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The Divine Office Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the Divine Office says:  “Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.” The sheer grandeur of this vision of the prayer that we know as the Divine Office is overwhelming.

It shows that the real nature of prayer is far above a chat with the boss. This boss is so vastly different from us that we should appreciate his establishing a way that we can communicate with him in Jesus Christ and his Church. Yes, the Church is key here:  “For [Jesus Christ] continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office.”

This engagement is not simply incidental to the Church; it is in the nature of the Church to be the extension of Jesus Christ in space and time – a concept that goes beyond basing our ideas about God purely on human experience. We need divine revelation to show us things beyond our grasp.

Divine revelation had already been working in human history, particularly in the history of the Jewish People. Benedict XVI has made a point of emphasizing that truth: “the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word.”

God inspired writers of psalms – so that the Divine Word begins to sing – for about two thousand years before the time of Christ. The psalms were used for all of that time as the Prayer of the People of God.

Then, the pope says of Christ: “In a perfect way, he hears, embodies and communicates to us the word of God (cf. Lk 5:1).” So that “Jesus thus shows that he is the divine Logos which is given to us, but at the same time the new Adam, the true man, who unfailingly does not his own will but that of the Father.”

So something special has happened to human nature in Jesus Christ, something that is masked by our hyper individualism. Benedict has characterized this as, first, the revelation in Creation, which can be called a kind of symphony:

In this symphony one finds, at a certain point [the coming of Christ], what would be called in musical terms a “solo,” a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This “solo” is Jesus. . . . The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work.

In that perspective, Jesus is presented as much more than a neighbor from down the street or a famous figure in history. Human nature is joined to God in Jesus Christ. He is the way of our prayer. His prayer is our prayer.

Look at how Vatican II expressed this point: “when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Churchs ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom:  It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.”

In such prayer, we are getting on board something, not generating something new. When we consider the Son’s prayer to the Father what could we add? The fullness is already there. The insecurity that is promoted in our culture gets in the way of our being secure enough to acknowledge just who Jesus is.

We should want to join in his prayer. Returning to the Psalms: “The word of God draws each of us into a conversation with the Lord: the God who teaches us how to speak to him. Here we naturally think of the Book of Psalms, where God gives us words to speak to him, to place our lives before him, and thus to make life itself a path to God.”

So unless our prayer is about wanting an iPhone then all of the real-life situations are covered in the Divine Office, either in the Psalms or the extracts from the rest of the Scriptures. Or the readings from the tradition in the Office of Readings. This really is a Divine Office, a “service” of the Divine!

A service every Catholic should try to practice.


Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
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written by Bangwell Putt, February 12, 2012
Thank you, Father Bramwell. This is beautiful. Please post the titles of Pope Benedict's from which you drew the quoted passages.
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written by rtjl, February 12, 2012
"when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others... in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom"

My experience has been that if and when priests are willing to celebrate the Divine Office publicly, they choose to do it in a other other than the approved form. When laity wish to do it in the approved form they often have to go it alone without the leadership of a priest. How do we bring the two together so that both priest and laity celebrate the Divine Office together in the approved form?
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written by Fr. Bramwell, February 12, 2012
Thank you very much. I think that they are all from Verbum Domini.
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written by Martinkus, February 12, 2012
When Vatican II says that the Divine Office should also be prayed "by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form," does this mean that it is inappropriate for an individual Catholic to pray the Divine Office by when he is alone?
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written by Dave, February 12, 2012
Thanks so much, Fr. Bramwell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sets forth, at the end of 1175, that "the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually," quoting from Sancrosanctum Concilium. Thus the faithful, far from emulating or imitating the clergy or those in the religious state, exercise in a manner consistent with their state of life the royal priesthood of the baptized (CCC 1174), with the important proviso that while recitation of the Office is mandatory for clergy and religious, it is optional for the lay faithful.

For those inclined, the Liturgy of the Hours and Morning and Evening Prayer are widely available for purchase; the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also available, whether in pre- or post-Council forms.

