Liturgy of the Hours series: Part I

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

“Come, let us worship the Lord, the king who is to come.”

So begins the ancient prayer of the Church as it begins the liturgical year.

This invitatory antiphon will start the day at many thousands of monasteries, convents and churches throughout the world these beginning weeks of Advent. It may be monks or nuns in choir; it may be a priest silently reading from his breviary, or perhaps it may be recited by lay people assembled in church for communal prayer. It is all, in part or whole, the Liturgy of the Hours, with roots in antiquity.

Prior to Vatican II the laity were not particularly encouraged to participate, but that changed in 1971 with the issuance of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours by the Congregation for spanine Worship which states in Chapter I-IV, “The Liturgy of the Hours is not a private matter but belongs to the whole Church, whose life it both expresses and affects.”

In one sense the Liturgy of the Hours descends from ancient Jewish worship. At its heart are the psalms and readings prayed at various parts of the day by the early Christians as a continuation of their customary worship under Judaism.

Done in full, the liturgy is spread out over various times of the day, in keeping with Psalm 119, verse 164: “Seven times a day I praise you for your just ordinances.”

Over the centuries, this expanded to eight: Matins, during the night; Lauds at dawn; Prime at 6 a.m.; Terce at 9 a.m.; Sext at noon; None at 3 p.m.; Vespers at dusk and Compline before retiring. After Vatican II the number was reduced to the Biblical seven through the elimination of Prime.

While all priests are expected to pray the entire office daily, coming together for group chanting and recitation seven times a day is generally practical only in monastic settings because the various duties of the inspaniduals makes such gatherings virtually impossible in other cases.

The practice of chanting the liturgy also traces back to Judaism. The word psalm itself comes from the Greek and Latin with an original meaning “to play a stringed instrument.” The psalms themselves were the sacred hymns sung in the Temple. The Book of Psalms contains a total of 150 psalms, and is the longest book in the Bible.

In the early Church there was a question of how long the period should be to cycle through the entire 150. St. Benedict came up with guidelines that called for all 150 to be chanted in the space of a single week.

“Benedict’s rule was adopted partly because it was really quite moderate at the time,” said Norbertine Father Andrew Ciferni, the prior at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli.

The psalms themselves vary in emphasis. Some are hymns of praise very suitable for morning, others are hymns of thanksgiving, often suitable for evening. Many are laments, which out of context can be rather depressing.

But the Liturgy of the Hours consists of much more than psalms. There are Scripture readings from both the Old and New Testaments, prayers, hymns, intercessions, antiphons (short introductions and responses to each psalm), and canticles, which are hymns of praise also taken from the Old and New Testaments. For example, the Canticle of Zechariah “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel …” taken from Luke 1, is always the final canticle of Morning Prayer. Similarly, the equally joyful Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) is chanted or recited every evening and the Canticle of Simeon is recited at night.

In current usage in the United States what was the Roman Breviary, but now published as the Liturgy of the Hours, comes in four volumes totaling thousands of pages. Volume I covers Advent and Christmastide, Volume II Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Eastertide, and Volumes III and IV spanide the rest of the year. It is also available online (mostly subscription) at

The major hours are morning prayer and evening prayer, as well as office of readings, daytime prayer and night prayer, but all reflect the rich tradition of the Church.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.

Morning Prayer at Daylesford Abbey

The liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent, and at Paoli’s Daylesford Abbey it will begin as in so many other places around the world with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

At Daylesford it isn’t simply read, it is chanted by the Norbertines (Canons Regular of Premontre) just as it has been for the almost nine centuries since they were founded by St. Norbert.

One normally connects chant with monks, but Norbertines are not monks, they are canons regular.

It’s a nuanced difference that does have an impact on their celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Monks live in community and may or may not have frequent contact with the outside world. Canons Regular live in community also, but their constant contact with the laity allows lay associates and others to join in the liturgy.

“We have the liturgy three times a day, morning prayer, noon prayer and evening prayer,” said Father Andrew Ciferni, who is prior (second in command) at the Abbey, and who sometimes spells Father Nicholas Terico as cantor.

If this were an abbey with many candidates, it would be possible to chant all seven hours of the liturgy. But because many, if not most, Norbertines have duties away from the abbey for much of the day, it isn’t possible. However for morning and evening prayer every Norbertine present in the abbey, unless too ill to do so, is expected to participate.

“It is vital,” Father Ciferni said. “The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours and our own tradition say that this is integral to our vocation. This is a niche in the Church that is different for us than monks because we are very clear as canons regular that the way we shape and plan our Liturgy of the Hours is so that it may be very accessible to the lay people who pray with us.”

This upcoming first Sunday of Advent is no different than any other day in that joining the white habited Norbertines will be a number of lay worshippers.

They will join in as the invitatory Psalm 95, beginning “Come, let us sing to the Lord,” is chanted in English. They will also sing together the familiar hymn, “On Jordan’s Bank.” The excerpt from Psalm 63, “O God, you are my God,” will be punctuated by the joy-filled antiphon, “On that day sweet wine will flow from the mountains, milk and honey from the hills, Alleluia.”

The Canticle from Daniel beginning “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,” will follow, as will other readings including the Canticle of Zachariah from Luke, a cornerstone of morning prayer throughout the entire year.

“Even though the liturgy is completely sung, the psalm tones, the hymn tunes and everything else are completely accessible to the lay people,” Father Ciferni said.

– Lou Baldwin