Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Canonical Hours

The Jews, Greeks, and Romans divided the hours between sunrise and sunset into 12 parts, and the Jews devoted certain of those intervals to prayer:
Psalms 54:17
Evening and morning, and at noon I will speak and declare: and he shall hear my voice.

Psalm 119:164
Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice.

Daniel 6:10
Now, when Daniel knew this, that is to say, that the law was made, he went into his house: and opening the windows in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, he knelt down three times a day, and adored and gave thanks before his God, as he had been accustomed to do before.

Daniel 9:21
As I was yet speaking in prayer, behold the man, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, flying swiftly, touched me at the time of the evening sacrifice.

This Old Testament practice was carried on by the Apostles:

Acts 3:1
Now Peter and John went up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer.

Acts 10: 3
This man saw in a vision manifestly, about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him and saying to him: Cornelius.

Acts 10:9
And on the next day, whilst they were going on their journey and drawing nigh to the city, Peter went up to the higher parts of the house to pray, about the sixth hour.

Acts 10:30
And Cornelius said: Four days ago, unto this hour, I was praying in my house, at the ninth hour and behold a man stood before me in white apparel and said:

Acts 16:25
And at midnight, Paul and Silas, praying, praised God. And they that were in prison heard them.

.. and were carried on by the earliest Christians. These Old Testament time divisions developed into the Church's "canonical hours" or "offices" at which prayers (psalms, canticles, antiphons, responsories, etc.), known, together with the Holy Mass, as "The Divine Office" (Officium Divinum), the "Liturgical Office," "The Liturgy of the Hours," or "The Breviary" are said (the latter term also applying to the books which contain the prayers). St. Benedict (A.D. 480-543) writes of the canonical hours in the Rule he wrote for his religious Order:

As the Prophet saith: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee," this sacred sevenfold number will be fulfilled by us in this wise if we perform the duties of our service at the time of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin; because it was of these day hours that he hath said: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee." For the same Prophet saith of the night watches: "At midnight I arose to confess to Thee." At these times, therefore, let us offer praise to our Creator "for the judgments of His justice;" namely, at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin; and let us rise at night to praise Him.

These prayers of the Divine Office are most often said by religious and clergy (in fact, they are obligated), but because they are liturgical in nature, i.e., they are "the work of the people," they should be offered publicly in churches (especially Matins and Vespers). When they are celebrated publicly, there are established norms for postures and such, but these prayers are often said, also, by lay individuals and families, some saying only certain offices as they are comfortable with, have the time for, and as it feeds their souls (usually Matins, Lauds, and Vespers).

The canonical offices are below. I include the Novus Ordo version for informational purposes:


Time of Day

Names of Canonical Hours
used by Traditional Orders

Names of the Canonical Hours
used by Novus Ordo

This office originally consisted of four "watches," or "vigils": 6PM-9PM, 9PM-Midnight, Midnight-3 AM, and 3 AM-6 AM.

Later it consisted of three "nocturnes," 9-Midnight, Midnight-3 AM, 3 AM-6 AM.


Originally this office was known as "Vigils" or the "Night Office," but because the next office, Matins, ended up being the closing part of Vigils, often they both began to be called "Matins." Some traditional Orders still keep Vigils separately.

Some of the stricter religious Novus Ordo orders (especially the contemplative ones) might still keep Vigils in some form or another, but most don't


(pronounced "MATT'-inz")

See above and below. Matins, called "Orthros" in the Eastern Churches, includes the three Nocturnes that once belonged to Vigils.

The sunrise office known as "Matins" has been transformed into the "Office of Readings" which can be said at any time of the day.

(pronounced "lawds")

The word means "The Praises." Matins and Lauds were originally one, single office sung at dawn. After Vigils started to be callled "Matins," Matins started to be called "Lauds."

Lauds or "Morning Prayer" or "The Praises"

6:00 AM (the "first hour")



9:00 AM (the "third hour")

(pronounced like "terse")

Called collectively "The Little Hours" or "Prayer through the Day," they are still called individually "terce," "sext," and "none." Only one of these short offices is obligatory for clergy/religious or those wanting to pray the complete Divine Office.

noon (the "sixth hour")


3:00 PM (the "ninth hour")

(rhymes with "bone")



Vespers or "Evening Prayer" or "Evensong"

after sunset, before bed

(pronounced "COMP'-lin")

Compline or "Night Prayer."

One can get most of the Breviary's prayers from the Internet, here at Divinum Officium. If you buy a Breviary, I heartily recommend buying a pre-Vatican II version. The language is much richer and not castrated, there are no worries about modernist thought creeping in, etc. Try Angelus Press for these needs.

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