Divine Offices of Prayer

Seven prayer offices have developed over the centuries to help ensure a day-long dialogue with God. “Seven times a day I praise you” (Psalm 119.164) is stated in the Psalms with the first office of prayer traditionally beginning in the middle of the night, the second one at 6 am, and the rest follow every three hours or so.

 

Matins/Vigils 3 am
Lauds 6 am
Prime 9 am
Sext Noon
None 3 pm
Vespers Twilight
Compline Bedtime

 

I. Background

The Daily Offices of Prayer have roots in ancient Judaism and were practiced by Jesus. Jesus began a day with prayer while it was still very dark. The Gospel of Mark states “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed (1.35).”

The Psalmist did the same

“I rise before dawn and seek your promises;
I put my hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before each watch of the night
that I may meditate on your promises.”
(Psalm 119.147-148)

 The Daily Offices of Prayer were continued by the early Christians such as Peter, John, and Cornelius. “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon” is noted in Acts 3.1 and “At noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray,” is noted in Acts 10.9. And Cornelius said: Four days ago, unto this hour, I was praying in my house, at the ninth hour, and behold a man stood before me” (Acts 10:30).

The Daily Offices of Prayer continued throughout the centuries. The sixteenth century reformation gave renewed attention to the Divine Offices of Prayer as well as the liturgical renewal movement of the past few decades. Today, the Daily Offices of Prayer are practiced in Christian monasteries throughout the world.

 II. Description

Four of the prayer offices—Lauds (morning prayer), Sext (noon prayer), Vespers (early evening prayer), and Compline (night prayer)—are more readily practiced in the monasteries then the other three. Among these four, two of the offices—Lauds and Compline—are probably practiced more often among laypersons than the other two.

These four Offices of Prayer provide an opportunity for a continuous cycle of daily prayer that involves consecration, dedication, transition, and contemplation. A brief summary of this continuous cycle of daily prayer follows:

Morning Hour of Prayer (Lauds)

The emphasis is on consecration. Let your morning prayer be a time of extraordinary consecration. “I give my life and this day to God for today is a new day” is prayerfully appropriate. “This new day is a gift from God and full of opportunities for service” is also a fitting remembrance.

Noonday Hour of Prayer (Sext)

The emphasis is on dedication. Let your noonday prayer be a time of heightened commitment for at high noon the sun stands at its apex directly overhead. “I give thanks for the work that I have done so far today” is a helpful reflection and “I give thanks for the work that remains today” is an equally helpful reflection.

Twilight Hour of Prayer (Vespers)

The emphasis is on transition—from our day activities and responsibilities to our night activities and responsibilities. There is a changeover happening around us particularly if our transitional prayer time occurs around sunset. This time can become very reflective as we look heavenward. It is a time that has a lot of visual spiritual qualities. The world around us can seem perfectly framed and intensely beautiful even in a dense urban setting. Tall trees are silhouetted against the sky in the midst of a decreasing evening light. Often, as the sun is setting, the clouds begin to glow with colors of water and colors of fire. Buildings may also glow as the sun is reflected like molten gold within the windows of office buildings, apartments, and houses. Believing that God is saying to you that “you are as intensely beautiful” stimulates a lot of emotions especially if we allow the words to resonate within ourselves as we go about our evening activities and responsibilities.

Night Hour of Prayer (Compline)

The emphasis is on contemplation. Compline means completion and thus it is this prayer office that completes the circle of the day. Compline is associated with darkness and thus what is hidden and unknown in our lives. There should be an emphasis on discovery that includes finding out how God had been present throughout the day. This time of discovery can be enhanced through the Ignatian practice of Examination of Consciousness which involves asking the following questions:

  1. How has God been present in my day?
  2. How did God speak to me today?
  3. Did I resist God today?
  4. How did I cooperate with God?
  5. In what ways do I believe God calling me to a new awareness?
  6. What needs healing in my life?

