Learning the Liturgy of the Hours

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The Liturgy is the "source and summit" of the Środowisko experience.

The Liturgy of the Hours is the public and official prayer of the Church which priests and religious are vowed to pray, while all are warmly welcomed to participate. Though an important part of the Church's life, it is not often that laity, especially youth, receive a proper introduction and the instruction necessary to appreciate the prayer. During Karol Wojtyla's summer excursions he would teach his students how to pray the liturgy of the Hours and, together with the Mass, it formed the structure of their daily rhythm. During the Srodowisko experience before each liturgy a short introduction (10 min) is often made regarding one aspect of the prayer.

The rationale behind proposing the liturgy as a key aspect of our week-long experience is to allow each young person to gain familiarity with the prayer, basic instruction for participating in and even leading it, as well as the basics of chant. A disclaimer is made at the beginning, the gist of which is: "in order to learn this prayer we will immerse ourselves in the rhythm of the hours this week. You may never pray this prayer again in your life yet you will know and appreciate those who are praying it on your behalf. You will feel aware and comfortable if you visit a Church or community and they invite you to pray."

We have 30 copies of the "Shorter Christian Prayer", purchased the first year, chiefly because they were the cheapest psalter we could find in English. The layout is difficult for beginners, for example, antiphons are not repeated, psalm prayers are added, the hymns are hard to navigate and the selection is meager. In addition the layout of the verses makes them impossible to chant in choirs.

From the beginning we wanted to chant and the beginnings brought more laughter than success. In 2009 with the discovery of the "Mundelein Psalter", and the wonderful resources they have available online to assist in chanting, we began chanting with photocopies of the Gospel canticles. As purchasing 30 Mundelien Psalters was outside of the budget, the following year we took pencils and began pointing the text of the Shorter Christian Prayer books. The group responsible for leading liturgy would mark the psalms with lines, daggers, and asterisks which indicate the changes in the reciting tone. While a pain to do in time for the next liturgy, this has proved to be a great method for understanding how chant works and dialoging about the texts as a means of preparation for leading them.

The following is an outline of the 10 min. teaching topics which precede the Liturgy of the Hours. They vary depending on age and experience and care is made to make them an immediate preparation for the hour at hand. Usually an except from a magisterial document such as the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours is read, with a due explanation of the document's importance.

What is the Liturgy of the Hours? (Sunday Vespers)

"In the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte I expressed the hope that the Church would become more and more distinguished in the "art of prayer", learning it ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master (cf. n. 32). This effort must be expressed above all in the liturgy, the source and summit of ecclesial life. Consequently, it is important to devote greater pastoral care to promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as a prayer of the whole People of God (cf. ibid., n. 34). If, in fact, priests and religious have a precise mandate to celebrate it, it is also warmly recommended to lay people."[1]

- About the different Glory be with Amen (facilitating chant)
- Explanation of Roles: Presider, Cantor, Lector

Rubrics (Sunday Compline)

A rubric is a word or section of text which is traditionally written or printed in red ink to highlight it. The word derives from the Latin: rubrica, meaning red ochre or red chalk, and originates in Medieval illuminated manuscripts from the 13th century or earlier. In these, red letters were used to highlight initial capitals (particularly of psalms), section headings and names of religious significance, a practice known as rubrication, which was a separate stage in the production of a manuscript.

- Exhortation to read the rubrics at the beginning of the liturgical books
- Explaination of the monastic practice of silence after the Marian Antiphon

Chant – Simple Tones (Monday Lauds)

The psalter is about singing!

(Intro to the Mundelein method of learning chant tones)

From the General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours.

"The sung celebration of the divine office is more in keeping with the nature of this prayer and a mark of both higher solemnity and closer union of hearts in offering praise to God. . . . Therefore the singing of the office is earnestly recommended to those who carry out the office in choir or in common."[2]
The declarations of Vatican Council II on liturgical singing apply to all liturgical services but in a special way to the liturgy of the hours.[3] Though every part of it has been revised in such a way that all may be fruitfully recited even by individuals, many of these parts are lyrical in form and do not yield their fuller meaning unless they are sung, especially the psalms, canticles, hymns, and responsories.
Hence, in celebrating the liturgy singing is not to be regarded as an embellishment superimposed on prayer; rather, it wells up from the depths of a soul intent on prayer and the praise of God and reveals in a full and complete way the community nature of Christian worship.

The Hours of the Day (Monday Vespers)

Do you think we are praying a lot? We are praying only 3 hours out of the daily seven... what are they?

From the General Instructions.

Notes on Gestures- importance yet flexibility of posture and gesture
- Lord open my lips
- Sign of the cross
- Lector bow
- Standing and sitting

Intro to Compline (Monday Compline)

The shortest hour.

Night prayer is the last prayer of the day, said before retiring, even if that is after midnight.
Night prayer begins like the other hours, with the verse, God, come to my assistance, the Glory to the Father, As it was in the beginning, and the Alleluia (omitted in Lent).
It is a laudable practice to have next an examination of conscience; in a celebration in common this takes place in silence or as part of a penitential rite based on the formularies in the Roman Missal.

