HEART OF CELTIC ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY
THE BENEDICTINE MONASTIC DIURNAL
COMMONLY CALLED THE DIVINE OFFICE
OR LITURGY OF THE HOURS
HOLY TRINITY CELTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH
CELTIC ORTHODOX BENEDICTINE FATHERS
1703 Macomber St., Toledo, Ohio 43606
The term Divine Office means divine duty and refers
to the obligation of all clergy in the
Celtic Orthodox Church to daily offer the Divine Sacrifice
of the Mass and daily pray the Benedictine Monastic Diurnal
commonly called the Monastic Diurnal or Benedictine Liturgy of the Hours.
The Monastic Diurnal owes its remote origin to the inspiration of the Old
Covenant. God commanded the Aaronic priests (c.1280 BC) to offer a
morning and evening sacrifice (Ex. 29:38-29). During the Babylonian
Exile (587-521 BC), when the Temple did not exist, the synagogue
services of Torah readings and psalms and hymns developed as a
substitute for the bloody sacrifices of the Temple, a “sacrifice of
praise”. The Monastic Diurnal numbers the Psalms according to
the Septuagint Text, used by Christ and the Apostles.
After the people returned to Judea, and the Temple was re-built, the
prayer services developed in Babylon for the local assemblies
(synagogues) of the people were brought into Temple use, as well. We
know that in addition to Morning and Evening Prayer to accompany the
sacrifices, there was prayer at the Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours of the
day. The Acts of the Apostles notes that Christians continued to pray at
these hours (Third: Acts 2:15; Sixth: Acts 10:9; 10: 3, 13). And,
although the Apostles no longer shared in the Temple sacrifices—they had
its fulfillment in the "breaking of the bread" (the Eucharist)—they
continued to frequent the Temple at the customary hours of prayer (Acts
Next to the Holy Mass, the Divine Office from the Breviary is the most
important prayer offered to God. It is offered by the Church and in the
name of the Church, conferring multifold graces and blessings on those
who recite it worthily, attentively and devoutly. St. Benedict composed
the Diurnal (day time prayers) we use and called the praying of Sacred
Scripture in the Monastic Diurnal the Opus Dei, meaning work of God.
The Monastic Diurnal is the Divine Office (Divine Duty) of all Orthodox Benedictine.
The term Divine Office means divine duty and refers to the obligation of all clergy
to daily offer the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass and daily pray the Monastic Diurnal.
The book containing the prayers of the Monastic Diurnal is called the Breviary.
The term Breviary is the book that contains the changeable daily prayers for the Divine Office.
In times long past, the changeable prayers for every day and special feasts were found
In the back of the Altar Missal. That may have changed but the one thing that has not
changed is the Mass and the Breviary are inseparable. The Breviary is an extension of
the Mass. The word Breviary means shortened version and refers to the Divine Office
as a separate volume rather than in the back of the Altar Missal. So venerated by the
ancients, the Apostolic Constitution and the Council of Laodicea (year 387) required
all clergy to daily pray the Divine Office.
The Church lives in time and with time. This truth is brought out
beautifully in the canonical hours. They provide a perfect way to
consecrate the whole day to God and make it holy. The admonition of our
Lord, that we are to pray and not grow weary, is thus perfectly
fulfilled. For every part of the day the Church has drawn up a special
prayer-form, an hour, as it is called, that corresponds to the
particular need of that time of the day. The day is like a journey
through an arid desert, but every three hours we come upon an oasis that
offers us the waters of grace and the cool refreshing shade of heavenly
assistance. Spiritually we may revive ourselves at the canonical hours
Lauds is a jubilant hour, fresh as the morning dew, perhaps the most
beautiful of all the hours. Its symbolism deserves attention. It is
night; nature and men are asleep. In the Far East the grey of dawn
appears; then the ruddy hue of morning, the harbinger of a new day,
spreads across the horizon, and the world of nature begins to stir. But
all this natural beauty is only a symbol and reminder of a most
wonderful event in the story of salvation. It was at this beautiful hour
that our Savior burst the bonds of death. Resurrection—that is the
background theme of Lauds. And the two pictures together, dawn and
resurrection, remind us of a third arising from slumber, the spiritual
awakening of the human soul.
There is, then, a threefold resurrection: nature awakens, the Savior
rises from the dead, the human soul celebrates its spiritual
resurrection. Such is the background to our prayer of Lauds. It is an
explicit song of praise; praise is the hour's central theme. If we can
get a feeling for these three pictures intermingling in our Lauds
prayer, if we can enter into the spirit of this threefold resurrection,
if we can enlist the forces of nature to pray and praise and exult along
with us while reciting this hour reasonably early in the morning,
perhaps even in the open air, then we are certain to be struck by the
full impact of its meaning.