The three (3) other prayer offices—Prime (mid-morning prayer), None (mid-afternoon prayer), and Vigils (middle of the night prayer)—enhance a day-long dialogue with God. A brief summary of these prayer offices follows:

Mid-Morning Hour of Prayer (Prime)

One of the historical characteristics of Prime has been the recitation of ancient prayers that have expressed the core of the Christian faith such as the Athanasian Creed. Other ancient prayers that express the core of the Christian faith include the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. Prime has also been historically characterized with prayers for the work of the day. In the United States, the average work day is often referred to as “9 to 5” meaning 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. One ancient prayer that can prepare us for the eight hour work day is the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. The prayer begins by asking God to make us an instrument of peace by sowing love instead of hatred, pardon instead of injury, and faith instead of doubt and ends with recognizing that in daily dying we are born to eternal life.

Mid-Afternoon Hour of Prayer (None)

The two historical characteristics of None has been the reading of psalms and litanies. The readings of psalms have been included historically in all of the hours of prayers. None, however, has consisted mainly of psalms. The psalms contain prayers that have a fully range of human feelings and can be used to express our love and pain as well as our deepest questions or concerns (click here for a description of the spiritual practice of Praying the Psalms). Litanies include centuries old forms of public and private prayer that center on invocations and petitions. The invocations generally praise God for the different ways we experience salvation and healing and the petitions generally ask for various graces and blessings.

Middle of the Night Hour of Prayer (Vigils)

Vigils (also referred as Night Watch) have historical roots in the pre-dawn vigil of Matins and the dawn vigil of Lauds. Together these two prayer offices bridge the deep darkness of the night with the break of light of the new day. It is a time surrounded by darkness and silence which provides for occasions for devotional watching or observances. It is also a time of waiting and anticipation. As the transition from night to day occurs we can be found waiting for God who “looks down from the heavens (Ps. 33.13) and promises to instruct, teach, and counsel us “with my eye upon you (Ps. 32. 8)” and my “ears open to (your) cry (Ps. 34. 15).” At that moment we can know that “When the sun rises, people go out to their work and to their labor until the evening” (Psalm 104.22a-23). We also know that we are one of them and that what needs to be interwoven in our daily actions is a sense of love and justice for God and for our neighbors that is awaken through Vigils or the Night Watch experience (click here for a description of the spiritual practice of Vigils or the Night Watch.

III. Prayers for the Divine Offices

The following prayers are taken from the Christian scriptures and are divided below among several of the Divine Offices of Prayer. These prayers are passages from the Psalms that are surrounded by an antiphon in accordance with an ancient monastic practice of taking a short verse from a psalm and reciting it before, during, and after the psalm. The antiphon serves as a special thought or reflection that relates to the passage and repeated for emphasis.

Prayers for the Morning Hour of Prayer (Lauds)

The following prayers for the morning hour use an antiphon to emphasize waiting “for the Lord more than watchman wait for the morning” (Psalm 130); being satisfied “in the morning with (God’s) unfailing love” (Psalm 90); noting that “The unfolding of (God’s) words gives light” and “it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 139); remembering the following creation words “Let there be Light, and there was light” (Genesis 1); recalling that “The light (Christ) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1); and we “will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give (us) light” (Revelation 22).

 

Psalm 130

Antiphon:
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning (v. 5)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
(vv. 1-3)

Antiphon:
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning (v. 5)

But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
(vv. 4-6)

Antiphon:
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning (v. 5)

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
(vv.7-8)

Antiphon:  My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning (v. 5)


 

 

Psalm 90

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
(vv. 1-3)

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)

For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning-
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
(vv. 4-6)

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
(vv. 7-9)

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)

The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(vv. 10-12)

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)

Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
(vv. 13-15)

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)

May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.
(vv. 16-17)

Antiphon:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (v. 14)


 

Psalm 139

Cantor: The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (v. 130).

Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom toward those who love your name.
(vv.129-132)

Cantor: The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (v. 130).

Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
My eyes shed streams of tears
whenever your law is not kept.
(vv. 133-134)

Cantor: The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (v. 130).


