that Evening Prayer (around here at 5PM) was not designed for those with family life.
    Of course when doing it on your own you have more flexibility! I agree that noon prayers are challenging when one works!

  3. I picked up the habit of Evening Prayer late last year, and have been consistent with it so far in 2013. (But not regular. One of my Lenten hopes is to get used to Evening Prayer *before* midnight.)

    Since most of my Office is floating- rather than fixed-hour, and primarily after dark, the effect I'm noticing is less one of dividing the day than of permeating it. The words echo around in the background like surf in a conch shell.

    Noon prayer is easy enough. The hard part for me is learning to pray around other people...

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