An Introduction to Evening Prayer and the
Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office).
We are all familiar with the liturgy we celebrate together every Sunday, the Holy Mass, or the Holy Eucharist. But did you know there is another liturgy of the Church, sometimes called “the official prayer of the Church?” It is the Liturgy of the Hours, by which we sanctify every part of the day in union with people all over the world.
We celebrate Evening Prayer or Vespers (as it is sometimes called) at 6:30pm on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings here at St. Francis Xavier Parish at the conclusion of our days of Adoration. The Liturgy of the Hours is also celebrated on other special occasions such as Solemnities and Feast days.
The Liturgy of the Hours has a very ancient history, stemming from the days of the first Christians. In fact, it is very similar to the way in which Jesus would have prayed. During the Middle Ages, it was very popular, and elaborately illuminated books were produced for people to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, called “Hours” or “Books of Hours.” The rosary developed as a popular adaptation of the Liturgy of the Hours, with its 150 beads representing the 150 psalms used in the Liturgy of the Hours. Later, the Liturgy of the Hours was called the Divine Office, and it became the exclusive duty of priests and members of religious orders, who prayed it from books called breviaries. All priests take a solemn promise at their ordination to faithfully recite the Liturgy of the Hours at the appropriate hour each day. You may often see a priest carrying his ‘breviary’ the book which contains the prayers for the various hours of the day.
The Second Vatican Council revised the Divine Office and encouraged all Catholics to avail themselves of this beautiful treasure of the Church. The tradition of reciting the 150 psalms over the period of a week was adapted so that in the new Office (Liturgy of the Hours) the 150 psalms are recited over a four-week period, thus simplifying the structure of the hours and reducing the time taken for each. Many other Christian Churches, most notably the Anglicans (Episcopalians) keep the tradition of the Liturgy of the Hours through services called “vespers” or “evensong.”
The term ‘hour’ refers to the time of the day at which each series of prayers should be said; it is not a reference to the time taken. For example Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer take only about fifteen minutes to complete.
The Liturgy of the Hours has the following parts:
Office of Readings: Previously called Matins, this was often prayed in monastic settings early in the dark hours of the morning. Today, Office of Readings is prayed at any time of the day.
Morning Prayer: Previously called Lauds, this is the first set of prayers for the beginning of the day. Along with Evening Prayer, it is one of the two most important hours of the day.
Daytime Prayer: Previously the separate hours of Terce, Sext and None, Daytime Prayer corresponds to these consisting of Mid-morning Prayer, Mid-Day Prayer and Mid-Afternoon Prayer any one of these offices can be said to fulfill Daytime Prayer.
Evening Prayer: Previously called Vespers, this is the most popular of the hours, when we come to reflect upon the day nearly ended.
Night Prayer: Previously called Compline, this is the prayer we say before we retire to bed.
The main part of each hour is a selection of three psalms (or parts of psalms or canticles from the New Testament). Office of Readings includes two readings (from scripture and the writings of saints or other documents).
Evening prayer has the following structure:
- An invitation to prayer
- A hymn
- The three psalms/canticle
- A brief scriptural reading
- A short responsory, similar to the responsoirial psalm at Mass
- The Canticle of Mary, also called the Magnificat
- Intercessions for various needs
- The Lord’s Prayer
- A concluding prayer
How to Pray Evening Prayer.
The Priest (Deacon or other Minister) begins by singing or saying:
God, come to my assistance.
The Congregation responds:
Lord, make haste to help me.
Priest: Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
All make a profound bow at these words.
People: As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
All sing the Hymn together and then sit down.
- The priest alone recites the first antiphon before the psalm.
- He then recites the first line of the first strophe of the psalm.
- The people sat on the side of the priest then join in the second line of the strophe and the remaining lines of the strophe.
- The second strophe is then recited by the acolyte and the people sat on the opposite side of the church to the priest.
- The Glory to the Father is recited by the side whose turn it is, all make a profound bow at these words. The other side recite the As it was in the beginning.
- All repeat the antiphon at the end of the psalm.
The same is repeated for the next psalm and the canticle.
The acolyte reads the reading and the Responsory. All join in with the response.
Then we stand for the Gospel Canticle (Magnificat).
- The priest alone says the antiphon and the first line of the canticle: My Soul proclaims the Greatness of the Lord. (Everybody makes the sign of the cross at these words.
- Everybody joins in the remainder of the canticle even with all the words of the doxology (Glory be to the Father……)
- All join in the antiphon at the end of the canticle.
- The priest introduces the Intercessions and the acolyte reads each prayer at which everybody makes the response.
- At the priests invitation all join in the Lord’s Prayer.
- Then the priest will say the closing prayer and give the dismissal and blessing.
- If Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament is to follow there is no dismissal or final blessing.