I have prayed the Office off and on for many years and find that it is the quickest and deepest way to read and pray Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition with the mind of the Church. Your article, Father, coming as it does so close to Lent, has led me to return to as much of a daily recitation as the duties of my state in life permit. Thank you very much.
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written by Geo, February 12, 2012
Thanks, Fr. Bramwell, for reminding me why I pray the Office every day.
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written by Daria Sockey, February 12, 2012
Thank you for this beautiful exposition of the Liturgy of the Hours, Father. For about a year I've had a sort of LOTH fan blog, as a way of spreading the good news about the LOTH,giving basic how-to information, and answering questions from readers.
Interested persons may Google it under my name.
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written by Irenaeus G. Saintonge, February 12, 2012
It's a shame though, that the rich, organic patrimony of the older form of the Office was essentially obliterated by the 'reforms' of the Consilium. How much richer could be the spiritual lives of our priests, and the laity as well?
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written by Deblette, February 12, 2012
I discovered the Divine Office shortly after my conversion, 4 1/2 years ago. I can't imagine going a day without these prayers. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours lifts ones heart up to God. The psalms speak to me in so many ways. I highly recommend these prayers for everyone.
To RTJL, one could not expect our priests to be able to fit in praying seven times a day with the laity. Our priests sacrifice and do so much for us already, I am not sure where you believe they would get the time for this. One does not need to be in the presence of a priest to pray the Divine Office. It can be prayed from home or bring it to the church and sit in the Sanctuary or in the Adoration Chapel in the presence of the Ultimate High Priest. The goal is to pray and it can be done alone.
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written by Deblette, February 12, 2012
I discovered the Liturgy of the Hours shortly after my conversion 4 1/2 years ago. I have prayed it ever since. The psalms lift my heart up to the Lord. The readings and prayers are so beautifully inserted. I highly recommend these prayers for everyone.
To rtjl, I cannot envision priests having the time to join laity for the praying of the Divine Office on a daily basis. I think that may be expecting a bit much from our priests who already sacrifice so much of themselves for us. One need not be in the presence of a priest to pray the Office. There is the option of going to the church and praying in the presence of the Ultimate High Priest, Jesus Christ. The approved form is praying. God loves it, whether one is being led in the prayer or not.
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written by Martinkus, February 12, 2012
Thank you, Dave, for answering my question.

Thank you, Fr. Bramwell, for another insightful and inspiring column.
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written by Matt, February 13, 2012
@dave et al.
Can you recommend a book or site especially helpful in learning how to do the liturgy of the hours. I have a copy of the liturgy, but if you've ever tried to follow the instructions provided therein you'll probably agree they're only useful if you already know what you're doing. Thanks!
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written by Dave, February 13, 2012
Matt, believe it or not, there is a book titled "The Divine Office for Dodos: A Step-By-Step Guide to Praying the Liturgy of the Hours."
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written by Roger, February 14, 2012
I started praying the Divine Office after reading an article about them in /New Covenant/ decades ago. Shortly thereafter we started making Vespers our family devotional, while Lauds tends to be my personal prayer time. Thus my six children were raised being washed, every day, in the words of Scripture! They were probably the only members of their respective classes who had substantial chunks of Scripture memorized (and certainly the only Catholics.) I cannot recommend too highly the Divine Office as a way of orienting and forming the Domestic Church.
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written by Hugh, February 15, 2012
To Matt,
I think you'll find the website especially helpful. You can see all the prayers, and hymns, for each of the day's hours. If you choose, you can hear them being chanted, recited and sung as well. They've also got a great apps for handheld electronics like the iTouch.

No big four volume sets with multiple ribbons to try to figure out!
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written by rtjl, January 28, 2014
to Deblette
Who said anything about expecting priests to pray the LOTH 7 times a day or even daily? It is reasonable, however, to hope that they would lead public celebrations of the LOTH at least occasionally. The documents strongly encourage at least Sunday vespers in a parish setting. When priests do celebrate the LOTH publicly, I think it's reasonable to expect them to use the approved form rather than something they've created themselves.

Even though it is permitted to pray the LOTH individually and even if that is necessary for most people, public celebration is still the ideal and is still considered the normative form. Public celebrations of the LOTH should not be outside the experience of the average Catholic.

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