 

Genesis 1

Antiphon: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty,
darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw that the light was good,
and He separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
(vv. 1 – 5)

Antiphon: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky
to separate the day from the night,
and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,
and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky
to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day
and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.
God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth,
to govern the day and the night,
and to separate light from darkness.
And God saw that it was good.
(vv. 14 – 18) 

Antiphon: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.


 

John 1

 

Antiphon: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
(vv. 1 – 4)

Antiphon: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
(vv. 5 – 9)

Antiphon: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  

He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
(vv. 10 – 14)

Antiphon: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.



Revelation 22

Antiphon: They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
down the middle of the great street of the city.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city,
and his servants will serve him.
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
(vv. 1 – 4)

Antiphon: They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun,
for the Lord God will give them light.
And they will reign for ever and ever.
The angel said to me,
“These words are trustworthy and true.
(vv. 5 – 6)

Antiphon: They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

 

 

 Prayers for the Noonday Hour of Prayer (Sext)

The following prayers for the noonday hour use an antiphon to emphasize that God can “make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37); that proclaims that “your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58); and commands us not to “call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10).

 

Psalm 37

Antiphon: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
(vv. 1-3)

Antiphon: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
(vv. 4-6)

Antiphon: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
(vv. 7-9)

Antiphon: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.


 

Isaiah 58

Antiphon: your night will become like the noonday (v. 10b).

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
(vv. 6-8)

Antiphon: your night will become like the noonday (v. 10b).

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
(vv. 9-11)

Antiphon: your night will become like the noonday (v. 10b).


 

Acts 10

Antiphon: Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.

He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (vv. 9-16)

Antiphon: Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

 

Prayers for the Twilight Hour of Prayer (Vespers)

The following prayers for the twilight hour use an antiphon to emphasize that “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night” (Psalm 139); that “Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lights up my darkness, (2 Samuel 22); and “the sun knows its time for setting” (Psalm 104).

 

Psalm 139

Antiphon: Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night (v. 11)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
(vv 1-5) 

Antiphon: Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night (v. 11)

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
(vv. 11-15)

Antiphon: Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night (v. 11)


 

2 Samuel 22

Antiphon: Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lights up my darkness (v.29).

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge, my saviour;
(vv. 2-3)

Antiphon: Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lights up my darkness (v.29).

Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord,
the Lord lights up my darkness
For who is God, but the Lord,
and who is a rock, except our God.
The God who has girded me with strength
has opened wide my path.
He made my feet like the feet of deer,
and set me secure on the heights.
(vv. 29, 32-34)

Antiphon: Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lights up my darkness (v.29).


 

 

 Psalm 104

Antiphon: the sun knows its time for setting (19b).

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
(vv. 1-5)

Antiphon: the sun knows its time for setting (19b)

the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
(vv. 19b-20; 31-34) 

Antiphon: the sun knows its time for setting (19b).

 

 

Prayers for the Night Hour of Prayer (Compline)

The following prayers for the night hour use an antiphon to emphasize that the Lord “gives me counsel” and “in the night also my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16); that when “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3); and when “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, (will) make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4).

 

Psalm 16

Antiphon: I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’*
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,   in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;*
their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
(vv. 1 – 6)

Antiphon: I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
(vv. 7 – 11)

Antiphon: I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.


 

Psalm 3

Antiphon: I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

O LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
(vv. 1-3)

Antiphon: I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

To the LORD I cry aloud,
and he answers me from his holy hill.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.
(vv. 4-6)

Antiphon: I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Arise, O LORD!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
(vv. 7-8)

Antiphon: I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.


 

 

Psalm 4

Antiphon: I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Answer me when I call to you,
O my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
be merciful to me and hear my prayer.
How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD will hear when I call to him.
(vv. 1-3)

Antiphon: I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices
and trust in the LORD.
Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.
(vv. 4-6)

Antiphon: I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.
I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.
(vv. 7-8)

Antiphon: I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

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