Liturgy Of The Hours

Morning And Evening Prayer


“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
  ¯1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18


The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the whole church.  The two “hinge” hours are morning and evening prayer.  All who have been baptized in Christ are called to participate in this prayer of praise.  By praying the Liturgy of the Hours we celebrate the mystery of Christ and his saving power.  This public prayer is seen as a complement to the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the “source and summit” of Christian life.  It is a means of extending this worship into the daily rhythms of life, a way of praising God and sanctifying the day.


Christ himself was the ultimate model of prayer.  Luke’s Gospel has many references to Jesus “withdrawing” to a quiet place or praying in the synagogue.  Paul urged the members of the early Christian church to “pray without ceasing” and they prayed at fixed times throughout the day with special emphasis on the beginning and end of the day.  The first Christians continued the custom of going to the Temple or synagogue at the hour of prayer and also met in private houses for Eucharistic celebrations.  These celebrations involved the recitation of the psalms, readings from the Old Testament followed by a reading of an Epistle and the Gospel.

Meetings were usually held in the evening and would often last until dawn.  Separate liturgies arose when these vigils did not culminate in the celebration of the Eucharist.  Through these vigils the beginnings of Vespers, Matins and Lauds were established.  Prayer during the day consisted of Terce (third hour: 9:00 AM), Sext (sixth hour: noon), and None (ninth hour: 3:00 PM).  Prime (first hour: 6:00 AM) and Compline (from completorium, “completing” the day’s services) were added in later centuries.

Hippolytus, a third century writer mentions Morning Prayer and prayer at midnight.  These prayers were set in the framework of the paschal mystery.  By the end of the third century, daily prayer was both private and communal, recited up to six times a day and centered on the death and resurrection of Christ.

By the fourth century, daily prayer had become a public ritual.  This “cathedral” style of praying was built on psalms and prayers.  The psalms were sung responsorially and intercessory prayer was chanted as a litany.  The ‘services’ were highly structured and full of color, movement and music.  Morning Prayer began at sunrise and celebrated the resurrection.  Evening Prayer began at sundown and marked the transition between one day and the next.

Monastic life developed alongside the Cathedral style of prayer.  This was developed by a group of Christians who truly wanted to “pray without ceasing”.  The monastic life afforded much more time for prayer and additional periods of prayer were added during the day.  The Monastic Office consisted of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.

A mixing of prayer styles came about when some of the monasteries became attached to the great cathedral centers.  The “Diving Office” or “Office”, as it was often called, became a more complex and lengthy prayer.  It was, however, still a communal prayer.  In medieval times, the founding of the mendicant orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans brought about yet another adaptation of the Liturgy of the Hours.  It was impossible for these traveling brothers to sing the lengthy Office and, consequently, shorter manuscripts, or “breviaries”, provided a portable version of the Office.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) called for a reform of the Divine Office.  It was required that those in major orders recite the breviary daily.  Liturgy of the Hours became a private, devotional prayer of monastics and clergy.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated December 4, 1963) led to a revision of the church’s liturgical rites and included a reform of Liturgy of the Hours.  Pope Paul VI promulgated the revised rite for Liturgy of the Hours on issuing the Apostolic Constitution Laudis Canticum on November 1, 1970.  The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours outlines the basic structure of the prayer form.  It also makes it clear the Liturgy of the Hours is primarily a communal prayer, the prayer of the whole Church.  Psalms and intercessions (praise and petition) are central elements and may not be substituted.  Morning and Evening Prayer were identified as “the two hinges on which the daily office turns”.



These are distributed over a four week cycle and assigned to particular times of the day.


Morning Prayer intercessions commend the day to God, while evening prayer petitions are similar to those we use at Mass.  Traditionally, the final prayer at evening is for the dead.  These prayers of petition should be linked with the praise of God and be universal in character.


These are special texts for the feasts and seasonal celebrations.  They are antiphons and prayers specifically chosen for the day or season. These keep us in tune with the rhythm of the Liturgical Year


These are psalm like songs of praise and thanksgiving.  The Gospel Canticles – the Benedictus, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – are sung at morning, evening and night prayer respectively.  The non-Gospel or minor canticles are from either the Hebrew Scriptures, letters of the apostles or the Book of Revelation.  It is recommended that the canticles be sung or recited in a manner that reflects their musical nature.