Lauds is, actually, one of the most striking examples of what a proper
observance of the characteristic thought of an hour and the background
theme from the story of salvation can do for personal devotion. The
psalms at Lauds are all specially chosen hymns of praise.
Very frequently we find nature themes in the psalms. The thoughts of
Christ's resurrection occur mostly in the antiphons at Lauds, where
there is almost always an /Alleluia/. This feature we can observe
particularly in Sunday Lauds, Sunday being the liturgical commemoration
of the resurrection. The liturgical day and the liturgical hour of the
resurrection coincide, and the references to Easter Day are doubled and
The climax of Lauds is the Gospel song, the “Benedictus”. It is a hymn
in praise of man's redemption, a greeting to the dawning day of
salvation which is destined to be one more step toward its completion.
It is the Church who prays the Benedictus, taking Zachary's place.
Every day is a new coming of the Redeemer, and the Church greets her
Savior as the "Day-Spring from on high".
Prime is the Church's second morning prayer, quite different in tone
from Lauds. Lauds is the ideal morning prayer, a "resurrection song" of
all creation and of the Church. Prime is the morning prayer of a sinful
human, a subjective prayer. The basic theme of Prime is dedication of
and preparation for the day's labors and conflicts. This theme runs
through the whole hour.
There is no special reference to any chapter in the story of salvation.
Thus, the theme of the canonical hour, preparing for the day, assumes
the center of attention, and indeed to such an extent that even on feast
days, themes proper to the feast are generally suppressed at Prime. The
hymn at Prime enlists all our efforts and abilities in the service of
the Lord and arms us against imminent dangers—perfectly in harmony with
Prime's basic theme.
This hour also contains a rather lengthy invariable set of prayers that
form the real essence of the morning prayer. After the psalmody (singing
of the psalms) comes a conclusion which Prime has in common with the
other little hours (Terce, Sext and None): chapter, responsory,
versicle, prayer. The chapter "Unto the King eternal..." is an oath of
allegiance to him who is sovereign in God's kingdom. The Responsory is a
fervent plea for a realization of human weakness. The blind man of
Jericho is sitting along the road as Jesus passes by, shouting at the
top of his lungs. I am that blind beggar and the Lord is passing by this
The beautiful prayer which follows never changes. It contains all the
elements of a good morning prayer: thanks, petition, good intention,
preparation for the coming day, and particularly the touching plea to be
spared the guilt of sin throughout the day.
9 o'clock. The Church wants us to pause briefly during our day's
activity and raise our hearts to God; that is the purpose underlying the
little hours. They are a chance to catch our breath, an oasis in our
desert wanderings. It is important that we do not pray them all at once,
but whenever possible we should pray them at the corresponding hour of
the day as a renewed consecration of the day's work. The little hours
are short, because the day is for work.
The story of salvation has a role to play in Terce: it was the third
hour (9:00) when the Holy Ghost came down upon the young Christian
community on Pentecost Sunday (Pentecost Terce begins with the hymn Veni
Creator). Quite appropriately , the Church recalls this mystery in the
hour of Terce: Terce is thus the "first Confirmation", a strengthening
for the conflicts of the day. Is is a "Come, Holy Ghost" upon the day's
work. The hour's theme is invocation of the Holy Ghost. The hymns proper
to the little hours are a further development of the theme proper to
each, and to the corresponding time of day.
12:00 noon. Theme of the hour: The day's conflict is at its climax, the
heat of passion is at its strongest, the powers of hell have greater
influence over man, our lower nature seems to have gained mastery. Theme
from the story of salvation: the Savior is hanging on the Cross (12:00
to 3:00); hell is bringing all its forces to bear against him. This
scene from Good Friday is the background for Sext; foreground is the
battle against sin in us and in the Church. "Lead us not into
temptation" is the message of this hour.
3:00 to 6:00. This day of salvation is slowly beginning its decline. Our
thoughts are taken up with the end of life. Looking to my future I ask:
will I persevere? Perseverance is the hour's theme. There is no theme
from the story of salvation. At the most there is eschatological
shading—the last things.
Vespers, or Evensong, is the Church's evening prayer. It is very similar
to Lauds, both in construction and in basic theme. The Church looks back
on the day of salvation just passed with all its redeeming graces—and is
fervently grateful. Vespers is a thanksgiving prayer. Thanksgiving is
the principal theme: the “Magnificat” is the climax, the great
thanksgiving song of the Church. The canonical-hour theme is this:
thanks be to God for the day just passed, both in the soul and in the
Church, thanks for all his saving graces.
Compline is the Church's second evening prayer, and as opposed to
Vespers, it is a subjective and individual prayer for the sinful soul
who wants to make her peace with God. The hour is a masterpiece of
construction, the work of St. Benedict; we might call it the ideal night