- varies from Lauds/ Vespers
- about the penitential formula

Intro to Lauds (Tuesday Lauds)

Lauds as morning prayer and Vespers as evening prayer, as hinges of the entire Daily Office, were assigned the most important role; - Paul VI Laudis Canticum

Sunrise and sunset are not anonymous moments in the day. They have unmistakable features: the joyful beauty of dawn and the triumphant splendor of sunset follow the cosmic rhythms that deeply involve human life. Furthermore, the mystery of salvation that is actuated in history has moments linked to various phases of time. So it is that together with the celebration of Lauds at daybreak, the celebration of Vespers at nightfall gradually became a regular practice in the Church. Both these Liturgical Hours have an evocative charge of their own that recalls the two essential aspects of the paschal mystery: "In the evening the Lord is on the Cross, in the morning, he rises to new life.... In the evening I relate the sufferings he bore in dying; in the morning I proclaim the life that dawns from him anew."[4]

- About the Invitatory (we usually omit it during the srodowisko weeks for various reasons)

Intro to Vespers (Tuesday Vespers)

Vespers, Prayer of Sunset

"Just as Lauds is prayed at daybreak, so Vespers is prayed close to sunset, at the hour when, in the temple of Jerusalem, the burnt offering was made with incense. At that hour, after his death on the Cross, Jesus was lying in the tomb, having offered himself to the Father for the salvation of the world."

"The Psalmody of Vespers consists of two Psalms suitable for this hour and of a canticle from the New Testament. The typology of the Psalms for Vespers displays various nuances. There are Psalms that deal with the ritual lighting of the lamp in which "evening", the "lamp" or "light" are explicitly mentioned; Psalms that express trust in God, the stable refuge in the precariousness of human life; Psalms of thanksgiving and praise; Psalms from which flow the eschatological meaning suggested by the end of the day; and others with a sapiential character or penitential tones. We also find Psalms of the Hallel, with a reference to the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. In the Latin Church, elements have been handed down that facilitate the understanding of the Psalms and their Christian interpretation, such as the themes, the psalm prayers and especially the antiphons.[5]

"The brief Reading at Vespers that is taken from the New Testament has an important place. Its purpose is to propose some sentences from the Bible forcefully and effectively, and impress them on hearts so that they will be expressed in practice.[6] To make it easier to interiorize what has been heard, the Reading is followed by an appropriate silence and by a Responsorial whose function is to "respond" to the message of the Reading with the singing of some verses, fostering their warm acceptance by those taking part in the prayer."

- About the use of incense and the lamp lighting

Marian Antiphon (Tuesday Compline)

An antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice") in Christian music and ritual, is a "responsory" by a choir or congregation, usually in Gregorian chant, to a psalm or other text in a religious service or musical work.

Marian Hymns are Christian songs focused on the Virgin Mary.

Although there are a number of Marian antiphons, some of great antiquity, the term is most often used to refer to the four hymns which have been used as detached chants since 1239:[24]

  • Alma Redemptoris Mater (Advent through February 2)
  • Ave Regina Caelorum (Presentation of the Lord through Good Friday)
  • Regina Coeli (Easter season)
  • Salve Regina (from first Vespers of Trinity Sunday until None of the Saturday before Advent)

From the General Instructions:

Finally, one of the antiphons in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary is said. In the Easter season this is always to be the Regina caeli. In addition to the antiphons given in The Liturgy of the Hours, others may be approved by the conferences of bishops.[7]

About Hymns (Wednesday Lauds)

From the General Instructions.

Then an appropriate hymn is sung immediately. The purpose of the hymn is to set the tone for the hour or the feast and, especially in celebrations with a congregation, to form a simple and pleasant introduction to prayer.
Even when the hours are recited, hymns can nourish prayer, provided they have doctrinal and literary excellence; but of their nature they are designed for singing and so, as far as possible, at a celebration in common they should be sung.
- Briskness in chanting and singing

Psalms (Wednesday Vespers)

From the General Instructions.

In the liturgy of the hours the Church in large measure prays through the magnificent songs that the Old Testament authors composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The origin of these verses gives them great power to raise the mind to God, to inspire devotion, to evoke gratitude in times of favor, and to bring consolation and courage in times of trial.
The psalms, however, are only a foreshadowing of the fullness of time that came to pass in Christ the Lord and that is the source of the power of the Church's prayer. Hence, while the Christian people are all agreed on the supreme value to be placed on the psalms, they can sometimes experience difficulty in making this inspired poetry their own prayer.
-Read part of a reflection for one of today's psalms from the JPII / BXVI Commentaries

Psalms II (Wednesday Compline)

From the General Instructions.

Yet the Holy Spirit, under whose inspiration the psalms were written, is always present by his grace to those believers who use them with good will. But more is necessary: the faithful must "improve their understanding of the Bible, especially of the psalms," [1] according to their individual capacity, so that they may understand how and by what method they can truly pray through the psalms.
The psalms are not readings or prose prayers, but poems of praise. They can on occasion be recited as readings, but from their literary genre they are properly called Tehillim ("songs of praise") in Hebrew and psalmoi ("songs to be sung to the lyre") in Greek. In fact, all the psalms have a musical quality that determines their correct style of delivery. Thus even when a psalm is recited and not sung or is said silently in private, its musical character should govern its use. A psalm does present a text to the minds of the people, but its aim is to move the heart of those singing it or listening to it and also of those accompanying it "on the lyre and harp."
To sing the psalms with understanding, then, is to meditate on them verse by verse, with the heart always ready to respond in the way the Holy Spirit desires.

Reading and Responsory (Thursday Lauds)

From the General Instructions.

In a similar but simpler way, the responsory at morning prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer (see nos. 49 and 89), and the verse at daytime prayer, are linked to the short reading as a kind of acclamation, enabling God's word to enter more deeply into the mind and heart of the one listening or reading.
The reading of sacred Scripture, which, following an ancient tradition, takes place publicly in the liturgy, is to have special importance for all Christians, not only in the celebration of the eucharist but also in the divine office. The reason is that this reading is not the result of individual choice or devotion but is the planned decision of the Church itself, in order that in the course of the year the Bride of Christ may unfold the mystery of Christ "from his incarnation and birth until his ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the Lord's return." [6] In addition, the reading of sacred Scripture in the liturgical celebration is always accompanied by prayer in order that the reading may have greater effect and that, in turn, prayer - especially the praying of the psalms - may gain fuller understanding and become more fervent and devout because of the reading.
-about the proclamation of the reading
-about the proper length of silence following the reading

Gospel Canticle (Thursday Vespers)

Canticle of Zechariah - JPII
Having reached the end of our long journey through the Psalms and Canticles of the Liturgy of Lauds, let us pause to consider the prayer that marks the Office of Lauds every morning. It is the Benedictus, the Canticle intoned by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when the birth of that son changed his life, wiping away the doubt that caused him to go mute, a serious punishment for his lack of faith and praise.
Now, instead, Zechariah can celebrate God who saves him, and he does so with this hymn, set down by Luke the Evangelist in a form that undoubtedly reflects the liturgical usage current in the original Christian community (cf. Lk 1: 68-79).
Magnificat - BXVI
Let us now make room for that Canticle which seals in spirit every celebration of Vespers: the Magnificat (Lk 1: 46-55).
It is a canticle that reveals in filigree the spirituality of the biblical anawim, that is, of those faithful who not only recognize themselves as "poor" in the detachment from all idolatry of riches and power, but also in the profound humility of a heart emptied of the temptation to pride and open to the bursting in of the divine saving grace. Indeed, the whole Magnificat, which we have just heard the Sistine Chapel Choir sing, is marked by this "humility", in Greek tapeinosis, which indicates a situation of material humility and poverty.
-about the sign of the cross

Gospel Canticle II Nunc dimittis (Thursday Compline)

Intercessions and Psalm Prayers (Friday Lauds)

From the General Instructions.

The liturgy of the hours is a celebration in praise of God. Yet Jewish and Christian tradition does not separate prayer of petition from praise of God; often enough, praise turns somehow to petition. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to offer prayers, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving for all: for kings and all in authority, so that we may be able to live quiet and peaceful lives in all reverence and decency, for this is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who wishes all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Tm 2:1-4). The Fathers of the Church frequently explained this as an exhortation to offer prayer in the morning and in the evening.

-about the "right way" to do intercessions (there is none)
-about the purpose and omission of psalm prayers

Concluding prayers (Friday Vespers)

From the General Instructions.

The concluding prayer at the end marks the completion of an entire hour. In a celebration in public and with a congregation, it belongs by tradition to a priest or deacon to say this prayer.
In the office of readings, this prayer is as a rule the prayer proper to the day. At night prayer, the prayer is always the prayer given in the psalter for that hour.
The concluding prayer at morning prayer and evening prayer is taken from the proper on Sundays, on the weekdays of the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, and on solemnities, feasts, and memorials. On weekdays in Ordinary Time the prayer is the one given in the four-week psalter to express the character of these two hours.
The concluding prayer at daytime prayer is taken from the proper on Sundays, on the weekdays of the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, and on solemnities and feasts. On other days the prayers are those that express the character of the particular hour. These are given in the four-week psalter.

Friday Compline


Other teaching topics to develop (or find the notes to...)

History of the LotH (Jesuits and Quinonez)

Present Liturgical Movement, VCII, Mundelein


  1. JP II, 28 March 2001.
  2. SCR, Instr. MusSacr, 5 March 1967, no. 37. See also SC art. 99.
  3. See SC art. 113.
  4. St Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, [Esposizioni sui Salmi] XXVI, (Rome, 1971, p. 109), quoted by JP II, Catechesis, 8 October 2003
  5. (Cf. "Principles and Norms for the Liturgy of the Hours," nn. 110-120.)
  6. Cf. ibid., nn. 45, 156, 172.
  7. See SC art. 38.