How to Pray the Divine Office in Latin
What is the Divine Office?
Praying throughout marked intervals throughout the day is the ancient and revered custom of the Catholic Church. This is the Divine Office and the book that contains it is called the Roman Breviary (usually printed in 2 or 3 volumes). The new revised version after the Second Vatican Council is commonly called the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH printed in 4 volumes).
Traditionally the hours were as follows:
- Matins (midnight)
- Lauds (before sunrise)
- Prime (6am)
- Terce (9am)
- Sext (12pm)
- None (3pm)
- Vespers (evening)
- Compline (bedtime)
After the Second Vatican Council, the hours were reduced to the following arrangement in the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH):
1. Office of Readings (formerly Matins – now at any time)
2. Lauds (morning)
Prime is now suppressed and gone
3. Midday Prayer – only one of the following is required:
4. Vespers (evening)
5. Compline (bedtime)
What are the other differences? The older Divine Office is on a weekly Psalm cycle (all 150 Psalms are prayed in one week). The new LOTH is on a monthly Psalm cycle; however, the LOTH drops some of the Psalms because they are deemed scandalous. This is the #1 reason why I don’t care for the LOTH.
There is one advantage to the LOTH that I really like, and this is that its Office of Readings has a much simpler set of readings (one from the Bible and one from the Fathers or magisterial documents). I find that the second readings are always rich and edifying.
So you have to decide whether you want to follow the traditional arrangement (8 intervals) or the newer arrangement (5 intervals).
What I have done in the past is pray the older 8 intervals of the Roman Breviary, but I use the LOTH Office of Readings for my midnight Matins. This allows me to use a “diurnal” throughout the day. I’ll say something about what a diurnal is below.
I have prayed LOTH for a long while and I gradually transferred over to the older arrangement in Latin. So how do you do this?
Two Proposed Game Plans to Get Started
If you have no experience in praying the Hours, I suggest the following “training plan”:
There are two ways to start off:
Plan A: Be traditional and pray the 1961 Edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (English and Latin text) for 6 months. The arrangement and rubrics are super easy and it shorter than the full 1961 Divine Office – hence it is the “Little Office.” Just click the link to the left and you’ll get the best and most beautiful version of the Little Office. I’ve researched it and this is THE best version out there. As I’ve said before, I love Barionius Press products.
You can figure out how to use the Little Office in about 20 minutes. It has the English and Latin next to each other. I’d recommend that you pray the English for 2 months and by then you’ll have a good bulk of it memorized in English. Then start doing the Latin if you have a background in it.
Plan B: If you want only use English and want to conform to the Vatican 2 reforms, pray the current LOTH. If you want to eventually go to Latin or a more traditional form, the LOTH can be helpful to give you a “feel” for what the Office is all about.
How to Fit in All These Prayers into Your Workday?
Okay, so now that you’ve got a plan, how do you do it?
The key is “frontloading” Matins and Lauds. Traditionally, Matins and Lauds were prayed together without interruption. So wake up in the middle of the night (e.g. 2am) or early in the morning (5:30am) and pray Matins/Lauds (1961 Little Office) or Readings/Morning Prayer (LOTH).
Prime Before Work
After you wake up, shower, get dressed: pray Prime. If you’re doing LOTH, Prime is suppressed so don’t worry about it. Personally, I think Prime is a fantastic little prayer.
Midday Prayers During the Work Day
When you get to work, find a time to pray Terce, Sext, and None or just Midday (LOTH). You can pray them together or break them up. I like to break them up, but I don’t often get the chance to do this. Sometimes they get lumped together. These will take about 4 minutes each. So you can sneak them in almost anywhere – either together or apart as is the intention. Just make sure that you do them at the same time and same place every day to make a firm habit.
Squeezing in Vespers/Evening Prayer
I’m a father of six and a husband of one and I have found the most difficult time of prayer to be Vespers. Before dinner there is homework, sports, dinner preparations. After dinner are baths, pajamas, tooth brushing, family Rosary, etc. There just isn’t a place to pray Vespers.
So what I do is either pray Vespers in my car in the parking lot before leaving work (it’s quiet and nobody bothers me) or I just group it with Compline. If you do this, then before bed I pray Vespers and then go right into Compline.
Timing Compline (pray it with your spouse)
My wife and I pray Compline every night together. It’s great. We’re too tired to come up with any prayers on our own. Compline becomes our familiar nightly prayer. It also includes an examination of conscience so it’s a perfect completion of the day. If you want to be really old school and Benedictine, Compline is the same every night so after you have it memorized, you don’t even need a book. You can even turn out the lights and pray it by heart.
Taking it to the Next Level: Latin
So after you’ve been praying the Divine Office for awhile, you may want to upgrade from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1961) or from the LOTH.
There are two routes you can go.
You can go full out 1961 Roman Breviary
in 2 volumes. This has no English – just Latin. Be ready to shell out about $300. Yikes.
But if you want to do the 1961 Office for free. I recommend this website: Officium Divinium. Set the rubrics to “Rubrics 1960” and you’ll be good to go. It even has the Douay-Rheims in English next to the Latin. I use this site as my crutch during Matins at night. Best of all it’s free. If you own an iPad – congratulations, with this site you now have a Latin Breviary with parallel Latin and English!
The other option is the Monastic Diurnal of St Michael’s Abbey. It has English and Latin next to each other. A “diurnal” is the Divine Office for the “day.” So it has everything except for the night office of Matins. A Catholic diurnal contains the 7 offices of: Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. I own this and I like it. It’s a beautiful book.
You can also get the 1961 Brevarium Romanum Diurnal, but it is Latin only…no English.
Now, Baronius Press is working on a long-awaited 1961 Brevarium with English/Latin parallel (including Matins). This will be the obvious “winner” and go-to book when it eventually comes out. It will also be very expensive.
For the time being, I use a combination of the Divinium Officium website on my iPhone/iPad and the Monastic Diurnal for daily offices. In a pinch or when praying publicly with others, I happily pray the LOTH in English. If I’m out and about, I still use the Little of Office of the BVM, for which I still have great love and devotion
A Note About Latin Psalms
The Divine Office is essentially praying the Book of Psalms. If you’re into Latin and chant, you need to be aware of the 3 common Latin Psalters out there:
- Clementine or Gallican Vulgate Psalter (the classic medieval Psalms – this is the only one you want to use!)
- Pian or Bea Psalter (revised Hebraicized Psalter of Cardinal Bea – found in many printed Breviaries from 1945 till 1970 – don’t use this)
- Neo-Vulgate Psalter (version found in Latin LOTH)
If you’re praying the LOTH, you’re stuck with the Neo-Vulgate. Sorry.
If you’re praying the traditional office in Latin, you’ll need to be discerning about which Latin Psalms you’re praying and memorizing. Many so-called “traditional” Latin breviaries (especially the used ones on eBay) have the 1945 Pian/Bea Psalter. Don’t buy a breviary that says “Pian Psalter.”
You can’t chant communally with the Pian/Bea Psalter and most serious religious communities that use the Latin have gone back to the good ol’ Clementine or Gallican Vulgate Psalter. The Gallican Vulgate Psalter is the version that echoed throughout the cathedrals and monasteries of medieval Europe.
I’d love to here some tips and advice from others who are trying to prayer regularly. It’s a struggle, but also a blessing (isn’t that how all good things are?).
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