Seven times a day I praise you.Psalm 119:164
What is the Divine Office? And why should you consider using it your personal devotions? Here is my answer to those two questions.
First, what is the Divine Office? To put it simply, the Divine Office is a tried and true way for Christians of all walks of life to “pray without ceasing.” Office is from the Latin officium, meaning “service,” so the Divine Office is simply a way for us to serve God in our daily prayers. It is based on an ancient form of prayer, originating in Jewish prayer long before the time of Christ. In the ancient world, the day was marked by recognized points – cock-crow, dawn, the third hour (9:00 am), sixth hour (12:00 Noon), ninth hour (3:00 pm), sunset, and midnight. Services of prayer were developed for all of these hours. This is why the Divine Office is also known as Fixed-hour Prayer or the Liturgy of the Hours (you might also hear it called the “Daily Office” or the Breviary).
During the Reformation it was recognized that praying all of these offices had become more of a burden than a joy, so they simplified the office greatly. We can see this in our Lutheran hymnals, which now typically include just four of these offices – matins, vespers, and compline, to be prayed in the morning, evening, and at the close of the day, and a responsive prayer service that can be prayed anytime between matins and vespers.
A confession: I personally do not “religiously” pray the Divine Office. I don’t pray all of these offices every day, in other words. And there are seasons when I don’t pray them at all, but instead follow other ways of praying daily that I find more helpful at the time. However, I know that the Divine Office is always there for me, and it is something that I can return to whenever I am, in Martin Luther’s words, “becoming cold and apathetic about prayer.” Here is how Luther opens his little book, “A Simple Way to Pray,” advice that I find quite helpful:
“I’ll do my best to show you how I approach prayer. May our Lord God help us all to do better in this regard. Amen.
First, sometimes I feel I am becoming cold and apathetic about prayer. This is usually because of all the things that are distracting me and filling my mind. I know this is a result of the flesh and the devil always waging war against me, trying to prevent me from praying. When this happens I like to take my little book of the Psalms and sneak away into a little room, or, if it is the right time of day, I like to go to church with other people.”
Luther is describing here the praying of the Divine Office, which uses the Psalms extensively, and offers us all a way to pray daily when we are becoming “cold and apathetic about prayer.”
Some years back, I put together a simple form of the Divine Office to use in my personal devotions. (To date myself a little, the titles of these files included “PDA” in them because I created these services to put on my personal digital assistant back before I owned a cell phone!)
I put together a Matins Service to be used in the morning, a Vespers Service to be used in the late afternoon or early evening, and a Compline Service to be used before going to bed. I intentionally kept all of these services simple, adapting them for personal devotions while staying faithful to their traditional form. So, each of these services included readings from the Psalms, one of the Gospel Canticles from the Gospel of Luke, and other prayers, always including the Lord’s Prayer.
To me, it is not necessary for Christians to pray the Divine Office rigidly, but it is good to have this spiritual discipline in our toolbox, so to speak. The Divine Office can be thought of as something like a trellis – a framework to give form and structure to our daily prayers when we need it. (Which, candidly, is quite often for me!)
I have added each of these Services to my blog, so that I have them in a convenient place for me, personally, and so that others can make use of them, too. I have shared Services for Matins, Vespers, and Compline, along with a simple service to be used at midday, too.
There are many online forms of the Divine Office available these days, of course. Most of us have phones in our pockets or purses that can connect us to innumerable resources for daily prayer. But I still thought I would offer these services of the Divine Office on my blog, to honor the importance of daily prayer, and to share one way to pray daily that I have found helpful over the years. Blessings to you as you “pray without ceasing,” in whatever way that God is calling you, always to the glory of God!
Here are all of the services in the Divine Office that I have shared for one’s personal devotions: