Brief History of Fixed-Hour Prayer

The Divine Hours, like most variations and revisions of established forms, is born out of contemporary need. In particular the manual strives for simplicity or familiarity of wording and ease of use. Not only will such an approach reassure those Christians who have not yet begun the practice of keeping the hours, but it will also provide even the liturgically accomplished with what one observer referred to as “a welcome lack of so many ribbons.” With few exceptions, the entire text for each office is printed within that office, and the rubrics or headers of each part of each office are in contemporary rather than ecclesial English. The first evidence of this approach is in the manual’s title itself. Prayers for Summertime uses the assignations of the physical year rather than those of the liturgical one. The rough correspondence in this case is between what the Western Church now calls Ordinary Time and what common speech calls summertime. The liturgical color appointed to Ordinary Time, however, is green; and in recognition of that, the rubrics and headers of each office are produced here in green.

The offices in this manual are appointed, as is often done now, not by the date of each individual day nor by the week of the liturgical year, but rather from the Sunday of each week of the physical calendar. The Church has long assigned certain prayers, readings, and intentions to certain days of the week. Thus, Friday is normally regarded as a penitential day, Saturday as a day of preparation for corporate worship, Sunday as a sabbath. Ordering the offices by numbered dates rather than from the first Sunday of each week obscures these historic rhythms.

Following current Church practice, the offices appointed for each day are four in number: morning, noon, vespers, and compline. Following the ancient principle of accommodation, there is flexibility about the hour or half hour within which each may be observed. The morning and vespers or evening prayers adhere to the general configurations of their antecedents, and the noon office is an amalgam of the Little Hours of terce, sext, and none into one whole. The fourth—compline—is frequently referred to as “the dear office.” Unlike the others, compline is fixed by the individual and not by the clock, for it is observed just before retiring.

Because compline is indeed the dear office of rest and because it is freer in its timing, it is also more repetitive or fixed here in its structure. For this reason, there is only one week of compline texts for each month of the manual. Thus the compline for the first Monday in June is the compline for each Monday in June.

Each month’s texts are preceded by a prefatory page that gives the page number for that month’s compline texts; the physical or calendar date of saints’ days and observances for the month; and the text of the Gloria and the Our Father. Most Christians are so absolutely familiar with both of these fixed prayers as to need no assistance in praying them. For that reason, they are the only parts of the daily offices not reproduced here within the texts of each office. On the other hand, new Christians or those just commencing the practice of the offices may find it reassuring to know that these two integral components are immediately available at the head of each month.

The Feasts and saints’ days of the Church are so numerous as to be only rarely incorporated in totoby any breviary or manual. Rather, each selects for inclusion those holy days that are the major observances of the Church as well as some that seem most applicable to the volume’s intended communion. Although this manual lists on each month’s header the exact date of observation for each selected observance, it follows the pattern of celebrating the saint or feast on the Monday of the week within which the occasion falls. This system allows the user the flexibility to choose between precise commemoration or that of the memorializing week in general. In the event, as in third week of July, that there are two observances in one week; the later one is celebrated on Thursday.

To facilitate the Church’s increasing emphasis on sacred texts, The Divine Hours incorporates readings into three offices—morning, noon, and compline. To make such incorporation possible, hymns are primary here only in the vespers office, just as some of the more repetitive practices of earlier manuals have been omitted. The list of the symbols and conventions used in this manual, which follows, will enrich the user’s understanding of some of the other particulars of The Divine Hours as well.

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