The Importance of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Life of the Church


The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is a form of prayer that has been traditionally associated with priests and religious orders in the Catholic Church. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend among laymen and women to incorporate the Liturgy of the Hours into their spiritual practice. This article will explore the origins of the Liturgy of the Hours, its significance in the life of the Church, and why it is becoming increasingly important for laypeople.

Origins of the Liturgy of the Hours

The roots of the Liturgy of the Hours can be traced back to the ancient Jewish tradition of offering morning and evening sacrifices in the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed during the Babylonian Exile, the Jewish people developed synagogue services that included the recitation of Scripture readings, psalms, and hymns as a substitute for the sacrifices. This practice of offering a “sacrifice of praise” at specific hours of the day became an integral part of Jewish worship.

Influence of the Psalms

The Psalms, in particular, played a significant role in the development of the Liturgy of the Hours. King David’s prayer in Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise you,” and the statement in Psalm 1:2 that the righteous study God’s law “day and night,” inspired the practice of praying at specific hours throughout the day. This devotion to the Psalms as the perfect form of prayer was embraced by early monastic and eremitical communities in the early Church.

Early Monastic Practice

In the early Church, monastic and eremitical communities sought to emulate the prayerful devotion found in the Psalms. Initially, some communities attempted to recite the entire Psalter of 150 psalms each day. However, this practice was eventually replaced by a weekly cycle that focused on specific hours of the day. The Rule of St. Benedict, written around 550, established a framework for the Liturgy of the Hours in monastic communities, with morning prayer (lauds), evening prayer (vespers), and night prayer (compline) as the main hours of prayer.

The Roman Breviary

After the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Roman Breviary became the official prayer book for the entire Latin Church. It standardized the Office of the Liturgy of the Hours and made it accessible to priests and religious throughout the Catholic world. While religious orders had the right to use their own versions of the Office, many adopted the Roman Breviary. The Liturgy of the Hours became an essential part of the daily prayer life of priests and religious.

The Liturgy of the Hours Today

In 1970, Pope Paul VI introduced significant changes to the Liturgy of the Hours in his apostolic constitution Laudis Canticum. The purpose of these changes was to make the prayer more accessible and relevant to the modern world. The name “Liturgy of the Hours” was adopted to emphasize that the prayer was meant to sanctify the entire day and every aspect of daily life.

The current structure of the Liturgy of the Hours retains the traditional hours of morning prayer (lauds), evening prayer (vespers), and night prayer (compline), but with some modifications. A midday prayer is suggested, which is shorter than morning and evening prayer. The Office of Readings was also introduced as a major addition to the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Significance of the Liturgy of the Hours

  1. Connection to Tradition: By praying the Liturgy of the Hours, laypeople are connecting themselves to a centuries-old tradition of prayer that dates back to the early Church. They are participating in the same form of liturgical prayer that has been upheld by priests and religious throughout history.

  2. Unity and Communion: When the Christian faithful pray the Liturgy of the Hours, they are united with others who are also praying this form of liturgical prayer. This communal prayer fosters a sense of unity and communion with the universal Church, as well as with the saints and angels who join in this prayer.

  3. Sanctifying the Day: The Liturgy of the Hours is designed to sanctify the entire day and every activity of daily life. By pausing at specific hours to pray, laypeople can bring a sense of sacredness and mindfulness to their daily routines. It helps to orient their hearts and minds towards God throughout the day.

  4. Reflecting the Human Experience: The prayers and readings of the Liturgy of the Hours reflect the full spectrum of the human experience. They express joy, sorrow, gratitude, hope, and longing. By praying these words blessed by God, laypeople can find solace, guidance, and inspiration in their own spiritual journeys.


The Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office, is no longer exclusively reserved for priests and religious. Laypeople are increasingly embracing this form of prayer as a means of spiritual growth and development. The Liturgy of the Hours connects them to the ancient Jewish tradition, the early Christian Church, and the ongoing prayer of the universal Church. It sanctifies the day, fosters unity and communion, and provides a rich source of inspiration and guidance for the spiritual life. By incorporating the Liturgy of the Hours into their daily routines, laypeople can deepen their relationship with God and participate more fully in the life of the Church.

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