The hymn precedes the psalmody in both morning and evening prayer.  Hymns should be chosen to reflect the time of day and any particular season or feast.


The reading is usually very short and is typically not a passage used in the Lectionary for Mass.  The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours permits the substitution of another passage, either from the Office of Readings or from the day’s Mass texts.


A good method for becoming acquainted with Liturgy of the Hours is to simply read through the texts.  These come in a variety of formats: a four volume text of Liturgy of the Hours, Christian Prayer (contains the complete morning and evening texts and selections from daytime prayer and the Office of Readings), Shorter Christian Prayer (an abridged version of Christian Prayer).  Following these texts can be confusing, initially, as the various elements are contained in different parts of the book.

The Liturgy of the Hours is also available online at the following sites: (English) and (Non-English).

“Morning and Evening” by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS and Kathleen Harmon, SNDdeN is an excellent, comprehensive resource for anyone wanting to research the Liturgy of the Hours.  It gives background history, extracts from the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, and practical guidelines for implementing Morning and Evening Prayer in parishes.  Also available in the series is an Order of Service, for Presider, Cantor and Accompanist and a separate aid for participants (in packs of twenty) Available from Liturgy Training Publications (

Call your Diocesan Office of Liturgy and ask for a list of parishes where Morning and Evening Prayer is offered.  Some cathedrals and parishes offer worship aids which are useful to view the overall service without having to find the correct pages and move around a book.


Becoming acquainted with Liturgy of the Hours is neither easy nor quick.  It demands a degree of time spent in prayerful study.  So, why add one more demand – life is busy enough!

Many people strive to pray the Rosary and read the Scriptures daily in addition to attending Mass a least once a week.  Unlike our own personal devotions and prayer, Liturgy of the Hours is the daily “liturgical” prayer of the whole church.  It is not new; it has centuries of Christian tradition behind it.  When we pray together, especially at the principal hours of morning and evening, we are united with the Universal Church across the whole world.  By involving ourselves in this prayer we are reminded that Christianity is not a once-a-week experience, but a daily living-out of our baptismal call.

Take small steps.  Talk with your parish liturgy committee.  There will most likely be a need for education, even at this level.  Create an interest in this group by preparing a short presentation on the history of the prayer.  Pray a simplified version of Evening Prayer together. Make a handout with key points.  This will help the group to assimilate the material.  Plan to pray a slightly longer version of Evening Prayer at the next meeting.

When the liturgy committee feels comfortable, invite them to attend the Parish Council meeting and follow the same process.  Explore possibilities for small scale introduction to other groups e.g. the local Council of Catholic Women, Knights of Columbus, or to the Parish as a whole.

Above all, make sure that you are well prepared and that implementation is well planned and executed.


MORNING PRAYER                                                          EVENING PRAYER


(Invitatory and Psalm 95)*


                                                                                                Introductory V. & response


Gloria Patri                                                                             Gloria Patri


Hymn                                                                                      Hymn


Psalm (with antiphon, Gloria Patri, psalm                             Psalm (antiphon, Gloria Patri and psalm prayer, repeat antiphon)                                                         prayer)


Canticle (with antiphon, Gloria Patri, antiphon) OT             Psalm (antiphon, Gloria Patri and psalm prayer)


Psalm (with antiphon, Gloria Patri and psalm prayer)           Canticle (with antiphon, Gloria Patri, antiphon) NT


Reading (homily and responsory optional)                             Reading (homily and responsory optional)


Gospel Canticle/Benedictus (with antiphon)                          Gospel Canticle/Magnificat (with antiphon)


Intercessions                                                                           Intercessions


Lord’s Prayer                                                                          Lord’s Prayer


Concluding Prayer                                                                  Concluding Prayer


Blessing                                                                                   Blessing


Dismissal                                                                                 Dismissal



*The invitatory belongs at the very beginning of each day’s prayer.  Psalm 95 (or a substitute) is recited along with its antiphon and Gloria Patri.  The verse and response, (“God, come to my assistance.  Lord make haste to help me” and Gloria Patri) are omitted when the hour begins with the invitatory.


It is desirable to include a short period of silence during Morning and Evening Prayer.  This can be placed, for example, after the reading.