The names of 'the Work of God'
In the Rule St Benedict instructs his monks: let nothing be preferred to the Work of God.
In the Rule, St Benedict uses almost two dozen different words to refer to it, including 'the praise', 'the hours', the Divine Office, the Divine Work, prayer, psalmody, and our service.
The most famous is the 'Work of God'.
But all of the terms he uses hint at what he understood it to be Office.
The modern form of the Divine Office is most commonly known as the Liturgy of the Hours, and that term can be applied to the Benedictine Office too. St Benedict sometimes calls it just 'the hours'.
The hours and when they are said
The Benedictine Office is made up of eight separate sets of prayers called 'hours', although in reality they are mostly much shorter than that to say.
The names of the hours are:
- Matins (the night office or vigils, traditionally said a couple of hours after midnight;
- Lauds (at first light);
- Prime (first thing in the morning);
- Terce (mid-morning);
- Sext (midday);
- None (mid-afternoon);
- Vespers (sunset); and
- Compline (before bed).
They are called the hours because they mark the turn of them - in St Benedict's time, the day was divided into twelve even hours of daylight, so an 'hour' was shorter in winter and longer in summer. Prime means first, for the first hour of the day; Terce, means the third hour; Sext the sixth; and None the ninth.
The Diurnal doesn't contain Matins, as that is a much longer hour (and really is actually an hour generally). It is also an hour traditionally more appropriate for monks then laypeople.
How many of the hours should you aim to say?
Professed religious (monks and nuns) are generally obliged to say all of the hours each day on behalf of the Church. Laypeople are encouraged to say whatever hours of the Office they can, so just fit in what you can, keeping in mind all of your other obligations and interests.
For most people, Prime (said before work to ask God's blessing on the day) and Compline (to ask God's blessing on the night) will be more than enough, especially at first.
Another good thing to do though, is to attend Sunday Vespers. If you can't get to Vespers in your area, try following along with one of the monastic podcasts from the Monastery of Norcia in Italy, or Le Barroux in France.
Questions you may have:
1. Do I have to say all of the hours, or any hours in particular?
No - not unless you are a priest or religious, or your monastery's oblate constitutions specify that you should. Laypeople are free to say whichever parts of the Office they choose to (or none) as regularly or irregularly as they like.
2. Do I have to say the hours at a set time?
No. They should be said broadly at the time of the day they are supposed to be, but you can be very flexible in your interpretation of what that means in practice. Some traditional monasteries for example, combine Sext and None, and start Vespers as early as 3.30pm in the afternoon on some days. So while the ideal is to fit your schedule around the Office, most of us have to fit the Office around our external commitments.
3. In order to learn the Office, which hours are the best to start with?
I would recommend Prime and Compline.
4. So what is the order the hours appear in the psalter?
- Prime, Monday-Saturday, pp1-37
- Lauds, Sunday-Saturday, pp37-146
- Prime, Terce, Sext and None of Sunday, pp146-162
- Terce, Sext, None of Monday, pp162-183
- Terce, Sext, None for Tuesday-Saturday, pp183-203
- Vespers, Sunday- Saturday, pp203-256
- Compline, p256-269.
***Text Revised 13.8.16